We all know that in order to get published these days, agents are pretty necessary. Occasionally, you hear of people getting published without them, but you hear of people winning the lottery, too.

While a publisher probably won't give you a good look if you don't have an agent, they might still give you a look. Unfortunately, that's not always a good thing.

Say you shop your manuscript to all the publishers you can find and get rejected because you're stuck in the slush pile. If you later get an agent, one of the first things that agent will likely request is a list of publishers to whom you have already submitted your work. Since most agents will not submit something to a publisher who has already rejected it, you could find yourself with a great agent, but no publishers to whom that agent can submit your manuscript.

So how do you get an agent?

Well, if your uncle is an agent, bingo; ask him to represent you. If you have friends with agents, ask for a referral. (Now is as good a time as any to do away with any last vestigial traces of shame; it will only get in the way later.) But if your uncle isn't an agent, you might have to look elsewhere.

Some people think you should always aim high; approach the biggest agents around and maybe you'll find a powerhouse to rep you. That might work, and if you do get a powerhouse agent, congratulations (although it is possible to sign with an agent so big that you are not on their radar and you end up neglected).

But if that doesn't work for you, keep in mind that one of the most important characteristics in an agent is that the agent is actually open to representing new writers, or even actively seeking them. Otherwise, they probably will not even consider you. If you can find an agent who is actively looking for writers to represent, you have found an agent who is much more likely to read your manuscript, and much more likely to consider representing you.

So how do you find such open-minded agents? Books like the Guide to Literary Agents, have lists of agents who indicate they are open to new writers or are actively looking, but since a year or more has probably passed between the time the agents fill out their questionnaires and when the book comes out, those agents will very likely have filled up. The strategy I found was to try to find an agent in a state of transition: newly hired, newly promoted, newly independent, etc.

Publishers Marketplace is a great source of personnel news, both the website and the e-mail, Publishers Lunch. Another site with a great newsletter is www.vistacomp.com (look for "Publishing Industry Moves"). Publishers Weekly also has a good website, although you need a subscription. It ain't cheap, but it gives you access to their archives. If you subscribe, you can search the recent archives, maybe a year or so, and read all their personnel news columns. These days, new sources of information are popping up all the time, and you can use them to find agents who will be as happy to hear from you as you are to contact them.

And if all else fails, maybe you can talk your uncle into changing careers.

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Comment by carole gill on June 2, 2008 at 1:47am
thanks so much! will DEF bear that in mind!
But I have a fluffy little puppy (under two) who fathered five fluffy puppies last year, the little dickens! SERIOUSLY, I know what you mean.
Keep your belief in your work, weigh the feedback/advice--because the advisor might be a blue rinsed old lady with a restrictive agenda of some kind! got it!
again thanks so very much!
Comment by Jon McGoran as D. H. Dublin on June 2, 2008 at 1:33am
...I'd say that sounds just about right. Take whatever encouragement or knowledge or insights you can get from whatever is offered. And if an agent takes the time to give you specific criticism, that's great, take it into consideation. But if she says, "This is really good, but get rid of the brutal killer and replace it with a fluffy little puppy," you might not want to make that change. Its good to be open to suggestions, but remember that it's your vision.
Comment by carole gill on June 1, 2008 at 10:54pm
I for one, do hereby today promise to accept all positive feedback from Agents!
but also I would think that some Agent who perhaps did see some promise and gave me feedback with regard to advice in some way, well, I would take that on board.
what i mean is as a newbie I think I would carefully scrutinize all feedback.
even negative. If it's the kind of feedback that is so bad that I could not glean from it anything positive, I would (I hope) just put it in its rightful place as part of a learning experience and go on.
Comment by Jon McGoran as D. H. Dublin on June 1, 2008 at 5:07am
I'd also say don't be stingy about taking encouragement from any positive feedback you get. Agents who are not going to represent you don't really have any incentive for giving out positive feedback they don't really believe. If someone says something nice, take it to heart. If they didn't mean it, they wouldn't say it. It's much easier to just send a form letter or postcard.
Comment by carole gill on June 1, 2008 at 1:22am
Clair, thanks so much for that.
just keep plugging away--you're so right.
good advice and I'll take it!
You're so right. with feedback I can analyze my work and be constructive.
very good! and I love that about the jobs--naturally, I'd keep going.
Comment by Clair Dickson on June 1, 2008 at 1:03am
Carole--
The number I've heard is 100 queries. Then, re-evaluate what you have written to look for why it hasn't been grabbed. If you have feedback, use that to analyze your work.

If you didn't get a job at the first five places you applied, you wouldn't decalre yourself unemployable, would you? I hope not! Keep at it until you have a sample size that's worth acknowledging. And, in the meantime, write something else. Short stories, novel #2, etc.
Comment by Dana King on May 31, 2008 at 9:35am
I used to read the acknowledgments sections of books that were similar to mine, looking for agent mentions, on the assumption they had at least some kind of track record selling what I was writing, more or less. Then a little web research to see if they were looking for authors and submission guidelines. That's how I found mine.
Comment by carole gill on May 31, 2008 at 7:04am
duh! I see! listen, while I have your ear--and you're very kind--how long to you go for? do you just keep trying different Agents? btw I won't bombard you with more questions! I promise!
Comment by Jon McGoran as D. H. Dublin on May 31, 2008 at 6:28am
Actually, I just mean send the same thing out somewhere else, not write something new... lthough if you can do that, too, what the heck, right?
Comment by carole gill on May 31, 2008 at 6:16am
good advice! the thing is, don't have anything else to send out at the moment. been focused on that darn thing for ten months!
But I know what you mean--I'll start the next award winning (ho ho) short story for Ellery queen or something!
excellent idea--refocusing optimism! I'll remember that and thanks!

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