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Advice On Getting An Agent

As an agented author, I get a lot of questions -- both online and in person -- about how to get an agent. So I created this page on my website to regale you with my knowledge.

*All of this is my opinion and experience as an author. I can only offer my best advice, but I'm by no means an expert. For reference, I am represented by Jessica Reino of the Metamorphosis Literary Agency, and my YA fantasy books have been published by Fire and Ice, a small press. I speak on my own behalf and no one else's. Take ALL advice with a grain of salt, including mine, and feel free to pick and choose what works for you.*

There's a LOT to cover, so please forgive me if I leave things out. This page will probably be on the long side but it's because there are so many layers to the publishing industry. I'll most likely come back to update this page periodically as I think of new information or learn new things on my publishing journey.

As with any advice, if this doesn't resonate with you, then please, don't take it. Always do what feels right for you and your story. Trust in that writer's intuition! And remember - there are many paths to getting an agent and getting published, all of them valid. This advice is what worked for me but might not work for you. It's by no means perfect.

Near the bottom of the page, I briefly added how I got my agent and small publishing house. Keep reading to find out!

Last updated: July 20th, 2022

Writing with Pen

First, let's start with your manuscript. 

Before you even think about getting an agent or getting published, you MUST finish your manuscript and make sure it’s polished and top-notch. That means writing THE END and doing your own edits on it. I also recommend using FREE websites like Grammarly and HemingwayEditor. They will point out grammatical errors and issues in your manuscript.

Make sure your manuscript also looks professional. The standard font is Times New Roman, 12 pt. Put your full name, book title, and page numbers in the margins, as well as a plain cover page with the book title and your name. Double-space your paragraphs and use the "blank page" feature to separate your chapters. Keep it simple and don't try to use pretty fonts or decorate your manuscript. That comes later when your book has been sold. Make sure to use proper indentation for paragraphs in Microsoft Word (don't just indent with your spacebar). Agents and publishers both prefer Microsoft Word documents, something you should learn all the features of. You should compile your whole manuscript into one document using the formatting information above.

I recommend getting someone to look over your manuscript. You may decide to hire an editor for this. (You can find editors on Indeed, Upwork, Fiverr, and Twitter. Make sure they're experienced, reputable, and have good reviews.) But since they cost anywhere from $700 to $1,000 dollars to edit your full manuscript, you may choose not to. (Why do they charge so much? They’re combing through your whole manuscript, line by line – and that’s no small feat.) It may be worth it to hire an editor, but if you can’t, no worries. I didn’t have one.

If you can’t afford an editor, you could get a friend or family member to read it and get their honest opinion. They MUST be impartial and not afraid to tell you the truth. You could also look for a beta reader. What’s a beta reader? Someone who will read your manuscript for you for FREE and give their honest opinion. You can find them through Twitter and online message boards.

The same goes for critique partners. They're usually writers who look over your manuscript and give their opinion. You can offer to do the same for them. Writers can't always see their own mistakes, so it's important to have honest, outside opinions.

No one can tell you what or how to write. That’s all up to you. I really recommend reading a lot of books (or consuming other forms of fiction, like video games, movies, TV shows, and comic books) in your chosen genre to understand what the market is like. I read 80 books in 2020. Now, you don’t need to read THAT many, but you get my point. Make sure to read RECENT novels in your chosen genre to see what publishers and agents are looking for. Writing styles change as the years go by.

On that note, DON’T write for a trend. It will most likely take you YEARS to get published, and trends change. Make sure to LOVE what you’re writing – always.

Once you’ve done that, you need to decide what genre your book is. Science fiction? Mystery? What’s the subgenre? Romance fantasy? Mystery horror? Google is your friend when it comes to understanding genres. Then figure out the age group.

Picture books are for young children. You DON’T need an illustrator for it when you query. The publisher will connect you with one if they want your picture book. (If you're looking for more information on writing picture books and understanding their layout, author Tara Lazar has a great blog post about it: here. Just click for the link.) Middle grade is for children usually 8 to 12, young adult is for 13 to 18, and adult is for, well, adults. Make sure to research the appropriate word count.

 

Those are the most popular age groups, but little age groups exist between them, too - upper and lower YA, as well as upper and lower MG. There's also a New Adult age category, as well as chapter books. (As always, please research the heck out of your chosen genre and age group. Knowledge is very important as a writer. Sometimes it's okay to break the rules, but you should know them first!)

Adult is usually 80k to 90k words. That’s the sweet spot. Same goes for young adult (also called YA). Middle grade (or MG) would be 50k to 70k-ish, while picture books are kept under 500 words. Novellas are usually 10k to 40k, but I aim for 30k. (Novella word counts depend a lot on publishers and their submission guidelines.) When you're drafting, don't worry about a word count. Just focus on getting the story down and writing a satisfying conclusion. In the editing process, you'll most likely cut words, anyway. I've definitely known exceptions to occur with word counts (either higher or lower) if the story calls for it.

Depending on the age group and word count I'm aiming for, I usually write 2500 words to 3500 words in a chapter. My books normally consist of anywhere from 25 to 30 chapters. Writing chapters that are too long can be a turn-off to many readers and agents, so make sure to do it right and keep it entertaining if you have long chapters. It comes down to individual author style and preference when deciding to make your chapters long or short.

Should you write prologues and epilogues? I did for my first six books. However, most agents and publishers have built up a strong DISLIKE for prologues, so you may want to exclude it. After all, why can't the prologue be part of chapter one? Some readers will skip prologues. Epilogues may be okay - I sometimes use them to tie up loose ends in a book. Exercise caution here with both of them.

Do you need a degree to write? No, absolutely not. An English or Creative Writing degree CAN be helpful, but it’s not required. I’ve never been asked about it by anyone. Instead, you should be dedicated to self-improvement. There are many free exercises online to help improve your writing. I don't have a degree. YouTube and Google will help you, and it's what I've used for years.

Is there an age limit to being a writer? Nope - though, you should be 18 at least, I'd say. Contracts will be involved and you need to be a legal adult. You can get an agent at age 80, so don't despair if you're older than me!

Do you need to be an English genius or have perfect grammar to be a writer? Nope! That's what spellcheck is for. Nora Roberts has famously said she isn't a good speller!

Does your book have to be perfect to get an agent or publisher? Also no! Both agents and publishers understand that every book benefits from editing, and when they're reading your manuscript - if they like it and are seriously considering signing you - often keep edit notes for you later on. I've seen many traditionally published books with typos and plot holes! Writers are human, and humans are imperfect. Still, you should try to make your plot and book as clean and straightforward as possible.

Some quick tips on finishing your first draft that worked for me:

Don't edit until your manuscript is completely finished.

As an exercise, try to condense your novel into a logline - one line of what it's about. If you can't, the main plot may be convoluted. As Albert Einstein said, "if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough." Good writing is coherent and makes sense. Even fantasy and sci-fi can be easily understood if the main plot is strong. In fact, agents may ask for a logline!

A logline should explain the setting, protagonist, problem, antagonist, conflict/problem, and goal. Look at the logline for STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE: "A spirited farmboy joins a rebellion to save a princess from a sinister imperial enforcer - and the galaxy from a planet-destroying weapon." Sounds simple, right? It is!

A novel doesn't have to be completely original to be good. After all, as Mark Twain said, "all ideas are secondhand. Nothing is original." We've been telling stories for thousands of years, and it's true that everything has been done before. So don't focus on being completely original with your story - just focus on telling a good one that makes sense and has compelling characters and motivations from start to finish, no matter the genre or age group.

Where do I get my ideas from? Everywhere! From movies, TV shows, books, dreams, conversations I overhear, and my own fantasies. Story ideas are bursting around you wherever you go, all the time. Great writers always have their eyes peeled for good ideas and inspiration. I recommend carrying a notebook wherever you go so you don't forget a good idea when it hits you!

Don't write without a basic outline. You should know how the story starts and ends, who the main characters, side characters, heroes, and villains are, what they want, and the main plot and subplots. You should also know the age group (and what's appropriate for it, especially if you're writing for kids), the genre, and overall message of the book.

A first draft doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be written. The polishing comes later.

Focus on one project at a time. I'm someone with hundreds of ideas buzzing around in my head, but even I only write one novel at once. Wait until you're finished before moving on to something else - or you'll never get anything done!

How many drafts should you do? That depends on how much your book needs. I keep a journal as I write my first draft to write down edits I need to do later. I typically do four edits before sending it off to my agent. She and I do two edits, then you'll work with an editor at your publisher to do two or three more. Then it goes to copyediting where, you guessed it, even more edits happen.

So make sure you love your book! You'll be editing it a gazillion times. Literally. But even great books benefit from editing, so it's worth it. 

Don't write anything offensive or too graphic. Readers are diverse, and you have to write with respect and finesse.

Always finish what you start. A lot of writers give up after writing a few chapters - they either lose interest, haven't properly planned out the story and don't know what else to write, or can't stay focused. Remember - you can't get an agent or sell a book that's half-finished, so if you've started a novel, please keep going with it! Do everything you can to make it to THE END.

Don't worry about the title until you've finished the book. Many authors decide on the title at the very end, and use a placeholder in the meantime. A good title reflects the most important part of the story. 

 

When you finish your first draft, put it away for a month. This will help you come back to it with fresh eyes.

Some writers wait for inspiration. In my opinion, this is a BAD IDEA. As Neil Gaiman said, "inspiration is good for short story writers and poets, but not novelists." Why not? Novels are BIG things - often 80k words. It can take months to write a first draft. You're not always going to be inspired - I know I'm not. Sometimes, you have to force yourself to sit down and write. As they say, "the water doesn't flow until the facet is turned on." My inspiration comes DURING a writing session, not before!

Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. I write every morning, 7 days a week. You don't have to be THAT dedicated, but you should be writing very often. (Unfortunately, books don't write themselves. Yet.)

How long should it take to write a book? That depends on how much time you have to put into it. I take a month to write a book, but some professional authors take 3 months to a year. Again, it depends on your schedule, free time, and writing speed. I happen to be a fast writer, but it's not necessary. Even slow writers get agents and sell books! Always make sure your routine works for you. 

Make sure to back up your work! I recommend using USB drives, Google Drive (which is free storage), Dropbox (more free document storage), AND email your work to yourself as a Word Document. Print it off if you have to. Trust me, you don't want to lose your work. Glitches and viruses happen, so make sure to back it up somewhere. You should also have a strong anti-virus protection software on your laptop or computer. I use BitDefender, and it brings me peace of mind.

What makes you a great writer? Writing – a lot. That's how you learn and get better. You need to be extremely dedicated. But it's true that even a great writer needs a little luck when it comes to getting an agent.

 

Moving on to the agent part. How do you get an agent?

I won’t lie – it’s very tough, especially in a pandemic. But agents out there are still hungry for books. So are publishers and readers.

 

Junior Agents are newer to the publishing world and are still building their list of clients. My agent was one when I first signed with her in January 2020, but she’s a Senior Agent now. They’re more experienced agents with a longer list of clients. Junior Agents may be easier to sign with, but they may be less experienced and have less connections.

Am I able to read your manuscript or show it to my agent? Unfortunately, I cannot. For legal reasons, mostly, and also because I'm really busy. If you think my agent might like your work, feel free to query her (just make sure she's open to queries at that time. As of September 2021, she is closed.) I can't make her like your work - or my publisher. That decision lies with them and their specific tastes.

 

But I can still offer you my best advice.

 

There are many places to look for agents. Manuscript Wishlist is a good website to browse agents, as well as QueryTracker. You can find the names of reputable agents. Writers Digest also keeps a list of agents and agencies. Publishers Marketplace keeps a list of agents and agencies, as well as deal announcements and news. All agents, agencies, and publishers on Publishers Marketplace are accredited/legitimate, so it's a very good resource. I'd recommend that one personally.

Here are the links:

https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

https://querytracker.net/

https://www.writersdigest.com/getting-published

https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/

Twitter is always a good resource. You can search the hashtag #MSWL (which stands for Manuscript Wishlist) where agents will share what they’re looking for. If you think your manuscript matches what they want, feel free to query. My agent, Jessica Reino, runs a #TheWritersZen chat during the first Sunday of each month. You can tweet your writer or agent questions at her with the hashtag! 

I really recommend getting a Twitter account. It can be helpful to chat with other writers (using the hashtags #WritingCommunity and #amwriting) and participate in pitch contests. But again, that’s up to you.

What are the popular pitch contests on Twitter? #PitMad is pretty popular, and it happens every few months. Agents will check Twitter in and out all day. As a writer, you write the best pitch for your book - in 280 characters or less - with the appropriate hashtags. (#MG for middle grade, #YA for young adult, etc.) If agents like it, they will "favorite" your Tweet as an invitation to query them. There are also other Pitch contests that happen year-round on Twitter - some for specific genres and age groups.

I did that a few times, but I never got anywhere with agents. So if you don't get any likes or engagement, don't feel bad! I got my agent the old-fashioned way - a query submission through QueryTracker. I actually queried another agent at my agency, but it was forwarded to my agent as a better match. Thank goodness it did!

Learn more about PitMad here: https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

You may also hear about NaNoWriMo. It stands for "National Novel Writing Month". It takes place every November. Basically, you aim to write a 50k word novel in a month (November). You can create an account and chat with other writers on the message boards. You don't have to do it, but it is a good way to meet other writers and stay motivated. I've done it and won a few times. If you write 50k in one month, you win a cool certificate! Some writers really struggle to self-motivate, so this can be a good idea for them. Remember - you don't need to win it. Just getting words on the page is the goal!

Here's the link for NaNoWriMo: https://nanowrimo.org/

 

Camp NanoWriMo is the same thing, except it takes place in April and July. Again, you don't need to do it, but it can be a fun exercise in motivation. Here's the link: https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-camp-nanowrimo

Do you need a large following to get an agent? No, not at all. An agent doesn’t expect you to be famous – they understand you’re trying to make a name for yourself. All the writers I know have an online presence - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog, official website on Wix, etc. They might not have a lot of followers, but they're still there to interact with readers and get their names out there.

Even if you haven't sold a book or even finished one yet, it's still a good idea to have some kind of social media involvement. All the writer friends I know are online - I've never met them in person! I've learned about a lot of great books from Twitter and Instagram that I never would've from real life, so that should tell you how important it is. Get yourself out there - don't be shy! The writing community is VERY friendly and welcoming.

Celebrities, of course, have an easy time getting an agent. But if you're an average person and not famous, it will be tougher. (That's true about everything in life, though!)

In the old days before the Internet, you'd send out your manuscript in the mail. Nowadays, agents only want digital submissions through email. It saves a lot of time, money, and paper, too!

What is a query? It’s an email sent to agents. Think of it like a brief resume for your book. Here is an example query of my YA mystery novel, JESSICA PRINCE AND THE CRIMSON CAPER. This one got me my agent. Your query letter should look something like this:

"Dear (Agent’s Name):

Sixteen-year-old heiress Jessica Prince flies to Milan to see the show of an up-and-coming fashion designer…but someone calling themselves The Crimson Caper is out for revenge. I am querying you because you mentioned that you like (add three things briefly about your book here - like cozy mysteries, forbidden love, etc.)

                         

Jessica Prince, the niece of billionaire businessman Henry Prince, goes with her uncle to Milan to see Carla Valentine, an old flame of Henry’s and a popular new fashion designer. But the night of the show, the lead model is hurt, the lights go out, and a threatening note is left behind. Worst of all, Jessica sees a person in a red trench coat – the Crimson Caper - who seems to be out to destroy Carla’s life if she won’t quit fashion.

 

With only her trusty notebook and love of mystery novels, Jessica sets out to solve the crime. But as she delves deeper, she realizes there’s more going on beneath the surface and she can’t trust anyone. When Uncle Henry is framed and arrested for the sabotage, Jessica must rely on her intuition and observational skills before she loses her uncle forever…

 

I am an author from Canada. I have a young adult fantasy trilogy being traditionally published by Fire and Ice in the spring of 2020. My young adult mystery novel, JESSICA PRINCE AND THE CRIMSON CAPER, is complete at 81,307 words. Comparable titles include The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. It is also inspired by Veronica Mars and Murder, She Wrote, and will be a teen detective series.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first ten pages below and look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Dana Gricken"

ALWAYS make sure to address the agent by their name. Don’t use Mr. or Mrs. or anything, only their name. Writing “Dear Agent” will get your email deleted. Mention briefly WHY you’re querying them. Agents want to know you have a good reason for querying them.

Then write a small synopsis for your book – think the back of a book at the bookstore. Briefly tell them who you are, what the word count is, the age group and genre, any notable writing credits (like getting published), three RECENT comparable titles, and thank them for their time. Then include whatever pages they’re looking for to read.

 

How do you know what they’re looking for? Go to their website. My agent is Jessica Reino of the Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Their website contains information on how to query her (through a cool online system called QueryTracker) and how many pages she's looking for.

You don't want to send your grisly horror novel to an agent that only likes sappy romance novels, so please, do your research here! Don't make it easy to reject you.

Some agents also ask for a one-page OR two-page synopsis of your novel. That can be hard to write to sum up your WHOLE novel, but it's important. They may also ask for a logline (mentioned above) or a one-paragraph summary. I would suggest readying these before you query.

How many agents should you submit to? I'd say no more than ten at a time. You want to wait for feedback. I used to keep a document on my laptop of who I submitted to and what their answer was. (Agents also do this for their clients.) Some agents unfortunately can't get back to you, so a "no answer" will be a rejection. Some agents are committed to answering everyone, so check out their website to see if they do. You can always send a gentle "nudge" email, but most of the time, I recommend just waiting.

The same goes for publishers. Don't submit to too many at one time - keep it small and wait for answers first before moving on.

You also shouldn't query more than one agent at one agency at the same time. Wait until you get a response first. This goes even for multiple projects. Sometimes, a "no" from one agent at an agency is a no from everyone, but not always. Make sure to read their website!

Agents also close to queries from time to time - for holidays, when they're too busy, etc. so keep an eye out on their website and Twitter page. All queries received when they're closed will be automatically deleted.

 

You NEVER send an agent your full manuscript – not yet. It’s only until they ask for it. Instead, most want a sample – like ten pages, first three chapters, etc. Why? To see if they like it. All agents are different here, so make sure to pay attention to the submission guidelines. Some prefer an email, others use the query submission website called QueryTracker. Most prefer your work to be copy and pasted into the email (as some fear attachment viruses) while others will ask for Microsoft Word attachments. Again, it depends on the agent.

 

Then what happens? You submit your writing. And then wait, and wait, and wait…

Some agents might request more material. It's called a FULL REQUEST. That's good - and it means they like it so far! Always follow their instructions and be kind. When they've requested your full manuscript, the waiting begins again for their final word - if it's a rejection or an offer of representation.

Agents take a very long time to get back to you. They’re busy people. Keep in mind they have many clients and personal lives. The publishing industry is a true test of patience!

So in the meantime, get back to your writing and keep busy. Most agents want to know you have several books in you and that you’re serious about this career, so you’ll have to write again, anyway.

 

I’ll be honest here – you’re going to face a LOT of rejection. I had 400 rejections over 12 novels in 3 years before I landed my agent. A writer friend of mine had been rejected for 7 YEARS before landing an agent and then a book deal. Another writer I know took TEN YEARS. My three years seems pretty small in comparison! But it's completely normal.

I'd love to be able to say, "oh, it'll take you a few years and then you'll get an agent!" But I can't. I don't know for sure - no one does. It depends a lot on your writing, the current market, and the pool of agents you're submitting to. There is NO average amount of time here. 

Everyone's journey is different to publication. The process of finding an agent and getting published is emotionally difficult, and I’ll admit, I cried many times and wanted to quit.

 

But you can’t. If you want to be traditionally published - going the route of an agent and publisher - you need to stick with it.

Please, don't take rejection personally. What one agent dislikes might intrigue another. Tastes vary greatly from one agent to another one. And most of the time, they reject it because it isn't right for them or because they have too many clients. Some will include helpful feedback, while others are too busy.

 

DON'T take it as an insult to your work. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with that, but it comes down to personal preference! Some people love sushi (like myself) while others (like my parents) can't stand it. This is the publishing industry in a nutshell. Besides, I'm sure there are VERY popular movies, books, and TV shows that you don't like that have gone on to make millions and acquire many adoring fans.

I had to write 12 novels before landing my agent. Imagine if I had quit after ten! I self-published my first trilogy because no one wanted it, and finally landed a small press with my next three books.

Since then, I've written 34 novels - of varying genres and age groups - a dozen short stories, and nearly 30 picture books. I recommend exploring different genres and age groups. I originally started out writing fantasy, but it was my YA mystery novel that got me my agent. You never know! Don't be afraid to experiment a little. And it'll make things easier for your agent if they can't sell your first novel.

On that note, you'll see other authors around you getting agents, lucrative book deals, and hitting the New York Times bestseller list. (I'm always seeing deal announcements on Twitter and Publishers Marketplace.) Yes, it will probably hurt - you may even be jealous, angry, and upset that it's not you. But my best advice here is to always FOCUS ON YOUR OWN WORK. You can't compare your writing journey to someone else's. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, privileges, and opportunities, so keep writing and try to tune it out. Be supportive of your author friends and keep working hard to ensure your day will come.

Remember that publishing is a business and novels are products. The point of any business is to make money. While agents and publishers are reading your manuscript from a creative point of view, they also need to ask themselves, "can I sell this to a broad audience?" and "does it have commercial appeal?" They need to pay the bills, too.

Another uncomfortable truth: it's rare that your first book will get you an agent or sell. I mean, anything's possible, but usually, it takes many books to cultivate and improve your craft and find an agent. So write as many books as you can!

Speaking of which, you want to find the right agent - who not only LOVES your writing and books, but also works well with you and is kind and helpful. Thankfully, mine is all those things!

 

Now, some small publishers – like mine, Fire and Ice YA – don’t require an agent. You query them the same way as agents. The website called Poets & Writers has good resources for finding small publishers. Remember, a small publisher WON’T be able to get your books in stores, run a big marketing campaign, or pay you an advance. You also don't get many royalties as sales are small and limited. You won't have an agent in your corner to read over the contract or give their advice, so be careful here.

Some writers may be fine with that. Again, that's up to you and where you want to be as a writer.

 

Why sign with small publishers? They may be easier than big publishers as you don't need an agent and they can take on more books. They're also warm, welcoming, and inviting. It truly does feel close-knit like a family.  

Some writers choose to self-publish. For that, I recommend getting an editor. Websites like Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital will help format your e-book and get it out there on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and more for purchase. Mine are only available for e-book as it's free, but there's an option for paperback, too. Amazon, Lulu, and IngramSpark are good places to make your book into paperback and hardcopy. They'll also sell it to online retailers, but you could end up spending hundreds of dollars to make it all come together.

Again, this won't get your book in stores. You'll have to run all your own marketing, too, and it can be a very lonely route. I know - three of my books are self-published. Three of my other books were published by Fire and Ice YA, a small press.

Why is an agent important? If you want to get published by BIG publishers – and get your books in stores and make large advances – you need an agent to negotiate on your behalf. There’s no way around it. They won't consider your work without an agent.

 

That’s why you want to make sure your agent has good connections and knows what they’re doing. You’re putting your books and future in their hands. Most agents live in New York City - where the major publishers are - but it's not necessary for an agent. As long as they have connections, it's all good. Your agent should be friendly, personable, and kind. 

What does an agent do, exactly? They try to sell your book to publishers. This means a LOT of networking, emailing, and calling people. Naturally, agents have to be friendly and gregarious. Agents also handle film rights, audio rights (to be turned into audiobooks), gaming rights (mostly for apps), and international rights (which translates your books into other languages in different countries. My books are being considered in Italian as we speak!)

Sounds like a lot, right? It is! They're busy people. I could never be an agent - too much stress! I really admire agents and how hard they work. They have to be very organized, determined, and a little stubborn.

The same goes for writers!

Since agents don't get paid until you do, they're ultimately working with you for free. They're taking a big risk on you as an author. (Publishers do, too.) So be kind to them - be kind to everyone!

Do you have to be an American to be published? Nope. My agent and publisher are both American, but I'm Canadian. Make sure to always tell agents and publishers where you're from. This is important for tax purposes and getting royalties.

How many agents does one author have? Usually one - though, I've known some to have two or more for different genres and age groups. I'm very fortunate to have an agent that enjoys all genres and age groups since I write all across the board. Some agents only stick to one genre or age group, and that can be tough for authors who are multi-genre (like myself). Keep this in mind with who you're querying. For now, for your first agent, just focus on landing one. Query your best book first if you've written multiple.

How do I get paid from my publisher? It's all digital - through Paypal. Then I transfer it to my bank account. The same goes for my self-published books. Amazon sends me direct deposits to my bank account. Don't forget to include this on your tax forms during tax season!

How often do I hear from my agent? Sometimes weekly, other times monthly. It just depends if she has news or if I want to submit another manuscript of mine to her. Sometimes, she just checks in and says hello which is nice! We also chat over Zoom calls every few months.

I've never met my agent in person, and that's pretty common. Thank goodness for email, Zoom, and phone calls!

 

What happens when an agent wants to offer representation - 'rep' for short? They’ll email you asking for a phone call. That’s known as THE BIG CALL in the writer world. You have the choice to accept or decline.

Not all agents are good agents. Let’s look at some red flags:

Agents should NEVER ask for money upfront. Neither should publishers. Agents make money when you do – usually 15 percent from every contract sale. If they ask you for money, RUN. Money should always be flowing to YOU.

 

Agents should be respectful and professional. They should make time for you and your book. My agent and I edited my manuscript twice before sending it out, and it was a lot of time spent emailing and working. They have to be hard workers.

 

You should always retain the rights to your books, and be able to end the contract whenever you please.

Agents should ask for your opinions and respect what you say. After all, it's your book and your career!

An agent taking on too many clients is another red flag. Agents can't take on everyone they like - their plates would be too full to respond to any of them. More clients means more opportunities to sell and make money, but there has to be a limit. It depends on how much the agent can handle - and it will vary. I think my agent has around 20 or so clients, including me. Some even have personal assistants to help with the workload. But they have to be very selective for a reason! This is why rejection is common. It's simply a matter of not enough room.

After you've signed with an agent, another red flag is them just sending your manuscript to publishers wildly - all of them at once. Again, the list should be curated and tailored to your book. No more than 8 publishers should have it at one point. If they all say no, another round of submissions will be created. Some big publishers even prefer to have EXCLUSIVE submissions (meaning they don't want anyone else reading your manuscript but them, which I've encountered.) If it's a no, this unfortunately means a lot of time has passed and you'll have to start over. Exclusive submissions can suck sometimes.

But agents don't typically ask for exclusive submissions when you're querying them. They understand it takes forever to hear back, and multiple submissions are common in this stage! They expect you to be submitting to other agents.

Remember – if something feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to reach out online and ask questions when you get a contract. If an agent won’t answer your questions or tries to pressure you, RUN.

 

Publishing houses known as VANITY PRESSES are something to watch out for. They charge authors which is wrong. Don’t sign with them.

 

There’s a wonderful blog run by author Victoria Strauss called Writer Beware. You can also find it on Twitter with the hashtag #WriterBeware. It keeps writers informed of common scams, publishers, and agents to watch out for. Here’s the link: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/

 

What happens after you get an agent? You get to work. You’ll edit your novel with your agent, then it goes on submission – ‘sub’ for short. This can take months to get it ready.

 

When it is ready, that’s when your novel goes to publishers for consideration. This can also take months – sometimes up to ten. Editors are very slow, especially in COVID times. Your agent will prepare a list of editors to submit to who they think will like your work. Your input is important here.

 

Communication is also important. Make sure to voice your concerns with your agent. You’re never bothering them – that’s what they’re there for!

 

As I said before, there’s a lot of waiting involved here. I recommend writing, reading, and getting a hobby while you wait. Unfortunately, there's NO WAY to speed up the process. Publishing is as slow as molasses in winter. Trust me. The TV and film industry (if your books get adapted) is even slower!

 

If you do get an offer, your agent will read the contract to make sure it’s legit. You always have the option to accept or decline. If your agent makes you feel bad about saying no, again, that’s a red flag.

What if an agent can’t sell your work? Then you move on to another project.

 

Do writers fire their agents? Sometimes – if they’ve had inappropriate behavior or just feel like they aren’t a good match. The same goes for agents if they can’t sell your books. But that’s rare. Just make sure you’re always working on something new! Fire is a pretty harsh word, though. I'd say 'break a contract' is better.

Am I my agent's boss? No. Are they my boss? Also no. They're your partner - you write the books, and they sell them. It's a professional relationship built on trust and mutual respect. And of course, a love of stories!

They know the industry, so listen to them. If they ask you to make changes with your book, seriously consider it, but of course, you must be comfortable with it, too.

How do agents get their jobs? They usually intern or assist at agencies. Most shadow bigger agents to learn the job. Then, they go on to become agents or start their own agencies. There's no official program or accreditation, but they usually have these four things...

1. Love books and read voraciously (and understand age groups, genres, and tropes)

2. Have backgrounds as editors, paralegals (like my agent which is good for reading and making contracts), or have English degrees

3. Have connections and keep in touch with editors, other agents, and publishing houses

4. Understand the current trends with both big and small publishers and the market in general.

They need to have knowledge of the publishing industry! It's crucial in the role of selling books. You, the writer, should also have some knowledge and research trends, but this is more your agent's prerogative.

 

In the face of rejection – with agents or editors – always stay professional, kind, and grateful. Remember, people talk - especially in publishing. After all, it's a small industry where agents MUST communicate and network. You don’t want to have a bad reputation. Kindness is magic - in every situation and facet of life!

 

Is it easy to get an agent? Absolutely not. But it is possible – I’m living proof. And it's nice to have someone representing you and in your corner, fighting for your novels.

 

I signed with my agent 18 months ago (as of September 2021), and we haven’t sold anything yet. But I’ve given her 16 novels and 4 picture books. We’re close – I can feel it. I still have hope!

 

It usually takes two years to sell a first book. Most writers I’ve spoken to have said 1 to 3 years. Again, it depends on your writing, your agent’s connections, and the current market. In COVID, so many editors have quit and moved on, so it's very tough right now. The past two years with my agent have NOT been normal years. The world is so upside down with the pandemic - and that includes the publishing industry!

Writing is a career that isn't a typical 9 to 5. You're always connected via email. You can easily suffer burnout, so don't push yourself too hard. You'll most likely suffer from rejection sadness, writer's block, and self-doubt. Remember how much you love writing, take a break, and then get back to it.

For non-writers who think it isn't hard work, they're wrong. It's probably the hardest work of my life. Not only do you have to write a good book, but it also has to be marketable and relevant enough to get an agent. That's no easy feat! It's a very busy career where you always have work to do.

Is it possible to make a living off your writing? I think so - but it's going to take a while. And it's usually only if you go the traditional, big publisher route with lots of marketing. Most self-published and indie writers make little royalties and have day jobs. But I know some writers at big publishers that still need a day job to pay the bills.

Of course, you shouldn't be writing for money - you should write because you love it. But it's still nice to get a paycheck. I was very proud when I got mine form my small press! I'm also very fortunate to live with my parents and can make writing my full-time job. Not all writers have that privilege, and most have to sneak in time to write with busy day jobs, kids, hobbies, partners/spouses, and other adult responsibilities!

Another important note:

Everyone thinks getting an agent is the key to success in the industry. It isn't. Yes, it's amazing to have someone devoting themselves to your work, but it's NO guarantee your books will sell. No agent can promise you fame or riches. Nothing is easy or quick in this industry.

I also don't believe in overnight success. Ask any famous writer and they'll tell you it took YEARS - even decades - to get an agent, a book deal, and a large fanbase. It also took a lot of persistence, perseverance, and faith. And of course, it also took countless hours writing, editing, reading, and brainstorming.

I'm just an average person. I live in Canada and have no famous parents or ANY connections to the film, TV, or publishing industry. It's hard when you don't have a foot in the door, but you can still make it. I believe that. What are some traits writers need to have?

1. A love of books and writing

2. Patience - lots of it!

3. A desire to improve and hear feedback and editorial notes

4. Creativity, imagination, and lots of ideas to write different stories

5. Persistence - even in the face of hundreds of rejections and disappointments!

Persistence is so important. I can't begin to highlight how much you'll need it - along with dedication. A mediocre writer will get a lot farther than a super talented writer sometimes based on dedication alone! 

Art is very subjective, and because of that, it's hard to sell books. It has to find the right publisher at the right time.

And remember - a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. They represent you and you represent them, so you both have to be professional and honest people.

 

Nothing is certain in life – and certainly not in publishing. It’s a very hard business. As difficult as it is, you need to learn how to let rejection go and keep trying. Having a friend or family member you can vent to is important. I'm so glad to have my parents and grandmother there to listen and encourage me to keep going. The industry can REALLY take a toll on your mental health.

When you do get published, it never ends - the bad reviews, the rejection, the self-doubt, the criticism. As a writer, it's a way of life. You'll have to learn to make peace with it.

After all, your writing WON'T be for everyone. You have to accept that some people will just HATE your writing - sometimes for a good reason, sometimes not. You can't write to please everyone and their different tastes, so don't. Write to please yourself FIRST and your readers will follow with a little luck.

Why do we do it? It's all for the love of writing, of course. Getting to be a writer is a gift, and I don't take it for granted. I'm very lucky to be where I am. Hopefully, I'll be a little luckier soon and keep climbing the publishing ladder.

I hope I didn't discourage anyone by writing all this, but it's an honest look at the publishing industry. I've been in it for a few years now, and I've learned a lot already. I wish someone would've told me these things years ago.

I'm @DanaGricken on Twitter and Instagram if you'd like to drop by. If you have any questions about the publishing industry that I left out, please feel free to send me a message on Twitter or Instagram where I often frequent. You can also reach out via my contact form on this website. (Click here for that.) I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can and with my best advice!

 

Please also consider buying my books on the BOOKS page (click here). That's the best way to support me and my career to ensure I can keep doing what I love. Thanks for reading my advice and I hope it helps.

 

So good luck, dear writer – and may the publishing odds be in your favor. As someone who knows how tough this industry is - and how it's designed to be heartbreaking - I’m really rooting for you.

The world needs more books, always. The world needs YOUR books. So don't give up. I didn't, and I'm so proud I stuck with it. I've wanted to be a writer since I was six years old, and slowly but surely, it's happening. (Emphasis on SLOWLY.) You have to have some faith in yourself and your writing!

And when you do get an agent or get published, the victory feels even sweeter knowing how hard you worked. So please, don't quit! It'll all be worth it when you get positive feedback from your readers and know you're making a difference in the world.

And don't forget me when you become a famous writer. :)

Sincerely,

Dana Gricken

How did I get my publishing house?

After querying my YA fantasy novel, THE DARK QUEEN, to many agents, only a handful requested the full material. Ultimately, it was all a pass. I continued to polish and edit it and even added a prologue at that time.

I heard from a popular writer, Katie Masters (check her out!) on Twitter about a small press called Fire and Ice that she had gotten published with. I decided to submit to them, and they requested more and eventually offered a contract for a trilogy! It was a first for me -- signing a contract and working with an editor.

The reason I self-published my first trilogy - The Dragonwitch Chronicles - is because I had so many rejections but still believed in those books. I'm glad I did! Self-publishing is valid, too. I still make sales to this day since it first released in March 2018!

How did I get my agent?

By querying a LOT of agents, using QueryTracker, Twitter, and Publishers Marketplace. I remember scouring the Internet for HOURS at a time, trying to find agents who represented my genre and might like my stories. My agent, Jessica Reino, was a Junior Agent at the time (a newer agent) and looking to build her list of clients. It was lucky that I had what she was looking for at that time -- JESSICA PRINCE AND THE CRIMSON CAPER, a YA mystery.

 

I queried another agent at the agency who thought Jess would be a better fit, so the story was forwarded to her. I think she requested the full in the summer of 2019 and responded in December, setting up a phone call in January 2020 to discuss my book and publishing goals. After a twenty-minute phone call of sharing our ideas, she eventually offered to sign me and I agreed! I signed the publishing contract digitally. We've been working together since January 2020 with my YA mystery going on sub in March 2020, and I love it.

 

She is so easy to work with, knowledgeable, and we get along so well! Even though the YA mystery she signed me for still hasn't found a home, we're plugging along with other projects. Fingers crossed we sell a book soon! As I mentioned above, it can often take years to sell a book, especially in a pandemic.

I wanted to quit many times -- and faced lots of rejection -- but kept going. I credit my persistence as my greatest asset. Hopefully, I'll keep going onwards and upwards -- and you will, too! Best wishes and good luck, friend.

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