From the Agent’s Mouth (Part II)

A professional writer is an amateur who didn_t quit.”—Richard BachDublin was abuzz with people and I’d say most of them were tourists. Of course I was a tourist too, even though I’m Irish and used to work in Dublin.

The Date with an Agent Event was held in the Smock Alley Theatre.

I stopped off near Temple Bar, with a vague idea of where the venue was.

Had time for a delicious cappuccino and fell into easy conversation with the young waiter. He was slender, blond and had a goatee, I think. I asked him where he was from. We did the guessing game. I never would have come up with Brazil, but there you go. I joked with him that he should be an extra in The Vikings. “I was,” he said. And he went on to tell me about his experiences, which I passed on to my nephew and brother-in-law who are also interested in having a stint on the silver screen.

But I do ramble! I’m afraid brevity is not one of my talents. On the other hand, if I was reading this, I’d want to know all the little stories that happened around the event. Since I’m probably just writing into cyberspace anyway, I can ramble as I like.

Oh, the people I met, the things I saw!

We all flocked into the Theatre, getting our tickets sorted. I forgot my ticket but the staff were friendly and most helpful. I did have an email confirming my Date with an Agent placement and proof that I was who I said I was.

Excited anticipation was the predominant mood amongst the authors or would-be-authors.

Later, settled in our seats, Vanessa O’Loughlin did a great job keeping it all together. She introduced the agents and gave them each the stage as they told us about their typical work day.

The consensus was that most of the established agents can only take on about three new authors a year. That’s very little. But then there are small publishers constantly emerging, so all is not lost.

I had already had a quick chat with the woman beside me. “In which genre do you write?” I asked her.

“Crime Fiction:”

“Oh, that’s good. It’s very popular at the moment.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“Ahem. I’ve been assigned to the Women’s Fiction agent.”

“Lucky you,” she said. “She’s still taking on authors.”

“Yes, she’s pretty new with the agency.”

But then the agent she’d been assigned to was one of those who only takes on three a year.

I looked around the theatre and everyone looked a bit dejected after hearing how difficult it is to get in the door. “Everyone looks so depressed,” I whispered to my neighbour. She nodded in agreement. .

Like me, you’re probably aware of what’s going on in the publishing industry.

I’m not going to repeat most of the mundane stuff, just information I found relevant.

  1. Do check to see that the agent you’re querying is the right one for your genre.
  2. Mention this is the first paragraph of your letter.e.g. “I’ve noticed you’re representing Lee Child, or Amy Tan …” Or “I see you specialise in poetry, non-fiction, crime/thriller …” Let them know that you’ve done your homework.
  3. Keep the letter short. Agents are busy people. They receive many letters each week. Much as they’d like to, they don’t have time to enter into a discussion with you. Opening up a discussion creates a lot more work for them.
  4. A bit of humour or irony is allowed.
  5. Address the agent by his/her name. Don’t send that same generic email with cc. to other agents at the same time. This could get you expelled from school immediately.
  6. These agents interviewed agreed that the Query Letter should contain three paragraphs. Keep it short and to the point. You can include the letter in the body of your email. But do check the individual agent’s requirements.
  7. Don’t be defensive. Be up for criticism. Scrutinise your motives. Be able to take feedback. Any helpful feedback from an agent is like gold dust.
  8. Literary is “difficult to pitch.” On that note, I stopped off at Tramp Press, one of the exhibitors at the Words Event, held at Kilmainham Gaol, the previous day. They stressed that they are looking for exceptional writing and asked what my genre was. I felt intimidated, to be honest, and mumbled my way to the escape door. It’s the tone that makes the music. Anyway, I still wanted to pass that bit of information on to other authors who think they fit the bill.
  9. 2nd paragraph of your letter. Here, you should include your short book description and hook. It should be short enough that, should, you ever capture an agent in an elevator, you can pitch your story during the time it takes to reach the next story or level. Some of them recommended approx. 25 words. Try to make it stand out from the rest. This is your chance, baby.
  10. 3rd A short relevant bio. You can mention books you’ve written, fantastic relevant degrees and awards you’re earned etc. Vanessa O’Loughlin is Ireland’s leading literary scout, the founder of the Inkwell Group, and a prominent name in the Irish Literary Scene. It was she who read through all the entries. She said she likes to get a feel for the person behind the application and likes it less formal than some other agents.
  11. Be courteous. This should be obvious. You can make an agent’s day too!
  12. An agent is interested in a long-term cooperation with you as an author. It might be possible to sneak in that kind of information. E.g. “I’m currently finishing up my third novel …” But again, don’t quote me on this. After all, it’s a business. And remember, the agent doesn’t usually get paid until they land a deal for you. It stands to reason that they’ll only invest in authors/books they think will have a good chance of selling.
  13. Social Media. They agreed, for the most part, that a social media presence is essential if you’re proposing a non-fiction book. You will already have followers and a voice in a particular niche. Otherwise, they agreed that it depends on the agent. They didn’t place much emphasis on social media presence, except for non-fiction writers. One of them said. “The more successful the writer, the shorter the bio.” You can already win Brownie Points if your Bio is catchy and unique. (That’s my advice and I should take it!)
  14. If you’re writing an Anthology of Short Stories it’s advisable to have a theme, with a connecting thread.
  15. Understand your character’s motivation. You’re telling the story.
  16. Develop 6-8 (max) of your characters. The peripheral characters don’t need to be developed to such an extent. Make sure their names are distinctly different.
  17. Make sure your Synopsis and Sample Pages are as clean as can be. (12 pt. New Roman (don’t experiment with any fancy fonts that are hard to read), double or one-and-half line spacing. Generally one/two pages. But don’t forget if you’re lucky enough to be taken on by an agent and if they manage to get you a book deal with a big publisher, they will have their own editors and cover designers.
  18. It can take a long time for an agent to match you with a suitable publisher. Be prepared and be patient.
  19. Trends in books are absolutely unpredictable. Most of them agreed with this. If you follow the trends and try to write a similar book, more than likely the trend will no longer be popular when your book is finished. Someone mentioned Up-lit in Women’s Fiction, specifically Elinor Oliphant. I’d heard of the book, of course, but found a great interview by Claire Armitstead with the author in The Guardian. This positive story brought tears to my eyes. This too can happen to you. You just never know. I also like the term, Grip-lit, which was new to me.
  20. On that note. Develop your own voice and write something you’re invested in.
  21. If you’re lucky enough to be asked for the full manuscript, don’t forget to add page numbers, title and name on each page. This might sound obvious, but imagine what could go wrong if someone drops the manuscript.
  22. Don’t include too many characters in your Synopsis. Just mention the main characters and when you introduce them, it’s a good idea to highlight them the first time they’re introduced.
  23. It’s not advisable to start your book with backstory. You need to capture the attention of the reader immediately, draw them into the story. Don’t lose them.
  24. Start your book where the action begins.
  25. The Synopsis is generally written in the third person, present tense.
  26. Even if you have a pseudonym, it’s better to apply using your real name. You can work out details of a potential penname later with your agent/publisher.

After the agents had given us an insight into their work, there was a general question and answer session before the break.

It was time for tea and coffee. Afterwards, the writers who had been awarded the Date with an Agent were asked to go to see their agents in one of the room upstairs.

My group was lucky because our lovely agent had taken the time to write personal notes on our sample pages and Synopses and returned them to us.

Unfortunately, it was hard to hear and we had to huddle closer because all the agents were curtained off in separate sections of a larger room. They didn’t have microphones. That would have been even more disastrous. We had to drown out the din from the other groups. But nobody really complained and we all adapted to the situation.

Our agent was very approachable. Not jaded by the whole industry. While time didn’t permit her to go into detail with each of us, she did give us helpful information, most of which is included above. At one stage I asked her if, after making the suggested changes, we could resubmit.  “Yes, you can,” she said. “Just make sure to mention where we met.”

That’s good news, and I intend to do it.

I will be patient, I will be patient, I will be patient.

And after I send my applications, I’ll continue with my next novel.

Wait…there’s more. Just a few notes on Bookouture. In the afternoon, I listened to a represntative of Bookouture talk about their open submission policy. I’d been hearing a lot about them and know a couple of people who have been offered book deals with them. They are a Digital Publisher and seem to treat their authors well. Although they do not give advances, they are well connected in the industry and do a fantastic job producing quality digital books, while offering their authors a fair royalty. Average Bookouture Crime/Thriller authors earn approx 20,000/book. You can submit directly to them.

Some additional information: Penguin Books have one of the best global foreign right’s departments. If you’re lucky to be signed up with Penguin, you can expect an advance of between 10,000/100,000 (British pounds, I think).

Now that’s something to work towards.

I hope this has been helpful and would appreciate your comments.




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