Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing as a business - the selling side

In the last few blogs, I touched on the query letter, which is linked to this topic.  Let's assume you've completed your manuscript, thoroughly edited it, and have polished up your query letter.  Now what?

It's time to start querying.

This can be an extremely daunting task, in and of itself.  There are essentially two ways to go about doing this.  Okay, there's three, but the third is the self-publishing route.  If that's more your style, read all you can about it, the pros and the cons.  What I'm going to touch on is, what has been known as, the traditional route.  Those two ways are either through a literary agent or directly with an editor/publishing company.  Typically, most publishing companies won't even consider you unless you have an agent, and although there are exceptions, I'll just touch on the literary agent route.

Okay, where does one begin?

First, I'd get a copy of the Guide to Literary Agents published by Writer's Digest, preferably the latest copy but one even a year or two old should contain mostly current information.  This will give you the most comprehensive list of literary agents.  You can either purchase this, and I can be quite reasonably priced, or you can borrow it from your local library.  You may also go to their website:

If you'll notice, each listing describes what each agency is looking for: nonfiction, thrillers, horror, no sci-fi or fantasy, and so on.  In the back, GLA lists each category out by literary agents' preferences, so it's easier to find out which agents are looking for certain genres.

Each listing will also advise you on how they want to be contacted: mail, e-mail, fax, website.  Be sure to adhere to these or else you'll find yourself rejected without your query letter even being considered.  Keep in mind, literary agents are some of the most overworked groups of people on the planet, and some receive over a hundred queries a day.  Be patient.

When I go searching for an agent, I scour the GLA from cover to cover.  I rank each agent by genre preferences and even contact method.  Due to the high cost of mail, I prefer to sort through all of the agents who prefer to be contacted either through their website or e-mail, then I move on from here.

Once you've compiled a list of agents, now it's to actually contact them.  Make it a goal to send out X amount of queries in a week.  If you do one to three a day, you should have all of them contacted within a month or more.  Be mindful of any responses back.  If an agent wishes to see a piece of your work, send it out immediately.  Do not delay.

Last but not least, never ever give up.  Out of a hundred agents, you might get a dozen or so who seem interested, but in the end only one or two of them will actually request the entire manuscript.  If this doesn't happen, review your query letter.  Is it the best you can make it?  Is the description of your story seem like something that you'd even want to read?

There are a lot of factors involved in selling your story.  If you go through your list and get no bites, search the web for other literary agents not listed in the GLA.  Be careful though.  Not all agents are what they seem.  If they demand money up front for a reading fee . . . RUN the other way!  This is very unethical and could typically be a scam.

As a side note, and something I haven't done up at this point but will be considering it down the road, is conferences and conventions.  Attend writing conferences and conventions.  I've read multiple stories from authors who've become noticed by an agent by meeting them at a convention.  Even though a particular agent rejected you doesn't mean they won't consider you when you meet with them face-to-face.

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