If someone asked me what the most difficult part of writing is, I’d say it’s dealing with the wrist strain. I know that’s probably not the most helpful answer to an up-and-comer, but for me, it’s the most accurate. The second most difficult part of writing, at least as far as getting a book published, is the enquiry process. It’s a bit like trying to hit a target a mile away by pointing an arrow straight up.
For those of you not familiar with publishing, this is basically the part where you have to pimp your book, and yourself, to a complete stranger and pray to whatever deity you subscribe to that you’ve found the magic combination of words that will open that stranger’s door. That stranger then might ask to read the whole manuscript. Then they might offer a contract to represent you so they can pimp your book (with more practiced precision) to an actual publisher on your behalf.
There are many very good reasons for this hierarchy. A literary agent (the stranger) acts not only as a liaison between the author and the publisher, but also as a roadblock for books or authors that might not yet be ready to move to the next step.
With my first book, which was a graphic novel, I leveraged my tenacity and in-person SuperCharm™ to get my work straight into an editor’s hands. While this had the advantage of getting my work published faster, I also was at the disadvantage of not having an agent on my side. The result was that I ended up with crappy compensation rates, my royalties from reprints and continued sales were ignored, and my contract was violated by the publisher with no recompense.
Having a literary agent on your side is a good thing, but it’s not an easy thing to come by. You see, first you must write the magic Query Letter – there is no “right” way to do this.
While there are several good resources to locate literary agents, there is no way to know what type of approach they may prefer. I’ve seen successful query letters that ranged from “business-sterile” to “vomiting-into-my-own-mouth-marketing”. Just as every author has their own style, every agent has their own style, and finding someone whose shirt goes with your shoes is even harder when you can’t see each other.
There are some consistent rules that apply to all agents: take the time to learn what they’re looking for. Literary agents do not make their goals a mystery. Check the genres they represent, and check out the books and authors they have backed before. Usually, an agent will resonate with a particular kind of voice. If the voices resonate with you too, chances are pretty good that you’re on the same page. (Book pun.)
Also, be ready to accept that your work might need more work. Listen to your beta-readers, and apply their input. Use something more than auto-correct to check your grammar. (Like something with a pulse and a language arts degree.) Don’t fall prey to the “they just won’t give me a chance” mentality.
The rest is mostly luck. If you want to hit that target, pull the string back with all your might, and aim high. -K