Agent Laura Bradford gave a talk entitled “Everything You Want to Know About Literary Agents” at the Valley Center Library in San Diego last Saturday. Here are some of her tips for getting an agent, and what she is looking for in a submission:
- Do your research. Decide what kind of agent you want. Do you want a teddy bear who will hold your hand through the long process of publication, or a shark who will get you the best deal? Most agents are closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. Once you have a short list, find out about your chosen agents through conferences, organizations like RWA, websites like AAR, blogs, and twitter. QueryTracker has some information, but agents can’t post information so the data can be out of date. Word-of-mouth is another good resource. Books like Writer’s Market are also good sources, but can be out of date by the time they are published.
- Personalize your submission. She gets from 800-1000 queries per month. If you want to stand out, always personalize your letter. Refer to the type of material the agent is looking for, make sure your genre is one the agent represents, mention attributes of your book similar to an author they represent, say if you’ve met them at a conference. Show that you’ve researched this agent, and say why this agent is the right agent for your book. Personalization and research show a level of care an agent appreciates.
- What Kills a Submission: Addressing the query letter to the dreaded “Sir/Ms.”, instead of the agent by name. Not checking the agent’s submission policies before sending your material in. Nothing annoys an agent more than getting submissions outside the genres they are selecting for. Many queries Ms. Bradford receives are thrown out because they are for the wrong genre, the word count is wrong, etc. She can’t sell a novel that’s only 20,000 words long.
- On putting together your submission packet: When writing your query, boil the story down to its essence. Throw out confusing or distracting details. Get rid of any point that might be a red flag. For Ms. Bradford, the point of the synopsis is to tell the agent where the story goes. She doesn’t care how long it is, but says to check other agents guidelines. Before sending in your sample chapters, have a second set of eyes look over your work — critique partners, beta readers, even a friend who knows grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If you have no one who can help you, she recommends a new site called Book Country. They have an online critiquing forum.
- Getting Past the Slush Pile: Whether or not she requests a partial is a gut reaction. “Can I sell this? Is it emotional appealing?” This isn’t something the author can know or prepare for. If she likes what she sees, she asks for a partial. If she likes that, she asked for full. Occasionally she requests a revised and resubmit. If she has a problem with the storyline, plot, voice etc. she will write a letter making suggestions to the author. She does not send out a lot of these. If you get a revise and resubmit, she advises that you do not make changes you do not agree with. Use your own judgement.
- How to submit to Laura Bradford: Check her website for the latest information, but in her talk she said she wants a one-page cover letter with a brief blurb on the story. Keep it concise. She also wants a blurb on the author’s publications and contest wins. It important to include the word count and the genre. In addition, she wants a synopsis, and the first 10 pages.
What do you think? Does personalizing a query help your success rate? How do you research agents?
In my next post I will cover the rest of her talk – her advice on what to do once you get that all-important “call”, what questions to ask a prospective agent, and how she goes about pitching her author’s books to editors. See you next time.