For an unpublished author or unproduced screenwriter finding a literary agent who will represent your work and take your career to the next level is as critical as the ability to write gripping novels or attention-grabbing screenplays. But finding representation can be a frustrating quest.
Says Diana Rubino, a multi-published author who is currently on her third agent, “I found it as hard to find an agent as it is to find a publisher; you need to query many of them before finding one who’s willing to represent you. Very few traditional publishers accept unagented material these days.”
Do you need an agent? Xandra James, who has multiple titles to her name in the genre of paranormal romance, contemporary romance and romantic suspense, says, “It depends on what you want for your career. If your goals consist of hitting the big New York traditional publishers, agents are a good bet although you can get their attention through self-publishing nowadays. I know of quite a few authors who simply want an agent to negotiate their foreign rights and movie rights. It depends on what you want from an agent and what one can offer you at this point in your career too.”
Increasingly, authors are exploring both options of being traditionally- and self-published. Says author Karen Duvall, who enjoys a “terrific working relationship” with her agent, “If you want to be a hybrid author with your feet in both camps, you’ll want a traditional publishing contract and the big ones aren’t easy without an agent. Most big publishers won’t consider unagented submissions (but this will likely change in the near future). Now that a few author/agent teams have broken through the traditional publisher wall that used to make an author’s claim to electronic rights a deal breaker, authors may be able to keep their books’ e-rights and contract only for paper. That’s a huge coup and it’s less likely to happen without an agent’s help.”
With the success of self-publishing more and more authors are using the D-I-Y approach to publishing. As romance author Téa Cooper says, “I thought it (finding an agent) was the holy grail. But now I’m changing my mind.” But as Karen Duvall cautions, “Typically, small publishers are open to unagented writers. Even if you do land a publisher, it’s strongly advised that the contract be reviewed by an agent or literary attorney.”
In the screenwriting world, an agent is the only way forward, says Julie Gray of Just Effin’ Entertain Me. The writing coach and mentor who also runs a top-tier screenwriting competition, writes in her blog: “Production companies have some pretty good reasons for not accepting unrepped work. A repped writer has been vetted, for one thing. Production companies would rather know the work is on the level where a manager or agent really believes in it. It’s a filtering system. It’s quality control. And it’s very necessary.” She further adds, “There are smaller companies that might respond to a killer query and ask to read your script—you just to have to find them.”
So, how do you find an agent? “It’s not so much about finding one as it is about knowing which one is the right for you,” says Karen. “The best source as a place to start is querytracker.net. Once you know the basic details about the agents who represent your type of book, you research them individually. You might go so far as to contact a few of the authors they represent. I also recommend attending a few writers conferences not only for the opportunity to pitch your work but also to hear what agents have to say when they sit on panels and give workshops. Knowledge is power. You want to make an informed decision before you start sending out your queries.”
Diana adds, “The Writers Market has listings of agents and you can google literary agents. Also, ask around, if your fellow authors have agents who are accepting new clients. Not all fellow authors will want to share this information but it never hurts to ask. Make sure the agents you query handle your genre.”
Another source for finding literary agents is AgentHunter. I personally checked out the site and found that not only does it list agents by name, genre and literary agency but you can use a number of search filters to find agents who meet your criteria. Narrowing the search by experience, ‘hunger for clients’, authors represented, makes it easier to draw up a laundry list of the agents you could query. The website offers search tools for “every literary agency in the UK and for every significant publisher”. So if an author decides that his/her project is more suited for direct submission to publishers, a list of potential publishers too can be generated.
The best part is that the website provides detailed biographies of the agents, and includes contact info, client list status, total number of clients as well as information about authors and books liked by the agent, links to their blogs and advice to writers, twitter handles and more. Having all this information in one place is of immense help to authors who are looking for the ‘right agent’. After all, as Diana points out, “It’s said that ‘a bad agent is worse than no agent at all’. So it’s very important that it’s a good match, like a marriage.”
Many ways to being discovered. Laurie Ashbourne, a writer and a story development consultant, feels that “there has never been a better time for writers to be discovered. Very recently I have seen agents for both screenwriters and novelists take to different approaches in reaching out to new writers. Regina Brooks who oversees Gotham’s Writers Digest YA contest, held an online seminar based on this. Twitter is also a great way to connect to agents for both worlds, there’s a television and film lit manager @BrooklynWeaver who occasionally holds #popupitch and he’s signed writers from that. There are also reputable script hosting services that can get you noticed such as the Blacklist and SpecScout.”
Laurie points out, “First, writers must realize that agents are a writer’s sales force. So if you can prove your material has traction in the marketplace (such as good reviews and ebook downloads) then that acts as a selling point for them and you. Second, even if you do get an agent to get you in front of decision makers, it’s up to you to sell the material, by it being good and also by presenting yourself as someone they want to do business with.”
Contests are also a great way of landing agents, says Laurie. “Top-tier (screenwriting) contests – Nicholl, Austin, Just Effing Entertain Me – all get your material in front of agents. But the resources popping up lately like the Blacklist and Specscout and some of the well-connected consultants will be happy to pass along a great script.”
So, what has your experience been in finding an agent? Do share with us your stories.
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