Thursday, July 30, 2009


Today I'm continuing my answers to the young writer who wrote me with publishing questions. One of the questions she asked me about was getting an agent.

Should I get an agent before sending my work to a publisher?

One comment I hear often is that writers can't get an agent unless they have a publisher and they can't get a publisher because they don't have an agent. Now that creates quite a dilemma. It's as if you are staring out a window viewing the world you want to be a part of, but you can't quite find the opening. And I can sympathize. Before I sold my first book, I received more positive feedback from editors than I did from agents. Not that the editors were making any offers, but several of them asked to see my manuscript again if I rewrote. So I rewrote while querying agents. All of them responded with form rejections. The most personal one scribbled, "Nice idea, but not for me."

After I'd been sending out my story for about seven months, I heard an agent speak at a writing conference. I was impressed with the agent and the care she had for her clients. Unfortunately she didn't represent children's writers. Later I asked her if she knew of any agents that did and she gave me the name of another agent. I sent her a query letter and a couple of months later, I had an agent. Many conferences offer appointments with agents for their attendees. Usually those appointments go first. So register early.

I obtained my new agent because a friend kindly recommended me. By then I had several books under my belt.

A couple of sources for agents: If you are writing for children, join Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators/ For the price of the postage you can receive a list of agents who represent children's writers. And for all writers of all genres, check out a copy of 2009 Guide to Literary Agents.

Some more tidbits:

1. How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis is an excellent book for every writer(even if you already have an agent.) Not only does it explain advances, royalty payments and contracts, it also offers advice for finding representation.

2. A writer/agent relationship is a marriage of sorts. Make sure you have a mutual respect.

3. Never ever pay an agent to read your work or represent you.

4. Did I mention never ever pay an agent to read your work or represent you? I'm astounded how many smart people fall for flattering letters by "agents" who would love to represent them, if only the writer would pay a certain amount. Then they would help the manuscript get in shape and ready for publication. It's hard to get rejection letters, but please resist. No agent is better than a bad agent.

5. Just because you aren't one agent's cup of tea, doesn't mean another agent won't be enthusiastic about representing you. When you get turned down by one agent, move on. Don't get mad and waste anytime fretting.

Another question I received from the young writer concerned age.

Will I have a harder or easier time getting published because of my age?

Publishers don't care how old you are. They just want a good story told in an interesting way. If you happen to be very young or very old, your age might become a marketing asset. (After you sell the book.) But thank goodness unlike some fields, there are no age requirements or limitations.

I hope sharing these answers has helped some of you. At the very least, please know you are not alone looking out the window, longing to be a part of the writing world. The very first step toward getting published is easy. All you have to do is pick up a pen and begin.

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