I was lucky enough this past weekend to attend a Super Saturday RWA event in which agent Kristin Nelson was a featured speaker. While discussing the course of her duties as an agent, she provided some rough statistics on what she sees every year: 100-150 queries a day, 700 partial submissions a year, 85 fulls. She noted that out of these she may offer representation to 1 or 2 authors. While these numbers are certainly daunting, Ms. Nelson did provide some good tips for snagging an agent:
- Use Critique Partners or Beta Readers
You need to have a strong beginning to your manuscript. A strong manuscript, period. Agents will generally only read the first page or two before stopping if the first pages are riddled with errors, contain too much backstory, or use inappropriate words or metaphors.
- Don’t Query too Early
As excited as you might be about your work, take the time to learn more about the craft before blindly querying. Because agents make their decisions so quickly, a good storyline might get passed up due to poor execution.
- Don’t Underestimate the Value of Contests or Conferences
While meeting an agent at a conference won’t guarantee you representation, it never hurts to be friendly. An agent who remembers a friendly author may read the submission a bit quicker, though it won’t color the agent’s decision on whether or not the manuscript is publishable. Similarly, finaling in a contest won’t guarantee you an agent, but if the final contest judges are agents and/or editors, it does get your work in front of them. Sometimes that makes all the difference.
- If You Are Unpubbed, Consider Newer Agents
Ms. Nelson did note she has an extremely full plate right now, and that it would take a lot to wow her (though her associate agent Sara Megibow is actively recruiting new clients). She suggests that those of us starting out might consider querying newer agents who are looking to take on more clients and may be willing to put in a bit more work. However, the downside to this is the possibility that those newer agents might not stick around for the long haul.
Ms. Nelson also discussed what’s hot right now in publishing, though she cautioned that by the time you write to a trend, it’s usually over:
We all know there’s a glut in the market right now with paranormals. Even though they are still selling, agents are getting tired of seeing these kinds of submissions. For that reason, if your characters are traditional paranormal creatures (i.e. vampires, angels, demons, werewolves), there needs to be some special hook to catch an agent’s eye.
- Sexy Urban Fantasy
Stories are trending hotter right now, and urban fantasy is a response to the glut in paranormals. No HEA required.
- Young Adult
Particularly dystopian (like Hunger Games) and paranormal (Paranormalcy anyone?).
- Contemporary Romance
Publishers across the board state they want fresh contemporary romance, but apparently they aren’t buying much of it so far.
So what do you think? Were these tips for getting an agent useful? What about the market trends: are they encouraging or discouraging?