When I first started playing with the idea of getting my book published I figured I would just send out as many manuscripts as possible to as many publishers as possible until someone finally accepted it. I thought that was how it worked. So I was surprised when I Googled "book publishers" and found that most of them did not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
And that was when I first learned about Literary Agents. They are the gatekeepers to all the big name publishers and even most of the smaller ones. There are only a handful of publisher that take unsolicited manuscripts. At first I thought this was stupid, but after reading several blogs written by agents I understand the simple reason behind it, sheer numbers.
With the invention of the home computer and word processor thousands of people have made it their business to write a book and then get that book published. With that many manuscripts it would be impossible for any publisher to spend the time it would take sorting all those manuscripts in order to find one or two books that could sell a lot copies. (Remember folks publishing is a business and the bottom line is to make money and time is money.)
That is where Literary Agents come in. A good agent should have sound connections with the literary world and should not ask for a fee upfront to represent you. They should only take a portion of the profits after the sells is made. If you find one that doesn't do this walk away.
Literary Agents are just like the agents in Hollywood, but for writers. They are there to sell your work and market you. They scan through hundreds of query letters each month and find the books they feel they can successfully represent and make money on. Then they shop it around to publishers for you.
Sounds like finding an agent should be simple, right? Wrong!
I know I've touched on what a query letter is, but I'll touch on it again. It's a one page nightmare that is suppose to sum up your book using as little words as possible. It has to be catchy, but not clique. Informative, but not instructional. Unique, but not stray too far off the road of what a typical query letter should be.
For most authors, unless you're a literary savant or mind reader, writing a query letter is hard. It's hard because different agents have different ideas on what makes a good query letter. I have looked over at least a hundred query letters some even from blogs written by agents and have not found a query letter that would make every agent happy. So you really need to do your homework on each and every agent you query to really understand what they are looking for.
Now say you've done your homework on ten agents. You've read other query letters they have accepted in the past and think you have a good idea what they are looking for. Now it's time you focus on writing the query letter. You will probably need to write several letters using different angles to see which one feels right for your agents. You should spend a lot of time perfecting your letter. I know many writers spend up to a month or more fine tuning the finally draft they plan on sending.
Once you've spent hours upon hours perfecting the one you think is going to get you past the gatekeeper, tear it up and start over because I promise you it's not right. Why you ask? Because the agent you plan on sending it to isn't in the mood for your type of query letter this month.
Are you serious!? Yes, deadly serious. You have to catch the agent in the right "mood". Feels impossible, right? Well hang on to that feeling because you're about there.
Finding an agent is harder then actually writing a book. Not because you didn't work hard on your manuscript, but because agents are people with their own sense of what they like and don't like. You could have written a great book, had it edited to perfection and everyone who has read it loves it, but if you cannot find the right agent, at the right time, in the right mood and have the perfect query letter to fit that mood, you're sunk.
I follow several agents' blogs and all of them at one time or another has said that getting published has a lot more to do with luck then talent. Not to say it doesn't take any talent or hard word because it does, but after all the hard work is done it still comes down to old fashion luck. Luck that you happen to be writing in a "hot" genre at the time and luck with writing the right query letter to the right agent.
So to all of those who are out there who have written a great novel and are now trying to find an agent in hopes of getting picked up by a big name publisher...Good Luck!