The following piece is an excerpt from a blog post by Linda Epstein, published originally on her blog, The Blabbermouth.
I’ve been in a number of conversations recently where I explain to people what I do. I think a lot of people think I’m sitting around my house reading books and eating bonbons. (Maybe that’s just my family… ) Anyway, I’ve explained it a bunch of times now, and that’s forced me to go through the “how publishing works” spiel, to get to the part where I explain what a literary agent does. Then a friend of mine sent a friend of hers to me, because her friend was writing a book and she figured I’d be able to help her figure out the whole publishing thing. After writing the friend’s friend a big old e-mail, beginning to explain how the whole process works, I figured I’d put up a blog post for folks just getting started down this road. So this one’s for you, newbies!
#1. Write a kick-ass manuscript. If you’re writing for kids, you’d better have read a lot of kids’ books. You need to know what Middle Grade (or MG) means. You need to know what YA (Young Adult) means. If you’re writing for adults, you need to know what genre to call your writing. Is it a thriller, scifi, mystery, literary, upscale commercial women’s fiction, self-help, spiritual, romance, fantasy, western, Christian, erotica? You’ll need to know this for when you write a query letter. (see #4)
#2. When you’ve finished writing your kick-ass manuscript, go back and re-write it. That’s called revision. There are special groups called “critique groups” that you should seek out. Or sometimes people have what they call a “critique partner.” That’s someone who’s (usually) not related to you, who’s not afraid of hurting your feelings, who will give you the truth about your writing. Even if that makes you cry, these people are the key to improving your writing. Re-write your manuscript until it sings to you, until it’s shiny and beautiful, and there’s nothing to improve. You’ll probably still have to revise it after this, but you need to at least think you’re done (for a while).
#3. In order to have an editor at a publishing house want to buy your manuscript (which is how it gets published), you’ll need a literary agent. Some publishing houses accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” which means you can send it directly to them. But most don’t. A literary agent is someone who sells your manuscript for you. You don’t just hire a literary agent though, like a plumber or accountant or something. You see, the literary agent picks you. So in order for you to get picked, you do something called “querying.”
#4. With all your masterful writing skills, you will need to craft a letter (usually an e-mail) that performs a few functions. It’s called a query letter. It a. tells about who you are, as a writer; b. tells about your manuscript in such a way that the agent wants to read the manuscript, piques the interest of the agent, tells enough so the agent requests to read more; and c. conveys information about how to get in touch with you via e-mail and telephone. It does not explain how happy or honored or lucky or miserable you are to be a writer. It does not share that you’re recently off your meds. It does not blow smoke up the agent’s skirt with flattery. It does not tell the whole story (even in a synopsis) of your manuscript. It just does a. b. and c. There are books about query letters. Classes about query letters. Magazine articles about query letters. Places online with information about query letters. Make sure you write a kick-ass query letter. Otherwise nobody will want to look at your kick-ass manuscript.
To read the next five steps in finding an agent, visit Linda’s blog here!
Linda Epstein is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, as well as the Vice President, Communications for the WNBA-NYC Chapter.