Getting an agent

I know some of the people following this blog are fellow writers or would-be writers seeking to get published, so I’ll share my experience along those lines. If you don’t go the self-publishing route you need an agent. I was successful in getting an agent for my first book, Held for Ransom. For me it turned out to be simple. That was 2001 and things were very different back then.

I read a book by a fellow ex-FBI agent that I thought was particularly interesting. As a retired FBI agent I have access to contact information for other agent retirees so I looked the agent-author up in a directory and was able to find his email address. I contacted him and he very graciously gave me his agent’s name and email information. The literary agent, Jay Acton, was interested in my concept and asked me to send him the manuscript. I did so. It was that easy. Unfortunately, Jay was unsuccessful in selling my book. I’ll write more about that whole process later. I ended up self-publishing in 2011.

Nowadays a different procedure is in play. The standard method is to look up literary agents using various Internet search tools and databases, select some who handle your genre, and make queries. You must go to the website of each agent to find out how to submit a query to that agent. They all have their preferences. Some use a web form. Others give out email addresses for this purpose. Some want the first chapter or a certain number of pages included. Some don’t. Usually they want it pasted into the email rather than as an attachment, in order to avoid viruses. Expect to send out dozens of queries and to get few actual responses; most responses, probably all, will be negative.

For my second book, since Jay was no longer to be found, I followed this process. After dozens of queries I did get a positive response from one agent. However, she said my book was too long and if I could cut it down she wanted me to resubmit it. I had already cut it down in size and just didn’t want to cut any more so I ended up self-publishing that book, too. I still think your best chance of getting published is to get referred to an agent by someone in the business, such as a successful author, someone who has worked in publishing, or an agent who doesn’t handle your genre but who knows someone who does. It’s much the same as getting a job. But I’ve gotten jobs just by seeing an ad and applying, and authors get agents by submitting online queries every day, so keep on trying.

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