Get ready because the real work is about to begin. These days getting published by a major publisher requires a literary agent. Few if any publishers accept submissions directly from writers unless, of course, you are someone with a track record. An agent is your book manager. A seasoned agent has the ear of editors and can do all the heavy lifting for you including negotiating a contract. Who wouldn’t love the validation that comes with having a publishing company say YES to your book? But, it comes at a price… control. The publisher essential takes ownership of your work and agrees to pay you for that right along with future royalties. Enticing! From that point on you give up creative control. The publisher makes all the decisions. That can be a relief, since there is lots left to do to get the book ready to print, but for me I was not willing to go that route. However, I was willing to give it a try. Why not?
Most agents work for literary agencies. Agency websites typically have agent bios and a list of authors they represent. Sometimes there will be more detailed information about the kinds of manuscripts they are currently looking for. In general, I found agency websites only moderately helpful. The main reason to consult an agency website is to find the agency’s query submission guidelines. Sometimes an individual agent will have specific query requirements, but usually, they follow agency policy. It is critical to follow query submission guidelines to the letter. Failing to follow these directions is an automatic rejection. Typically, the agency/agent wants a query letter, synopsis, and anywhere from the first chapter to the first 50 pages of the manuscript. Most want everything pasted into an email. That seems clunky and the least pleasing way to read, but security is the main reason it is done that way. Email attachments are a potential malware hazard.
Fortunately, locating agents is relatively easy, but it takes some work and careful research to find the right one. Everything you need is readily available online. Reedsy.com, where I found my editor Jessica has a sortable database of agents by genre and other parameters. Since my genre is middle-grade fiction, that is a starting point. Middle-grade can be sorted into subgenres such as literary, historical, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Hattie’s War falls into both the Literary and Historical fiction categories, although it could fall into Family Saga too. Another helpful resource is MS Wishlist. MS Wishlist is also sortable. Between the two sites, I identified about 120 agents.
Now the work began. If you are a literary agent, you love reading and along with that comes individual interests and tastes. To “sell” a book to a publisher, an agent has to love the book and feel passionate about it. So after sorting for middle-grade fiction, my next task was to find an agent drawn to Hattie’s story. The most helpful resource for getting detailed info about agents is Manuscript Wishlist. Not every agent has a presence on the site, but for those who do, you can get a good sense of who they are and what precisely they are looking for. Based on my sorting and reading agent wishlist info, I ended up submitting 52 queries. As of February 9th, I’ve had 22 “passes” (the polite form of rejection) and one interested agent.
Besides writing the actual manuscript, the query letter is a critical stop on the road to publication. The query letter must pique the agent’s interest while being concise and to the point. Oh, and well written too! That is surprisingly hard to do. I spent many hours working on my letter, along with input from Jessica, my editor.
Some agents use a handy resource called Query Manager. Query Manager is a fill-in form service that is very easy to use, fill in the blanks, copy and paste the query letter (with a personalized greeting) into the form, along with whatever else they require. Sometimes they ask for a one-sentence book “pitch,” books similar to yours, target audience, and author bio. Once you’ve got those written, it is a matter of copying and pasting. The best part of using this service is you get notification of your submission and can track your query. If an agent wants more material or rejects you, a message comes in an email from the site. On the other end, I’m sure Query Manager is handy for agents too.