My most completely popular blog entry of all time is “The Surefire Query Letter is Here.” Who knew? But the question I get asked about all the time is “What’s the surefire way to get a literary agent?”
Okay – so here’s the answer:
1. Write a really good book. (I may do a blog on this too – comment and let me know if you want the instructions on that…I’m serious.) I would define a good book as one that, when you describe it sitting at a long table full of people, the people at the other end of the table, the ones you don’t even know, wind up in the midst of your conversation. In other words, it’s talk-worthy – even to strangers.
2. About 4 months before your “really good book” is done, go to your favorite bookstore with a pencil and paper and grab a comfy chair. (Don’t do this much earlier than 4 months prior, or much later.)
3. Pick out all the books you can find that are similar in some way to your really good book: tone of voice, subject matter, author personality, mood. DO NOT pick Marley & Me, Harry Potter anything, Twilight anything, or The Bible. Go ahead, ask a bookseller to help you with your task (This is a good idea for later on in the publishing process, but again — another blog entry.).
4. Turn to the acknowledgments page in the back of all those yummy books. Every author thanks his or her agent. Write down all the names of all the agents. If you can’t find any acknowledgments, look for the first edition hardback of the book.
5. Go home with at least 50 agent names and Google every name on your list. Some familiarities will begin to emerge. Do they agent zillions of books? Too many? Too few? Are there any interviews about them and what they like to read? Are they hyper-self-promoters? Is anyone suing them? Can you find their picture just to get a looksie? Etc.
6. Some of the names will start coming up again and again. You’ll begin to get excited. This is the DANGER ZONE! You need to be careful here at step 6. Do not begin to query these agents yet. Not yet.
7. Open a folder. Create a list called: My top 12 Dream Agents.
8. Create a second list called: My 12 backup Dream agents.
9. 4 months later, when your really good manuscript is ready and your Surefire Query Letter is done, begin sending queries to your top pick agents. Don’t send them all at once – maybe you need to adjust your query headline or maybe you need to work a bit on your manuscript. REMEMBER, you only get one chance to make a first impression – if you botch that with your top pick agents…well, it’s not good. “Keep your powder dry” should be your mantra.
10. You will either begin to get positive or negative responses (or none). You should be hyper critical of your work at this point. If you have positive responses then you need to move onto “How do I choose a literary agent (another blog someday).” But if your response is negative you need to re-think your query letter, your agent choices or your manuscript. Choose to be harder on yourself rather than easier at this time. And I say harder…not meaner. Be a constructive critic.
And finally — remember: YOU are hiring the agent, not the other way around. You should no more take the first agent who’ll have you as hire the first person who applies for the job. Interview them. Wait for a good one. Wait for you Dream Agent. Don’t settle for less.
The following a copy of my acknowledgments page from The Aristobrats. I don’t say “my agent” but Jennifer Joel is the first person I thank. If an author doesn’t thank his or her agent right up there with Mom, Pop or God, they shouldn’t be your agent. A good one is all three.
To Jennifer Joel, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Niki Castle, Dominique Raccah, Kelly Barrales-Saylor, Kay Mitchell, Paul Samuelson, Kristin Zelazko, Dawn Pope, Mallory Kaster, and Sarah Cardillo for their tireless faith, work, and support. To Tommy Jacoby, who makes my magic happen, and to Griffin and Tallulah Musser, who inspire me every day. To Nan, Don, and Jordan Solow, whose palpable love of each other and of me has made me who I am. To my lifelong friends, Karen Goldberg, Sharon Reidbord, and Juditta Musette. To my newer lifelong friends, John Scott, Iole Taddei, and Nona & Randy Daron. To my board of advisors, Zoe Goldberg, Damon Jacoby, Ethan Jacoby, & Allen Meyer. To Winchester-Thurston, where this story was born, to Mill Valley Middle School, where the blanks were filled in, and to Shadyside Academy, who provided the boys when there were none.