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Write On, Wednesday: Preparing for an Agent

By Leslie Lindsay

Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

About a week ago, I received an email from an acquaintance.  This Writerly person was picking my brain about literary agents.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I am no expert on agents.  Quite the contrary.  I am an agent virgin.  Sure, I’ve published a book, but I did that directly through the publisher via an old-fashioned query letter and then proposal package (it’s a non-fiction book, and that’s how these things are handled in the professional writing world).  Ahhh…yes…but what if that book is fiction?  Do the rules somehow change? 

You bet they do.  (nothing is ever easy, is it?). 

My response went something of the way of you need an agent.  you need an agent. you need an agent. you need an agent.  But, the person asked, “Don’t I need an editor?”  Well, yes.  And that, my friend is you.   


Wait.  Back the writing train up.  “The editor is me?  Little ol me?”  Yes. 

To write is human, to edit is devine.” 

That would be the great Stephen King.  And there’s a lot of truth to that statement.  Anyone can write.  It’s a pretty basic act.  String some letters togehter.  Make them into words, sentences, paragraphs, a whole darn book if you want.  But knowing what works and what doesn’t…what needs to be cut, or expanded upon….well, that is a skill all to itself. 

Here’s the thing:  if you are working on a manuscript (mss) you hope to submit for possible publication, you’d better be darn sure the thing is in good shape.  What this usually means is you toil away for hours on your craft.  You look at it all day, you think about it when you aren’t looking at it.  You read books.  Lots of them.  You jot down notes about things that strike your fancy when you are at the grocery store, or sitting at that stoplight.  Because, gosh darn it–you’ve been inspired! 

And when you think all of your inspiration has been squeezed outta you like a sponge and onto your computer screen, you look at it and think, “Well, this just sucks.  I’ll never get published.”  But you know you want to.  And then you get a writing partner or a critique group.  They like it.  You have more confidence again. 

Now you are ready to sell that manuscript.  Because, after all a six-figure book deal looks more sunny than say, your Grandmother’s 90th Birthday celebration in podunk-ville, USA where  you are bound to get more story ideas and character description for your next project.  But I digress.

Selling your manuscript is like selling a house.  You get an agent to sell your house, right?  A real estate agent.  They know the ins & outs of putting a house on the market, negotiating contracts, making that house look the best it can look.  You, probably do not.  So, you sign up with someone over at Coldwell Banker or John Greene and hope it sells quickly. 

And if you have poured your heart and soul into that house with upgrades, repairs, decorating, and a little TLC (read: conferences, diligent editing, timing, talent, luck, connections blood, sweat, and tears), then maybe you’ll get an agent.  (Remember, you wouldn’t put a house on the market that has glaring issues, a leaky roof for example). 

The agent sells your concept (yep–its a concept to sell now) to a publishing house (see, that house metaphor–well, it’s there for a reason).  Someone at that pub house will be assigned to be your editor.  You listen to them.  They know this business way better than you.  They tell you to cut the part of the book in which aliens attack the human population by way of flying basset hounds.  You do it.  They want you to beef up the section on why the character hates calculus.  You do that, too. 

Here’s how the “traditional” process goes:

1st draft–>feedback–>2nd draft–>feedback–>Polish–>Query Letter–>1-3page synopsis of the whole stinkin’ book–>Agent search–>Send query letters–>wait impatiently for an agent to request a partial mss (usually 3 chapters)–>get rejected–>Try again–>Finally score–an agent!–>wait for agent to sell to a buyer (i.e. pub house)–>negotiate contract (first time authors have little leaway)–>get an editor–>more revisions–>Blood–>Sweat–>Tears–>Get in the bookstore. 

I know, I know…the process is a little daunting.  But if  you want it bad enough, well…you make it happen.

Write on, Wednesday!

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