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W. Dale Cramer

Romans 8:38-39:For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

 

 
Getting an Agent: by W. Dale Cramer


 
Acquiring an agent is the single biggest hurdle on the whole publishing track. Think about it: If your proposal gets the attention of an editor at a publishing house you’ve managed to get past one slush pile. Even then, if your book doesn’t make it through committee you get to start all over again, while the same proposal might have landed you an agent who can get you past half the slush piles in the country. Agents know editors’ names and faces. They talk to them on the phone, meet with them at conferences. It’s what they do.

It’s important, so do your homework. Read the agents’ guides. In addition to the information listed in Writers Market there are a couple of guides dedicated exclusively to literary agents. I’m told the others are good too, but the one I’m familiar with is the Guide to Literary Agents put out by Writers Digest Books. Get a current edition. The Guide is updated yearly and they print the year right on the spine.

How-to books are all full of advice— how to get noticed, how to stand out, how to get an agent’s attention— but most of it is designed to sell how-to books. The truth about agents is common sense.

Good agents are busy. You don’t want one who isn’t. A good agent gets a hundred proposals a week and he already has a full stable of writers, so over-the-transom proposals from new authors are not a high priority. When he opens a proposal he reads the cover letter to get a sense of the author, then he goes straight to the sample chapters. Your carefully worded synopsis and outline are worthless if your first chapter isn’t captivating, and most of the time agents don’t make it all the way through the sample chapters. The honest truth is, most of the time they don’t make it all the way through the first page.

So what is it they’re looking for? The simplest answer is the right one: they’re looking for good books. Diana Gabaldon once gave the best piece of advice I have ever heard on how to get published. She said, “First, write a good book.” You can’t fool an agent any more than you can fool an editor. They’re looking for originality and craft. They know what it looks like and they can spot it immediately, so before you buy books on publishing, buy books on writing. Tighten your descriptive prose and polish your dialog, learn the ins and outs of POV and learn how to edit yourself. Is it better to spend one month editing and a full year collecting rejection slips, or a full year editing and one month landing an agent? Same time frame, different result. Patience is key. Let’s assume you’ve done it. You’ve written the Great American Novel and you’re ready to step into your future. How do you know which agent is right for you, and how to approach her?

The Guide to Literary Agents has all the information you need. First, make a list of your criteria. By now you should know how to describe your own work, your genre and where you fit into it. Do you write fiction or nonfiction? Mystery or romance, thriller or fantasy, contemporary or historical? Are you a new writer who may need editorial help from time to time, or an MFA who only needs a contract negotiator? Second, comb through the Guide and make a list of agents who fit your criteria. Agents will tell you, if you read their blurb in the Guide, exactly what they do, what sort of writing they represent, and how they want you to approach them. (A word of caution here: if an agent wants three hundred dollars up front to read your manuscript, don’t fall for it. Please don’t feed the sharks.)

If your style resembles the style of a known writer then say that, but only if it’s true. If it’s not true an agent will know it, and then it counts against you. And don’t tell an agent in your cover letter that you’ve written the next Left Behind or Purpose Driven Life. That’s what they all say. You want to stand out, not stand in line.

Follow directions. If an agent’s blurb says “No phone queries,” then a phone call is the surest path to rejection. “Query only” means a letter only— one or two pages in a business envelope. Fifty pages means fifty pages. If Chapter 3 ends on page 52 then, okay, send 52— but not six hundred. And don’t forget the SASE. If an agent goes to the trouble of listing specific instructions in several different directories and a website she’s not going to say yes to someone who doesn’t bother to read them.

It’s pretty simple, really. The way to an agent’s heart is through a good book, presented with accuracy, clarity, and professionalism.


 
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Web Resources for Writers

There are many web sites with great information for Christian writers. Below are some that you might find helpful.

 

  • American Christian Fiction Writers
  • Christian Writers Fellowship International

  • The Christian Writer's Manual of Style
  • Writer's Digest
  • Writer's Market
  • The Writer's Magazine
  • Christian Writer's Market Guide
  • ACW Press
  • Writer's Edge (Manuscript Service)

  • More Author Tips

     • Words of Advice: Chris Fabry

     • Writing Advice: Maureen Lang