hen you have a COMPLETED manuscript that is polished and ready to be ushered into the hands of an editor at a major publishing house, you need to find the right agent to take it there.
A writer's conference is the best place to meet face-to-face with agents who are actively seeking new clients. There are annual conferences held in almost every state across the nation. Some conferences are more well-respected than others, so spend your time and money wisely. To browse writer's conference listings, go to http://writing.shawguides.com.
NOTEThere are writers who turn into a quivering mass of protoplasm at the mere thought of approaching an agent to pitch their story. If that sounds like you--just skip to the next section of this e-book for an alternate technique. This chapter, Hunting in the Wild, is not for the faint of heart.
For the bold warriors who are still with me, let's press on...
Following this guide will help you navigate your conference experience more efficiently.
Once you've found a conference you are considering attending, research the schedule of
events on their website or in their brochure.
If your goal is specifically to pursue an agent, choose a conference based on the open accessibility to the agents.
Most good conferences have an agent's day, luncheon, or some sort of round table evening where the agents are available to hear story pitches. I don't mean sign-ups to pitch your story in a five minute, one-on-one, paid session. I mean OPEN availability.
Before the conference...
Review the list of agents slated to attend.
Continue your research by checking each agent's website to determine whether they handle your genre.
Browse their client list to see the books they've sold. Then create your target list of agents based solely on the probability that they will respond favorably to your material.
Not every agent will be interested in your manuscript. You may have written the best voodoo thriller the genre will ever see, but if you are emphatically pitching it to an agent who represents Christian themed works, you are wasting your time and likely irritating the agent. It is in your best interest to be professional and do your research.
When you approach an agent...
Before I begin walking you through the pitch process, I want to give you a few quick pointers about timing and decorum.
It is never okay to peek under the bathroom stall to initiate conversation with an agent with the intent to pitch your material. Yes, another agent's horror story about an overzealous writer.
Stalking an agent to her hotel room is also frowned upon, as is: slipping queries under her door, having them delivered by messenger with or without various accessories like boxes of chocolate, flowers, and singing strippers in clown suits.
Again, it's all about professionalism. You want them to remember you, but not for all the wrong reasons.
Now, for the initial writer to agent exchange...
Never underestimate the power of eye contact, a smile, and a firm handshake.
Even something this basic tells the agent whether you will be able to handle yourself in media related, promotional situations.
If you've done your homework, you can mention a book or writer he represented that you enjoy or that is similar to your work.
This is a good way to make the agent feel you chose him specifically because you admire his business sense, not because he just happens to hold the job title of AGENT.
If you haven't done your homework, don't try to fake it.
It's a no brainer. There aren't too many things that are more embarrassing than being caught floundering.
Introduce yourself and ask the agent if you could take a minute of her time to tell her about your project.
And when I say a minute, I mean ONE MINUTE. You should have your pitch boiled down to two or three sentences that can be delivered in an elevator between floors if you had to. This is something that you need to spend some time crafting and memorizing so you don't freeze up when an agent says, "Okay, tell me what your book is about."
Always start with the genre and title.
"I've written a satirical memoir titled, "The Break-Up Diet."
By setting it up that way, the agent isn't spending valuable listening time trying to figure out what type of story you are telling or where your book fits into the marketplace.
Don't run off at the mouth. Keep it succinct, and simple.
The more you talk, the more you talk them out of wanting to read the manuscript. Your manuscript will stand on its own merit; don't sabotage your story before the agent has the opportunity to turn the first page.
Answer additional questions, only if the agent prompts you for more details.
After your brief pitch, your main goal is to get the agent to allow you to send the manuscript to her. That's it.
Once you've completed your natural, but well-rehearsed pitch, ask the agent politely, "May I send three sample chapters to your office?"
He will either say yes and provide you with a business card with the address on it, or he will say yes and expect you to acquire the address from the agency website.
Rarely will an agent request sample pages to read at the conference, but it is good to have copies of at least the first chapter with you, just in case.
Don't bother bringing the entire manuscript; an agent will not carry it back with him on the plane.
On the downside, he may tell you the story is not something he would be interested in.
Trust that the agent knows what he likes and represents. Don't push.
Thank him for his time and keep the encounter positive. It really is a small industry, so maintain your professionalism at all times.
Repeat the above procedure with each agent on your target list.
My thoughts about paid sessions...
Save your money. Spend it on a software upgrade. Buy your cat a pair of pajamas. You don't need to pay for a one-on-one session to have the opportunity to pitch to an agent.
In the early days, when I thought I was ready for an agent, I went to several conferences and paid for many one-on-one sessions with agents and just about anyone else on the roster that I thought would have even the slightest interest in my material. Let's just say that it can become quite costly.
And as mentioned above, if you are still talking about your story up to the five-minute mark, you've just paid for the privilege of talking the agent out of wanting to read your manuscript anyway.
There is also a certain amount of desperation associated with scrambling to make sure you get the sessions you want.
My first year at the Maui Writer's Conference, I sat on the cement in one of the outdoor hallways of the Grand Wailea Resort at 3:30am with about 50 other in-the-know writers who had heard about the infamous "line" for one-on-one session signups. By 8am, the line wrapped around the building, four people deep. MWC has since gone to a more dignity- friendly lottery system to avoid the writer bread line.
I attended the Maui conference again in 2004. Using the Hunting in the Wild technique I explained above, I successfully pitched all five of my target agents on the first day of the conference--designated as "agent's day"--then I was free to enjoy the phenomenal speakers and workshop sessions for the rest of the conference without the anxiety and manic preparation that accompanies sitting down in a one-on-one session.
Whether you decide to approach agents at a networking event during the conference or pay for a one-on-one session with them, follow-up is key.
Once you return home, send each agent you spoke with an "It Was Nice To Meet You" card.
Reference a particular panel discussion they participated in that you enjoyed.
Thank them for their interest in your project and let them know you will be sending your submission packet soon.
For the agents who weren't interested in your material:
Send a card thanking them for an insight they shared in a panel discussion that was helpful to you.
Thank them for listening to your pitch. You can tell them you'll keep them in mind when you have new material you think they may be interested in.
In both cases, keep it short and simple, just a few sentences.
Once you've received the green light to submit...
Respond in a timely manner.
Within the first two weeks after the conference is best. Within the same month is acceptable. After that, you risk having lost the agent's initial excitement about your project.
Be sure your material is completely polished.
Don't send anything less than your very best work. You have ONE opportunity to make a good impression. If she decides your work is substandard, you will not get a second chance.
Your writing sample and synopsis should go through a final proofreading and spell-check to catch any overlooked grammatical or typographical errors.
Have someone else read through your sample chapters. After writing, rewriting, revising, and editing, you've spent too much time looking at your material to catch the simple mistakes like: word omission, incorrect usage, etc.
Submit only the number of pages/chapters requested by the agent. If he asks for the first three chapters (a standard request), only send what he wants.
At this stage, the agent will also be judging to see if you follow directions, are professional, and easy to work with.
Also note, the chapters you send MUST be consecutive chapters, beginning with Chapter One. Do not send chapters from different points in your story or a chunk out of the middle.
Resist the urge to send what you think are the "really good parts." It screams neophyte. The agent will be able to gauge within the first 10 pages whether you can tell a compelling story or not.
Crafting the cover letter...
With your writing sample, you need to send a cover letter.
In your first paragraph, remind the agent where you met.
Briefly mention the project she requested to read.
Make sure to check the proper spelling of the agent's name. You don't want to lose brownie points for making such a basic mistake.
Include your contact information: name, address, phone number, and email.
When you put your submission packet together...
Do not forget to include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) for your agent response letter. Without an SASE, most agents will not respond.
On the manila envelope of your submission packet, include sufficient postage, your return address, the agent's address, and the words "REQUESTED MATERIAL" in the space to the left of the agent's address.
It is not necessary to overnight the packet unless she specifically requests it sent that way.
Once you hand your baby to the postman...um...post person...
Record the date of your submission in your tracking log.
Expect to hear back within an average of 4-6 weeks.
Now, get to work on your next project.
e-mail the author, Annette Fix at: Cinemote@aol.com
Click to purchase Annette's new book!
The Hungry Writer's Guide to Tracking and Capturing a Literary Agent