Listen carefully. Once upon a time I nearly managed to hook an agent. Not only that but it was the first agent I sent my manuscript to! Who replied the very next day! Asking to see my entire manuscript! Yes, it sounds like a dream come true…
I hope this tale will give anyone reading some tips on how to achieve the same magical result I experienced after sending out my work. But beware! This is also a cautionary tale. That agent who was so desperate to see my manuscript? In the end she declined it. I’m going to tell why. That way you won’t make the same mistake I did.
But back to the start. I was just as surprised as anyone when I got a response from a very successful and prominent agent, regarded as one of the best, asking to see my whole novel. She even went as far as to say she ‘really liked these pages,’ and wanted to know if I’d sent it out to other agents. It’s the kind of email aspiring authors dream of and I’ll tell how I think it managed to come about.
Firstly I looked up every agent I could find, the way most people do, using ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook’. It’s one of those books everyone in the publishing industry- or everyone who wants to get into the industry- should just have. But the book only serves as a beginning. The internet is where the real information on planet agentslies, as I’m sure everyone knows.
Of course, I read the submission guidelines and made sure each query letter was tailored to each agent, like anyone else would. But then I decided to do more. Every agent I planned to send my work to I typed their name into google and added the word ‘interview.’ Sometimes this gave me lots of results some times it didn’t. But most of the time you would be quite surprised to discover just how many interviews are lurking about online regarding certain agents. And this is the strange part, when I began researching agents this way I discovered even more agents I didn’t even know existed. The next part of my plan was to stalk their twitter. Yes, I mean stalk. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about a person from reading their tweets. The more you know about an agent the better. You can really begin to get a good idea if your work is the kind of thing they’d be interested in. Afterwards I went back to google and typed in the agents name and then typed ‘wish list.’ This is where I got some of the best results because the answers that popped up matched exactly what I had written in my novel. An agent declared a ‘children’s fantasy novel for middle grade set in our own world’ is what they want? Great! I knew exactly where to send my work.
There were even more things I did before sending off my beloved story. Some agents have blogs. Sometimes on these blogs they will go into great detail about their likes and dislikes when receiving a submission. You would have to be an idiot not to make use of that kind of information! Some agents even pop up on youtube where they go into even more detail about what they want from a submission. My advice would be to literally wring the internet dry on each agent, till you have read every possible thing you can. I even found information on what agents look for in the opening paragraph to a manuscript. Then I changed the opening of my manuscript accordingly. Why not? And here’s the thing, once I did make those slight changes the opening was all the better for it. Eventually, between tweaking my manuscript and selecting an agent who was looking for the type of novel I’d written to begin with, I found the perfect agent. What she was looking for was exactly what I had written. The funny part is she wasn’t even on my original list for some reason, but I’d managed to discover her along the way. From reading her twitter, interviews, wish lists and looking up every single one of her existing clients and even reading a book by one of them, I knew she would be the perfect agent to send my novel to.
So I did. I wrote the email. I attached the first three chapters. I clicked ‘send.’ Scary isn’t it?
As scary as it was I was totally elated the next day when I got a response. She wanted to read the entire novel! I’d been imagining a long three month wait only to receive a rejection so when I got this eager and super-speedy response I was quite literally over the moon. I danced around with the dog in my flat. I went into work and caused everyone to ask ‘what’s going on with you? Why are you so happy?’ Let me assure you, when an agent asks to see your full manuscript it’s as good as you imagine it to be, times about a trillion. And that putting it subtly.
Then a few days later the dream ended. She wasn’t interested in taking it further. Why? One simple answer.
THE MANUSCRIPT WASN’T READY!
After all the effort I had gone to in researching agents I had forgotten- no, neglected- to go over my manuscript those final and essential last few times. The first 3 chapters might have been good enough but I hadn’t shown the same care and attention to the rest of the novel. The story, according to the agent, tended to be long winded at times and didn’t drive through in the way she wanted it to. While she assured me I could write and was onto something she wasn’t interested in pursuing the novel any further. Crash! Bang! Burn! Yep, I’d come hurtling back down to earth with a thundering thud. Ouch. I felt like Frodo might have if he finally got to Mount Doom, was about the throw the ring into the fiery abyss… only to have a orc jump out, grab the ring and hurry back to Sauron, leaving Frodo-me standing uselessly on the precipice, waving my fist at him as he disappeared with the ring and my literary dreams.
And here’s the lesson of the tale. Don’t send your work out till it’s ready. And if you think it’s ready, guess what, it’s not. Take a break for a month. Come back to it and edit. Take another break. Come back and edit again. I can see now how right the agent was about my work. I went through and deleted over 5000 words. Some of them were sentences but most of them were merely words clogging up sentences. Imagine if your manuscript managed to get 5000 words lighter? No scenes
or story lines need to be cut out, just the useless words that don’t even need to be there in the first place.
So there you have it. My tips on how I managed to intrigue the very first agent I sent my work to… and my warning on how not to mess it up.