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11 Steps to Finding the Agent Who’ll Love Your Book

I was ready. I had an edited manuscript. I had a tiered list of agents. I had a spreadsheet. I’d read every scrap of information about getting an agent, and I was prepared, at last, to submit my novel. The process could take months, maybe years, I’d heard. I was in for the long haul, baby. The good news is it didn’t take years to get an offer of representation. The even better news: That offer came in the form of four magic words, words I’d been told to wait for by all the experts: I love your book. Not just a Facebook-worthy thumbs up, not a “I think I can sell this.” Love. The reason you wait for true love in publishing is because publishing requires it, and not just from the author. Remember the feverish crush that helped fuel your first draft? Your agent needs that same big-eyed reverence for your book to take it out to editors, hoping for another love connection. So how do you snag one of these lovey-doveys for yourself? GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Christa4F won.)

I was ready. I had an edited manuscript. I had a tiered list of agents. I had a spreadsheet. I’d read every scrap of information about getting an agent, and I was prepared, at last, to submit my novel. The process could take months, maybe years, I’d heard. I was in for the long haul, baby. The good news is it didn’t take years to get an offer of representation. The even better news: That offer came in the form of four magic words, words I’d been told to wait for by all the experts: I love your book.

Not just a Facebook-worthy thumbs up, not a “I think I can sell this.” Love. The reason you wait for true love in publishing is because publishing requires it, and not just from the author. Remember the feverish crush that helped fuel your first draft? Your agent needs that same big-eyed reverence for your book to take it out to editors, hoping for another love connection.

So how do you snag one of these lovey-doveys for yourself?

GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Christa4F won.)

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Column by Lori Rader-Day, author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh
Street Books, 2014), which received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal
and Publishers Weekly. Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives with her
husband and dog in Chicago. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery
Magazine, Time Out Chicago, The Madison Review, and others. Best-selling
author Jodi Picoult chose one of Lori’s short stories for the grand prize in
Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest. Lori is a member of Mystery
Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
Find her on Twitter at @LoriRaderDay.

Revise
You’re not ready until you can bounce a quarter off your manuscript. You’ve already revised, I know. Leave it alone for a month, then go back. Make sure your pages say precisely what you meant. Make your sentences sing.

Read
Meanwhile, the best way to see how it’s done is to read. Read widely. When you don’t like something, figure out why. Apply everything you learn to your draft until further ideas ping off it.

Research
Gather your intelligence. Which books are like yours, not just in subject but in tone and style? Who agented them? Read the Writer’s Digest archives. Use online resources to sort through the known universe of agent submissions. Learn as much as you can, and start a list. Rank agents in order of likelihood of love match.

Package
Learn to write a query letter. Write a synopsis. What’s a log line? Get one. If at any one of these steps you find something lacking in your story, don’t ignore the problem. Every step of this process is a chance to get it right before someone else can tell you you’re getting it wrong. Go back over your draft until your product is perfectly packaged for sale. Did your eye just twitch? Get used to thinking of your baby, your life’s creative work, as a prototype that might yet be tinkered with by other people.

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The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Network
Time for some allies. If you have a writers’ group, they should have already had a swipe at your pages, but having a writing network isn’t just about first readers. What you want is a group of people who can tell you how the road ahead looks. Research writers’ associations in your genre and beyond. Ask at your local library, bookstores, or universities for writing groups or workshops.

Read again
The guidelines, in this case. This is your last chance before you click send to take a look at your list of agents and take note of what they want from your initial query. Getting through the front door is often about playing by the rules. Don’t send anything less—or more—than each agent has asked for.

Submit
Submit to four to eight agents only. Send each a separate email or mailed package (as they requested) with only the information they asked for. Keep things professional. No gimmicks. Save the rest of your list for now.

Write
Start something new. No, really. Go write another book. You need to think about something else and even if everything goes just as you’d like it to on the first book, you’ll still want a new draft in short order.

Track
Keep track of your submission results—and learn from them. If you aren’t getting any page requests, your query letter needs work. If you’re getting partial requests but then nothing, your first pages aren’t snagging the reader. If you’re getting full requests but no nibbles, it’s time to take a look at the full manuscript again. Make note of each reply, give it time, and then—

Submit again
This is why you saved the rest of your list. Submit, again, to four to eight agents only, using every step, every rejection, every encouragement to better prepare your work for the next round (and the next), as long as it takes to find a match.

Commit
Just like in love, things might not always go as planned. Keep writing. Maybe the next book is the one that will put stars in an agent’s eyes. Of course, that’s not really why you write, is it? If you commit to writing for reasons beyond publishing, it won’t take you long to find the love of your life, in the words right there on the page.

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