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Preparing for Unknowns in Your Agent Search

If you're on the cusp of trying to get a literary agent, or you’re trying to decide if you need one at all, or you’re right in the thick of your queries, or you have an agent but aren’t making forward progress together, enter our latest "Get an Agent" issue, the October 2016 Writer’s Digest.

Get an Agent

We treat this topic with utmost care year after year, knowing how essential it is to writers at many stages of their career paths—and not just the beginning. Because if there's one thing I've learned from my front-row seat watching the publishing journeys of so many authors, it's this:

Even when you think you understand the landscape of something, you see it differently once you get down on your knees, gloves on and trowel in hand, and start digging in the dirt, planting things, trying to make them grow. The nuances of every spot of sun and shade appear respectively brighter and darker. The slightest shifts in climate now seem urgent and glaring, though you know that the irresistible act of fretting over them will make no difference in the temperature or rainfall.

You search for answers to your questions and are frustrated when they all begin, “Well, it depends …” You reach out to others who are tending to similar soil. You watch. You listen. You do what you can, and hope for the best.

What the Agent Search Is Really Like

When I got serious about submitting my own first novel, back in 2011, I figured I knew what to expect. After all, I’d been editing Writer's Digest magazine for years. And I’d worked with literary agents and agented authors alike in my previous life as a nonfiction book editor. But it didn’t take long before I started to realize that having a good feel for the landscape is a solid start—but it’s not enough to set you at ease once you strive to become a part of it.

Five years, two novels (one which shall forever remain unpublished), dozens of rejections, a couple of agents and one (yes!) book deal later, I have firsthand knowledge of the many uncertainties that can arise along the way. (My post 10 Lessons Learned Behind the Scenes of a Book Deal outlines some of them firsthand.) So when putting together this latest edition of our popular annual agent issue, we aimed to go beyond the basics. Those are here, too, of course: In this issue you’ll find our latest:

  • query letter tips
  • submission FAQs
  • and our popular annual roundup of agents seeking new clients.

But you’ll also find deeper information to help prepare you to, well, get your hands dirty.

What Questions Arise Along the Way

The answers to all these questions and more are explored in-depth in the October 2016 Writer’s Digest:

  • What clues might our rejections hold that could help us turn a future no into a yes? (Literary agent and professional editor Andrea Hurst shares what every writer should know—before, during and even after submissions—about feedback, self-editing and revision.)
  • What does it really mean if an agent invites us to “revise and resubmit?” (A full-page sidebar in our agent roundup breaks it down.)
  • What if our first agent turns out not to be our forever agent? (Multi-published novelist Teri Brown, who is currently with her fourth agent after having switched genres, shares perspectives from both authors and agents who’ve made the switch—and guides you through best practices if and when you think it’s time to make a change.)
  • What happens if we mess up, or get a bad break—how can we turn our careers around and even come out ahead? (Bestselling author Susan Shapiro shares 13 career “tragedies” that aren’t really tragedies at all—and what we can all learn from them.)

What You Need to Know, and When

Even if you think you might not need to know some of this just yet, the day you do may arrive faster than you expect. Because the process of submitting a novel (first to an agent, and then together to publishers) can take long, slow years, or it can take a mere whirlwind of days. Or, as in my case, you might experience both. Just as you’re tempering your expectations or even about to give up, a phone call with an offer for representation—or a book contract—could be right over the next hill.

So start now with the October 2016 Writer’s Digest, available for instant download or shipping now, or via your favorite newsstand, library or e-reader.

In the meantime, we at WD wish you just the right amount of sun and rain for something wonderful to bloom.

Yours in writing,
Jessica Strawser

Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest magazine

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Learn more about my debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in March 2017. (Now available to add to your Goodreads shelf or preorder from Amazon or other fine retailers!)

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