Blog 6 – Getting a publishing agent

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This is really difficult…

I repeat… this is really really difficult.

Why?

Because the world of selling books has changed and thus affected the publishers – to the point in which they are very scared to take any kind of financial risk.

This might be a bit of a rant.

Almost every agent says on their web page that they are looking for a strong voice, that they are looking for something new and different.

Hmmm…

They’d love to find something new and exciting, but the financial risk is too big, so it is much better to jump onto whatever bandwagon is passing by. There will always be exceptions, and kudos to those agents that have the courage of their convictions when they find that golden project.

Sour grapes?

Maybe… but I am fed up with seeing agents say they want a new voice and then, when they go over my 3 chapters, they harp on about narrative drive and that my book is too niche a market (metaphysical fiction).

Hmm, The Alchemist is one of the biggest sellers in the world – Metaphysical fiction

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Cloud Atlas

The End of Mr Y

The Celestine Prophecies

All metaphysical fiction… but yes, a small corner of the general genre market.

Now the BIG GENRES are Erotic fiction, Chick Lit, Murder and Young Adult… so if you have one of those, it will help… but maybe no cigar.

Agents receive approx 200 books per month = 2400 books per year. They end up representing 2-3 out of those 2400. And who can blame them, they are very busy.

They get these manuscripts arrive all the time, and by a process of experience and luck, your MS might make it to the top of the slush pile. If your MS (manuscript) is turned down, do not despair! It is just a tough tough market. Hence, self publishing becoming very popular.

Also Crowdfunded publishing (last week’s blog 5) is a new option

Or, a few mid-way publishers, who share the risk with you by being selective and then getting you, the writer to underwrite the costs of editing, proofing, design, publicity and distribution… to name but a few elements. It is a great idea, but there are hundreds of cowboys out there, so always go by word of mouth. Make friends with your independant book shop owners… they will now who is who. Peter at Barton’s books in Leatherhead is fantastic. A true gent and lover of all things books. He is what you can never get in a franchise, a biblophile who knows everyone and thrives in getting writers and artists together. And one day you will want them to stock your book, and let you do book signings in it.

I have paid agents to give advice, and found some giving wise words out at book fairs for free… and they all differ in how they choose that book.

My tips:

 

Make the first paragraph as gripping as possible

Then make the first three chapters as interesting and unputdownable as possible – sex it up, create jeopardy, a death, a shock or two – even if you cannot keep that pace up after the 3 chapters. That is the commercial way. That is the feedback I had from an agent, even though I’d explained in my synopsis that my book is not a thriller, it is a thought provoking, evocative, visual book that makes you wonder about life, not death and who caused it. It did not fit her formula!

I know I know, I sound bitter. I’m not really, just a little frustrated, but I truly understand why things are the way they are.

Yep, that’s right, she was one of the agents saying she was looking for something different. She didn’t even read the synopsis, and then admitted that she didn’t know where the book was going because she never reads a synopsis. And yet most… no, all, agents ask for a synopsis. A synopsis that is the best that anyone could ever write and condenses your book into 600 words(ish). And I stupidly paid Bloomsbury publishing £225 for her flippant advice.

As I said, this might be sour grapes, but it is hard to tell from where I’m standing.

Save your money. Do not use Bloomsbury’s services. They seem genuine enough, but it always ends up being quite a lot of money for advice that is available elsewhere. They dangle a golden carrot though. The chance to not only meet an agent, but for them to read your first 3 chapters. By the look of her handwriting, she skim read it on the train on the way into work, her service acting as an extra boost to her income on the 07:38 to Waterloo.

This all happened about 3 months ago, and I’m still ranting. She was lovely though.

Ach, as I say, design the first paragraph for the airport test… to grab your reader

Then design the first three chapters to grab an agent

Do your research regarding writing the perfect synopsis (even if she won’t read it)

Write an exciting summary, or even better, get someone else to write it.

Write an amusing, self effacing, short biography in the 3rd person that you’d have in the front of your book just in case it’s needed.

And… research your agent very very well so that you can suck up to them as much as possible. They all want it to be geared exactly for them, even though, most of us just want a bloody deal with any competent and honest agent. The research will help you find the better agent though, so take the time to look for the agents that represent the authors that you like.

Never be put off by what they say… the real advice that is worth everything, are the reviews from Amazon etc. Not close friends or family or loved ones… they are too close to you.

Push for as many reviews as possible, and if after say, 10 or 20 reviews you are only 3 stars… then your book needs a serious overhaul or you need to put it aside for a little while and start writing that second novel, using all the experience you have gained from the first. Then when you come back to your 1st novel, you can look at it with fresh eyes and a sack load of extra experience from writing your second masterpiece.

And finally… it does not matter if you get 5 stars or 1 star… to me, if you have written a book of more than 40,000 words and pushed it to the point that it is available to the world through Amazon or suchlike, then you have created something that others cannot.

Most people cannot even seem to finish reading a book, never mind write one. So hold your head up high. You are a writer, and, even if you only sell one copy to a stranger… you are an author!

Congratulations.

Have a great week and check out my book at Amazon only £8.99

Mark

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