So, recently this amazing thing happened where I sold a book:
I wept, openly and freely, because as any writer knows the dream is to sell a book. The crazy thing is that THE BIG REDHEAD BOOK, which is the book I just sold, is now officially going to be my second book. I’m currently finishing up the draft for my first book, Womanskills. 2015 was quite a year.
But onto the important stuff: How does one get an agent so that you can then sell a book? I didn’t have an agent for Womanskills (pre-order the book here), as that was a writer-for-hire situation. So I’ll focus on how I got my agent, the incredible Kristyn Keene at ICM, in the hopes that you can get one too (if you’re so inclined).
And because I’m a big fan of steps, lists, and everything easy to read, I’ll try to make this a step-by-step guide.
Get an idea for a book you want to write. OK, that one’s pretty obvious, but it’s literally the first thing you need to do to even consider an agent. You need a great idea, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, and you need to make sure it’s great.
Get to writing. Most nonfiction doesn’t require you write an entire book before you sell it, and this is also the case for some fiction as well (particularly YA fiction). But you will need a really great query letter, which will be the thing you send to an agent before they even consider reading your work. And at minimum a proposal that you can send to an agent when they ask for more materials. Your proposal should include a fully written sample chapter, information about your “platform,” about you as a writer, and a whole host of other things that I’ll cover in another post.
- But query letters are a little simpler, so what’s in a query letter? A query letter is what hooks an agent in. It’s what will get you a foot in the door, and it’s extremely important.
- Since I had never written a query letter, (or a proposal), I did a ton of research online. I saw a lot of “How to write a query letter” articles, and samples you can look through. In the end, I wound up investing in editing services and used a writer who’s been published and clearly knows a thing or two about selling a book. This was a really important book idea to me, so I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly.
- What I learned from the query process is this: It should be a page in length max, and it needs to have all of the juiciest information you got (your social media stats, why this book is important, and how the hell you’re going to make it a bestseller).
Research agents and agencies. I spent a lot of time doing this. Crazy amounts. And it was hard. The two biggest tips I can give are 1) Look at books that are similar to yours, 2) Google search who repped those books (something like, “Agent for Zombie Survival Guide” is all you need) and 3) Get a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace so you can look up those agents.
So, for example, when I looked up Kristyn Keene on Publisher’s Marketplace, I saw that she was a noted agent for a lot of the categories my Big Redhead Book fell into. (OK, I don’t know if I’ll be including any diet tips for redheads, but for sure it’ll be chock-full of humor and all the pop culture you can stand.)
Email out your query letter and wait. Wait a long time.
Just know you will get rejections. So prepare yourself emotionally for that, and maybe come up with a little ritual to go with each rejection. (My ritual was any time I got a rejection, I went to get an ice cream. I ate loads of ice cream.)
If the universe is good, you’ll get positive responses from an agent and they’ll usually ask to see your material. Send it over! Then you wait. My big advice here is not to pester or poke that agent unless you absolutely need to (aka another agent is interested). If they asked to see your stuff, they’ll read it, and it will all be fine.
They want to talk to you. OMFG, first of all do a happy dance, because THAT’S EXCITING. It’s been my experience, from talking to others and from my own stuff, that if an agent wants to talk to you, they’d like to rep you. So unless you totally blow the whole thing, you’ve got an agent. All it takes is one agent to try and sell your book, so one agent is an amazing thing!
- Hop on the phone with them and ask a lot of questions! Things like, “Where do you see this book landing?” “What would be your selling strategy?” “What changes would you make to the proposal?”
- Treat this chat exactly as you would a job interview. You’re interviewing them to be your potential rep, and they’re likewise interviewing you to see if they’d like to work with you.
- Feel free to ask if you can speak to some of their other clients to get a sense of how they are as an agent. I did this with Kristyn, and it was super helpful to hear her clients gush about her.
- If you’re talking to multiple agents, it’s customary to not have an answer for them right away. You can say, “I’m talking to multiple agents, and I’ll get back to you within a week with my decision.”
Make your decision. Smaller agencies might ask you to sign an agency agreement, and those agreements can be LONG. So if you get one, look it over carefully and make sure you aren’t signing your entire creative life away. ICM had me sign an agreement for this book which was all of a paragraph.
TREAT YOURSELF to something very nice — a personal large pizza and wine, for example — because while this whole process can be incredibly stressful, getting an agent means you’re on your way to book town.
Also, it’s important to note that while getting an agent is one of the best ways to sell a book, it’s not the only way. If you spoke with one agent, and you didn’t get a great vibe from them, then don’t agree to let them manage your book. This is your baby, and you can peddle your book idea to smaller publishers to get the result you actually want.