I constantly hear this lament at conference and on the writers’ boards: “It’s so difficult to find and agent”—or, as one writer put it—“ You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t find an agent unless you’re published.” Neither is true. It’s easy to find an agent, and you don’t need one to get published.
To find an agent, the first thing you must do is to know what you have written. “Ah-ha!” you say, “You’re off base there! All writers know what they have written; after all, they wrote it didn’t they?” Surprisingly, many writers think they know, but they can’t fit their writing into a particular genre, so they guess. It really doesn’t matter, right? The agent or editor will figure it out, right? Wrong. For instance, if you say you’ve written a suspense novel and it’s actually a mystery, or if you have written a love story and say it’s a genre romance, neither would fit my list. I presently am not looking for plain genre mysteries because my markets (the editors I work with) are telling me they are not selling well for them. I also don’t represent love stories, which are actually mainstream (a hard sell) and usually (at least the ones I see) are written from a male perspective. If you send me these, it also tells me that you haven’t done any research. How do I know? First of all, it’s very simple to categorize what you have written. With the Internet, all you have to do is type into Google what genre you think your novel falls into, then read and compare, something any budding professional would do first. I say “budding professional” because professional writers know what they are going to write before they write it.
It’s easy to find an agent. All you have to do is know what you have written AND write it in a commercially viable form—in other words, a marketable, well-written book. This area is where most writers fall short, sometimes due to no fault of their own and sometimes due to a lack of writing skill, technique, and/or experience. What you write may not be commercial because there is no market for it, your work is poorly written, or both. The bar for fiction writers has been raised to an all-time high. It’s a shrinking, crowded market, and, therefore, the competition is fierce. So unless you write better than your competition (authors like Patterson, Koontz, or Steele) you are going to get loads of rejections if you want to try the big markets who do “big” books—the ones where you definitely need an agent.
Also, writers normally do not find the success they seek because they fail to do even preliminary research before they query. A great example of this is in just about every query I receive. For instance, most of the writers who query me have never visited this blog. I know this because writers continually send me queries in areas that I’m not presently handling or do not follow our submission policies. For instance, I’m still getting queried in many areas that are not listed anywhere on either our site or this blog. The address to our Web site (which leads to this blog) is and has been posted just about everywhere for about five of the eight years we have been in business. So there isn’t an excuse for not visiting at least one of our updated Web presences before contacting us.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to have an agent to get published. Particularly in the educational, inspirational, and some niche markets, you can submit and work directly with the publishers. You do need an agent, however, to submit your work to those houses that do not take unagented submissions. Unfortunately, most beginning writers have stars in their eyes and can only see their book at one of the major houses, and those houses, for the most part, do not take unagented work. However, there are many, many publishers, the majority in fact, that you do not need an agent to submit your work to. Many legitimate, successful publishers, in fact, would rather work directly with writers, and there are literally hundreds to choose from. One thing to keep in mind when searching for a publisher is that they are royalty-paying and that they have a viable distribution system in place. There are many other precautions, but they are not in the scope of this post.
So it’s easy to find an agent. Do your research and make sure that you have written a highly competitive product that an agent can successfully place with a publisher. Last, but definitely not least, make sure it’s something that readers will enjoy enough to talk to their neighbors about. After all, great books are made great by word of mouth—and they fail the same way.