How to Become a Working Writer

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Finding a literary agent can be one of the most discouraging obstacles in getting your novel published or your screenplay produced. However, getting an agent is one of the first and most important steps toward success. This is because most well-known publishers and producers do not accept unsolicited material (not represented by an agent). Literary agents can get your works into the hands of publishers and producers; they will also assist you in editing and negotiating the sale to ensure you get the best possible deal. There is no one way to get an agent. Luck and hard work both play a part.

FINISH AND PERFECT. Before you begin your quest, make sure your work is as polished as possible. Have other writers read your work and ask for brutal honesty. It may sting a bit, but will help you in the long run. When you get in front of agents, you have only one shot to impress them.

GAIN EXPERIENCE. An agent will be more likely to take notice of you as a writer if you have had something published before. Try freelancing for a few small publications. Having something published will not only give you credibility, it will also speak volumes of your ability to work under editors and deadlines. Attending writing classes and seminars is also a great way to show an agent the dedication to your craft, and will also help to fine-tune your skills.

RESEARCH AGENTS. Find out which agents or agencies represent the writers you admire. Note if they are representing projects and writers within the genre you are writing. There is no reason to send your romance novel to an agent who only represents horror writers. You can find a list of agents and agencies, and what they specialize in, online. Write them a query letter. Be prepared to send letters to a lot of agents. Find out the agencies’ preferred way to be contacted. Agents appreciate your doing necessary homework and following their submission guidelines. If they do respond to your inquiry, they may want only your bio, a synopsis or sample chapter. Do not send more than they ask for; they will request more if desired. If you want your work returned, enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope.

QUERY LETTER. Be professional, polite and articulate. Let them know how you heard about them. Write a brief but descriptive synopsis of your plot that makes them want to read more. You may also want to include a brief bio, and list of published or produced works, and any other pertinent information. Your letter should be no more than a page.

NETWORK. Go to conventions, writing functions, conferences, classes and anything that can get you in front of someone in the industry. Cultivate relationships with other writers and editors; not only will you have a support system but it is a great way to grow your network. You never know who knows that perfect person for your project. Fortunately, the internet has revolutionized the way we network. Get involved on WritingRoom.com and other social networks; you never know who you may come across.

BE PROFESSIONAL. Always remember you are asking something of the agent. Even if you are treated in a less-than-professional manner, stay polite in your conversations and communications. Agents will want to know if you can take criticism and respond to suggestions. Be open to what they have to say and be appreciative of their time. Present yourself and your manuscript in a professional manner – do no tell them they are missing out on the next Harry Potter…this doesn’t work.

ENTER A WRITING CONTEST. By submitting your works to writing contests and festivals, you can accurately gauge your competition. If you happen to win a writing contest, you not only have that for your resume but you can gain buzz and possibly the attention of an agent.

WRITE MORE. As they say, everyone has one good novel in them; it takes two to make a writer. Agents want writers who can continue to work and write. If you have more than one manuscript or screenplay, it will not only show your range but ensure them that you can be a valuable asset.

WORD OF CAUTION. Literary agents do not charge reading fees. Be wary if an agent requests an upfront fee. They get paid by taking a percentage of the sale price of your work.

Getting an agent is a time-consuming process. Keep your chin up! With lots of hard work and a tad of luck, it is bound to happen.

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