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Finding an Agent: Part 1
by Avriel Adler

Marketing strategies for writing follow industry defined methodology. The more aggressively a writer markets her work, the more likely she is to succeed in publishing. The more closely she defines her market, the greater her chance to address her intended audience.

Authors often quip that it is more difficult to find an agent than it is to find a publisher. This is not true. However, it is the agent's function to match the manuscript with the most receptive publisher, therefore the author is less directly involved in that process.

This is not to say that it is simple to find an agent. Agents reject about 98% of the opportunities presented to them, whether through query letters, partial and complete submissions or nonfiction book proposals. An agent's income is derived primarily through sales and his reputation suffers if he does not consistently provide marketable material to the publishers. Nonetheless, no matter how successful the agent, there are only so many titles published per year, and many worthy manuscripts just don't make it to press. This is especially true of works by unpublished authors, and for nonfiction in saturated categories. Thus many titles are agented but never achieve publication.

We've all noticed that certain books are poorly written and yet they sell well. What does this say about the author? Not that he writes well, but that he markets well. As in any other marketable product, the packaging more than the content attracts the attention of the consumer. Therefore it's the author's ability to create viable packaging for his product that furthers its marketability.

Crisp business-like queries are the first knock on the door to successful publishing.

Think of your query as a sales brochure. Your hard copy is an agent's first introduction to a potential gold mine. Do your homework and make every word count. No query letter should exceed a single page. It should be error free, single-spaced and printed clearly. Make it personalized. If you have networked with other authors, ask them for referrals. If your work is similar to someone who publishes successfully, send a query to their agent. (Look for an author's earliest works - an agent is often the first person a new author thanks in the acknowledgments.) Agents like to have their egos stroked. A compliment on their success in marketing so-and-so's material never hurts. It shows that you specifically selected them.

A query should contain a brief synopsis of the material, a paragraph explicating your specific market, and a two-sentence biography including other work published. If you lack a direct referral, you might compare your work to that of a successful author of your genre, but don't overstate it. Finally, always include a SASE.

Agents generally respond to queries in four to eight weeks. Unless the agent specifically states otherwise, multiple agents may be solicited. The query procedure can take many months. Agents make multiple submissions to publishers, and understand that authors too use similar strategies. Some agents do request exclusive readings. If so, the author may impose a reasonable time frame - perhaps a month for a non-fiction proposal and six to eight weeks for a full manuscript.

Next issue's column, bs"d, will review strategies for finding the right agent for your particular material, what an author can expect from an agent, and how to determine a bona fide agent from the numerous fly-by-nights who prey on new and inexperienced authors.

End of first part. CONTINUE TO PART TWO

Avriel Adler is a published author of religious mystery novels. She is an instructor at The Jewish Writing Institute.


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