helping profession (plural helping professions)
- A profession that nurtures the growth of or addresses the problems of a person’s physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional or spiritual well-being, including medicine, nursing, psychotherapy, psychological counseling, social work, education, life coaching and ministry.
Did you notice that literary agent isn’t listed? Newsflash! That’s because those who work in publishing are not in the helping professions.
I recently got a query that said, “I have no idea what to do next! Help!” I wish I had a rational response to that. I wish I could brush it off, knowing the writer is just naive and ignorant as to how the publishing industry works. I wish I was a kinder, more patient reader of queries. I could, and did, delete the email.
I’m sure most of you who are reading this blog post commiserate with me, and are shaking your heads and tsking appropriately. Because obviously none of you would ever put something like that in your query letter. You are all educating yourselves about the industry, as evidenced by doing things like reading blogs about writing and publishing. Nevertheless, I’d like to give you some information about literary agents and the procuring of one:
- The job of a literary agent is to sell manuscripts to editors, as well as broker sub rights deals (e.g. rights for foreign, dramatic, audio, merchandise, etc.)
- Agents get paid when they sell something; some agents also have a salary from their place of employment; most don’t.
- Some agents give editorial input to their clients; some don’t. It’s not required.
- Agents are regular people, so they can fall anywhere on the “nice” spectrum, from kind and nurturing to nasty and awful.
- You might become friends with an agent, but that’s separate and different from the agent/author relationship
- If you are un-agented and looking, don’t take it for granted when you have an agent’s attention and interest.
- Most agents aren’t all full of themselves and hoity toity, we’re just super busy (and perhaps, like myself, lacking patience).
- Most agents are book people who may or may not have the best social skills (see numbers 4 & 7, above)
- The primary job of a literary agent is to take care of the clients they already have. As such, responding to queries often isn’t on the top of the priority list.
- When interacting with literary agents be professional and keep your fingers away from the bars of the cage.
I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments section below. Here on the blog I am available to help people who are just learning the do’s and don’ts of the industry. I would say that there are no stupid questions, but I’m just not so sure about that any more. (Just kidding. Ask anything.)
1. Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?
2. Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?
3. Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?
4. Is it the best work you are currently capable of?
If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!
But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!
Here’s some inside scoop from my intern, Tara Slagle…
In order to find your dream agent or editor, you need to know who likes what, and what they’re accepting. If you do this, it could save you a lot of time and disappointment.
Finding the appropriate agent or editor can be tough, but luckily there are many resources that can help you in your search for “the one.” Helpful and trusted websites like Publishers Marketplace and Poets & Writers offer search areas where you can discover agents and editors based on what they represent. The annual edition of Writer’s Market or Guide to Literary Agents also offers advice and lists of editors and agents for your perusal. With so many listings though how do you know what to look for?
- Determine your category: To begin, determine what category or genre your work fits into. Is it Romance, Fantasy? Children’s or YA? Whatever it is, you can filter out some agents and editors based upon what they represent or publish. If they don’t read what you write, there’s no use sending it to them; you’ll just end up with an inbox full of rejection letters and a lot of wasted time—who wants that?
- Check individual sites: Once you’ve weeded out the professionals who won’t be interested in your work, check out what the remaining contenders are currently looking for. A great way to find this out is by checking their individual websites and blogs. Many agents and editors post what types of work they’re currently accepting—if they’re open to submissions at the present time. If that information isn’t available on their website or blog, look at recent publications they’ve represented or edited. If you’ve written a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars and the editor recently published a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars, unfortunately they might not be looking for another one so soon.
- Think about market trends: Something else to consider when submitting is current market trends. This is usually visible in the bookstores or on the bestseller lists. Here’s an example. Recently—as many of you know—dystopian novels have been very popular and successful (looking at you, Hunger Games and Divergent). Publishers rode the wave and dystopian novels flooded the market, with everyone hoping to find the next big book. But now, after reading countless submissions, and maybe even working on a few, a lot of agents and editors are tired of reading dystopian submissions. They just don’t want them.
- Set it aside (if needed): What should a writer with, for example, a dystopian (or vampire/demon, etc) do with their manuscript that they feel is hot and ready to submit? If the market is saturated it’s likely you’ll get more than a few rejections. That’s the unfortunate truth, but there is hope: even if you’ve missed a trend, most things come back around. Just because you can’t send it out now doesn’t mean you never will. Sometimes you just have to set a manuscript aside and work on something else until the world is ready again for what you’ve written.
- Submit: But once you’ve got a list of potential agents and editors, check out their submission guidelines. Publishers Marketplace, Poets & Writers, and the annual Guide to Literary Agents usually have up-to-date instructions for how to submit to each individual. Follow the submission guidelines and hope for the best! If you’ve done your research correctly, you may just get the good news!
Here is a list of helpful links:
Poets and Writers: http://www.pw.org/
Publishers Marketplace: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
Writers Market: http://www.writersmarket.com/
Query Tracker: http://querytracker.net/index.php
Writers Digest forum pages: http://www.writersdigest.com/forum/
Agent Query: http://www.agentquery.com/
Tara Slagle is Linda Epstein‘s current intern. Tara is working toward her M.S. in Publishing at Pace University. After completing her degree she plans to work in the publishing world as either an acquisitions editor or literary agent, focusing on YA and (the emerging) New Adult titles.