I’m at the early stages of my journey as a debut author. My first novel is currently out on submission, so I thought I’d blog about my experiences and hopefully offer some advice for anyone in a similar position!
- My first blog in the series looked at tips for writing a novel.
- This second blog will tackle the querying process and how I found my literary agent
- The third will feature my lovely literary agent’s top tips when querying.
- The fourth is about editing and going out on submission.
So, you’ve written a book. What next? You might decide to self-publish or venture down the road of traditional publishing. If it’s the latter, then the first step is finding a literary agent for your book.
A literary agent is someone who connects you with editors at publishing houses – especially those that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. But a literary agent is so much more than that – it’s an important relationship (especially if you’re a debut author), and that’s why finding the right agent for you and for your book is vital.
Please note: no money exchanges hands between an author and an agent, and all reputable agencies don’t charge reading fees. It’s a commission-based model, which means your agent is paid (typically 15% for UK rights) when you sign a publishing deal, but you don’t pay them to find a deal.
Querying agents is a nerve-wracking and nausea-inducing time for authors. It really is a rollercoaster of amazing highs (full MS requests and offers of representation) and heart-breaking, confidence-crippling lows (rejections, rejections and more rejections!)
Throughout the process, you’ll probably feel like the odds are against you. Simply run a Google search for “chances of getting a literary agent,” and the first result is 1 in 6,000(!!)
However, my take on that intimidating statistic (and after reading endless articles about the querying process) is that if you’ve written a good book, you’ve done your research and you know your market, then you have an excellent chance of being signed – it’s just a matter of time, resilience and perseverance.
The Querying Process.
After trawling through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (every novice author’s bible) and researching agencies online, I shortlisted agents who were looking for new voices in my book’s genre (women’s commercial fiction). Then I created an Excel spreadsheet (love a good spreadsheet), with headings including:
- Agent name and agency
- Why a good fit?
- Submission preferences
- Date sent
- Response time
- Response received
Generally, most agents want a cover letter, a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters of your work. Tailoring the cover letter is the most time-heavy aspect of the process because you want to hook them in with a fantastic pitch that showcases your book. You also want to demonstrate that you’ve done your research about why you’d be a good fit for each other and where your book sits in the market (comparative titles and authors).
(I’m excited for the next instalment of this blog series as my agent, Clare Coombes, is offering her tips on this!)
The responses – the good, the bad and the ugly crying!
Anyone who’s been through this process will tell you how restless you feel after sending your queries. The entire process is a nail-biting waiting game, and there’s no guarantee of responses (even rejections!)
I’d psyched myself up for a stream of rejections (more on that in the section below), so I felt dizzy with happiness when my first response was a full manuscript request from a top agent. Then another one came in. And another one. The excitement was euphoric; I cried happy tears, blabbered through my words and jumped up and down like a maniac (alarming my husband and dog in the process). I was SO excited in those moments that anyone would’ve thought I’d been offered a four-book deal and six-figure advance!
Dealing with rejection.
Unfortunately, those speedy initial responses gave me a warped view of the process. I was practically searching listings on The Oppenheim Group for an LA pad that I could call home while working on the screenplay adaptation (joking, kind of…) when BAM – my first rejection. And many others followed before I received my first offer of representation.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Rejection is HARD. But in my experience of querying, I found that the first few stung the most, and after those, they’re much easier to accept. It’s worth remembering that a rejection from an agent isn’t personal. Take note of the responses that are kind and encouraging – especially any offering constructive feedback.
My solution for dealing with rejection was to allow myself to mope and feel a bit sorry for myself for that day/evening only (cue favourite pyjamas, a binge-able box set, face mask and salted caramel ice cream). Then, the next day, I’d dust myself off and try again – I’d update my trusty spreadsheet and send a fresh query out to replace the rejection.
Something else that helps is reading stories about famous authors who have experienced rejection. Stephen King used to nail every rejection letter he received to his wall. Eventually, the nail was so weighed down that it FELL OFF THE WALL(!!) He also threw his novel, Carrie, in the bin because it was rejected so much (thankfully, his wife fished it out and urged him not to give up!)
Every book you’ve read and every author you love has faced rejection at one point or another – even publishing powerhouses like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson and Dan Brown. They all know how it feels to open the response that says: ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ And what if they’d given up? You have to keep going because you will get there.
When THAT email lands in your inbox…
Receiving an offer of representation is a heart-stopping moment. All the rejections, nerves and anxiety are worth the exhilaration of hearing YES after getting used to NO.
After months (or sometimes years!) of querying, it’s typical of the whole process that offers of representation are like buses. Once one comes along, others will typically follow quite quickly (or at least additional full MS requests and chats with agents). This is a great position to be in, and you’ll probably know quite quickly which agent is the best match for you and your book.
When you arrange a chat, don’t be afraid to ask questions and consider the following:
- Is the agent editorially hands-on? They might want to make some edits if you sign with them – is your vision for the finished book aligned?
- Which publishers would they approach? And why do they think the book would fit well with them?
- How many authors are on their list? Do they represent lots of authors, or do they prefer to keep their list small?
I would say that the most essential point to consider is how passionate and enthusiastic they are about your book. An agent’s role is to champion you and your writing, so you really want them to be 100% behind you.
Signing with a literary agent is one of the best moments of an author’s life and career. It’s so, SO exciting! And it’s worth the wait and the stress of the querying process.
Next blog: Literary agents receive hundreds of submissions every week, but there are ways you can make sure yours stands out in a crowded inbox. In my next blog instalment, my wonderful agent, Clare Coombes, has kindly offered her top tips for the querying process!