This year Gen Con went online. As a result, they had a lot of great online FREE panels. Including many great resources for writers. I myself went to the “How to Get an Agent” panel that starred Lucienne Diver (Agent with The Knight Agency) Maurice Broaddus (Fantasy and Horror Author), Toni L. Kelner (Mystery Author), E.C. Ambrose (Fantasy and other genres author), Chris Bell (Panel Host and Managing Editor for Indie Press)
I took some notes about the most critical things mentioned in this panel.
This came from How to Get an Agent Panel Live (On YouTube)
Why Should You Get an Agent?
Why not just wing it on your own?
Toni L. Kelner replied, “For the big bucks. For the money.” It was further explained that an agent can help your book get into a bookstore, into an international book store. Agents know what’s selling and how to market your work.
E.C.Ambrose added that agents are also important for understanding contracts.
Maurice Broaddus added on to this by saying he first realized he needed an agent when he got a 14-page contract and needed someone who could decipher it.
What Do Agents Do?
Lucienne Diver made the point that many people are not aware of what an agent actually does. A big part of their role is career planning. Especially for people who want to become career authors and aren’t just treating their craft as a hobby. An agent can figure out which is the best line to launch an author’s particular work. So it’s not just about the agent getting the writer money, it’s about the agent figuring out what the best position is for the writer. It’s about trajectory. “We are career managers as much as we are negotiators and contract managers…agents wear many hats (Lucienne Diver).”
How Does Someone Just Starting Out Get an Agent?
Social Networking: Lucienne Diver explained that writers conferences are a great resource because you are meeting people there. You are networking. Maurice Broaddus confirmed this by saying he met his agent by wearing “a very loud red suit” at the bar.
Writers Organizations: Another useful tool for getting an agent are professional writers organizations. These often have a list of agents who are reputable in that field. Such as Science Fiction Writers of America. The Association of Authors Representatives. Etc. Not all agents will necessarily be members of these associations.
Do Your Research and Follow Guidelines: Lucienne Diver explained that it’s very important to follow an agent’s submission guidelines. Don’t try to be clever or cute. Agents have a whole mountain of slush in their inboxes every week. An easy way for agents to reduce the slush pile is to ignore the submissions that don’t follow the rules.
Warnings About Bad Agents
One point made in the panel is that agents are only human. So sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they are not doing the best job representing your work. Sometimes they are experiencing a mid life crisis.
Maurice Broaddus talked about an agent he had who was not reading his stuff or sending it out in a timely manner. What good was she doing for his career if she wasn’t even reading his stuff?
E.C.Ambrose said it is worse to have a bad agent than no agent, because you think your agent is doing their job but they’re not.
Aside from the writer’s panel, I myself made friends with a writer on Twitter who said she did get a book published, but the sales were abysmal because the agent didn’t do the best job representing her. Her agent had a lot of stuff going on in her life and took about two years to even get this author representation. This author I know was writing vampire romance. In the year she wrote the book, vampire romance was hot. But by the time it got into the bookstores, the genre was passé.
So long story short, if your agent is not communicating with you in a timely manner, it’s best for your career to find alternative representation.
How to Obtain an Agent Through a Query Letter?
A query letter is a letter an author sends to a prospective agent to get that agent interested in their book.
E.C.Ambrose went into detail about what a query letter is.
Keep in mind that agents are readers first, so you want to get them excited about reading your book. You want to show them you’re capable of hooking a reader’s attention and writing something that has a beginning, middle, and end.
A query letter should answer the following questions:
- Why are you approaching this particular agent (what is it about them that would make them a good fit for your work)?
- What is the concept of this book?
- How does it fit into the marketplace?
- How is it different than the marketplace (How is it unique)?
- Who is the main character?
- What is the conflict?
- What is the setting?
Example: “In 14th century England, a barber surgeon discovers he has the magic of death.” This tells you a lot about the book in one sentence.
The end of the query should explain more about you as a writer:
- Who are you as a writer?
- Have you gotten anything published?
- Have you attended any workshops?
ONLY Send Out a Query if Your Manuscript is COMPLETE
Lucienne Diver even said “make it a fifth draft at least.” Get multiple eyes on your work. Get beta readers. Get lots of feedback. Revise based on feedback. Provide the most polished version of your work you can provide.
Will Self Publishing Hurt Your Chances of Getting an Agent?
This is the one million dollar question. A question I wonder a lot about myself, and that I have heard asked multiple times before.
Lucienne Diver said that there is no one path to getting published. She’s had authors who started out self-published. She also has hybrid authors. However, her biggest piece of advice is that if you are going to self-publish, make sure you do a professional job of it, because what you do leaves a track record. Get a pro to edit your work. Get a pro to make your cover. If an agent sees that you self published something full of typos that gets bad reviews, they’ll think you’re not ready to be a professional author.