How to Find an Agent or a Publisher

Seems aspiring writers want to know–Many people have asked me about the process of getting published. (There are a lot of stashed manuscripts hidden in those drawers out there!)

I advise finding an agent first. The process of getting an agent is the same as getting a publishing house. No matter which route you decide to take, there are two books you need to get. They are Writer’s Market (current year) and Guide to Literary Agents. They list what each agent/house is looking for and who the contact people are. You will find these reference books in Borders and B&N, in the writing section.

Start with the index in the Guide to Literary Agents and look up the subject that pertains to your material. Then look up agents listed under that heading. Next, write a query letter and proposal to the right contact person. (A dynamite query letter and a great proposal go a long way to selling your book. There are terrific books to help with how to write both. Get yourself a couple of them.) Call first and make sure that person still works there and that you have the correct name spelling and address–these people move around like Mexican jumping beans.

Another great way to find agents is to look at the acknowledgment pages of books similar to yours and/or in your writing category and see who they listed as their agent.

Since everything counts on finding the right person for your subject and writing style, send out multiple submissions. You’ll be very desirable as a writer if you have built-in expert status or you can demonstrate your ability to promote your own books. I won’t say any more about that now because I don’t want to scare you off. When you get to that point, email me and I’ll be happy to help you out.

I picked my agent, Bob Silverstein, because I knew I needed someone who had the time to give honest feedback. He has always made himself available to offer ideas and suggestions. Most agents today (and almost all publishers) want you to hand in a finished piece they can just slap onto the presses. All that said, you don’t need to wait until you have a whole book, unless it’s fiction. Most non-fiction writers only submit a proposal and a couple of chapters, and that’s all you really need.

I’d sold three other books on my own directly to publishers, and was deeply tired of the process of sending queries, getting interest, and then hurrying up and waiting for months to get a final answer, and then essentially having no negotiating power. There was a time when the Big 5 (the huge publishing conglomerates) would accept unagented submissions. Those days are gone. Now, only some of the smaller houses let writers submit. So, again, I recommend that you go through the effort of getting an agent first.

Unless you want to write for magazines. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. You’ll still need your Writer’s Market, which also lists thousands of magazines, contacts, and what they’re looking for. When you think you’ve narrowed down the magazines to which you want to submit, then go to the library and look through the past year’s issues to see what they’ve already done, what the writing style is, who the audience is, etc., etc.

Are you getting the feeling you’ll be spending as much time researching where and how to send your pieces as you will be writing? After the first time, it all gets a lot easier to know what you’re supposed to be doing.

Patience and persistence are the key. Expect to get lots of rejections, because you will. Just think of it as a numbers game and don’t take it personally. (Unless, of course, you’re getting responses back that suggest your writing is less than great, in which case, bone up with some writing courses.)

If you really believe in your project, you’ve honed your writing, and you’ve done the research to know there’s a place for your book on the shelves, somebody will want it. Just keep going until you find that person.

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