The only way to land an agent is with a manuscript that she falls in love with and she can think of at least five editors who are looking for something like it. But before she gets to that stage, she has to see said manuscript. Here are five ways to achieve this:
The slush pile is the most common method for getting your manuscript in front of an agent. It simply refers to sending a professionally written query (and sample pages if indicated on the agent’s website) to the agent. You then wait. And wait. And wait. Sometimes you’ll never hear back from an agent. The silent treatment often means a rejection, unless your query was lost in cyberspace or with the mail service. Unfortunately with non-responders, unless their system is set up to acknowledge your query has been received, you won’t know if yours was in the small percentage that was lost in cyberspace. In other cases, you might get a form rejection, a personalized rejection, or a request for additional material. The latter might then lead to a full request, a rejection, or an offer of representation.
Pitching at Conferences
Writer conferences often have the opportunity for pitching to agents. This is your chance to meet with the agent face-to-face and discuss your project. Some writers love doing this. Others would prefer to email a query. It could also be that you’re interested in an agent who is closed to queries but loves to request manuscripts at conferences. This is your chance to let her know about your project. The advantage of pitching directly to the agent is that you can see if she is someone you would like to work with. If the person is rude or is too busy texting to listen to you, then you might not want to sign with her should she offer.
Typically, you’ll prepare a short explanation about your book that tells the agent who your characters are, what the story problem is, and the major conflict. This doesn’t mean memorize your query pitch. You want to keep it brief so the agent has time to ask questions. The best way to prepare for the questions is to know your book inside and out. If you haven’t read it in a few months, chances are good you’ll struggle with the questions—and that will make you more nervous. But don’t worry if you are nervous. Agents are used to writers who are one step away from being a basket case because of nerves. The best way to lessen them is to be well prepared. And practice, practice, practice your pitch so that you don’t stumble your way through it. Also, bring your pitch with you on an index card. If you get so nervous that you forget what you want to say, you’ll be able to refer to the card. Most agents are fine with that.
Remember, you want to make a memorable impression. This means being professional at all times. This does not mean dressing up as a Viking. It might be memorable, but it won’t leave the agent with the impression you were hoping for. And one final point, don’t pitch a project if it isn’t close to being completed. If the agent (or editor) requests the manuscript, it’s because she wants to read it now, not in eight months. It’s not fair to the agent and it’s not far to a writer who has finished editing his manuscript but was unable to book a spot to see the agent.
Meeting Agents at Conferences
In addition to pitch events (which you have to book ahead of time), you might have the opportunity to mention your book if you end up talking to an agent at a conference. For this situation, you want to be prepared with an elevator pitch (also known as a one-line pitch) in case the agent asks you want you’re writing. If you hook her with your strong pitch, she’ll want to know more about your project. What you don’t want to do is follow her into the bathroom and pass the manuscript under the stall door, or pitch to her while she’s in the stall or washing her hands. If she’s busy talking to someone, don’t interrupt the conversation just so you can spam pitch her. This won’t get you anywhere. The best thing to do when you go to a conference is to not expect to discuss your project with an agent (or editor). That’s not the purpose of conferences. They are organized so that writers can network with other writers and learn more about various topics through the offered workshops. If you keep this in mind, the conference will be less stressful because you won’t be trying to stalk agents. Stalk them on Twitter. Don’t stalk them at conferences—unless you want to come off as creepy.
Some agents enjoy participating in contests as a way to find new clients. Before you enter one, make sure the agents are looking for your genre. And if they aren’t, don’t lie about your genre in hopes that they will request your novel and fall in love with it anyway. They won’t appreciate it, and you will have taken a spot that someone else rightly deserved.
When you enter, make sure you have read and paid attention to the rules. If the rules state that the excerpt can be only one hundred words, your entry will be rejected if you send in a 150-word sample. Contests of often bombarded with entries, and the easiest way to narrow the numbers down is to delete those that ignore the rules. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your pitch and sample might be, it will be excluded. Worse yet, you won’t know that and will assume the agent wasn’t interested in your entry. This means you won’t query her and might miss out on her offering representation.
One way to jump ahead in the slushpile is with a referral. If you have a friend who is a client of the agent you want to query, she might refer you, though not all agents accept referrals. However, it is better that she offers to refer you than for you to ask for a referral and put her on the spot. Please don’t contact someone you haven’t talked to in a while and ask for a referral. Chances are good she’ll say no. Most people don’t like being put on the spot like that, and most clients prefer to have read the manuscript first so that they know it is well written. However, this doesn’t mean you should send your manuscript to the writer in hopes that she will refer you. The other thing you want to avoid is pretending that one of the agent’s clients, who doesn’t even know you, referred you. The agent will check and you’ve just guaranteed yourself a rejection.
Which of the above have you done or will be doing in the near future?