Finding an agent; manuscript pages
Published: July 31, 2007
|Now that I have several chapters of my novel completed, I would like to know how to go about finding an agent? Any suggestions?|
While there is no harm in learning about agents early on, your first priority right now is to write a great novel. That will do more than anything else to help you win the attention of an agent. And agents typically want to see a polished, complete manuscript from first-time authors before they're willing to sign you on. So have that ready before you start sending out queries.
You'll want to have a solid sense of the direction of the book, and the voice of it, in order to compile a list of names and agencies. Blanketing the market by sending queries to every agent in the business is a waste of your postage money and everyone's time. So, it is essential to target reputable agents who are most likely to be interested in the kind of novel you're writing.
One effective way to start this list is to find books that are similar to your own and find out who represented them. Don't look for a close match on every front, but focus on a similarity in a dominating element, like writing style, genre or tone. Often, authors thank their agents in the acknowledgements section, which is either in the front pages of the book or at the end. Some authors mention their agent on their Web site.
You can also find out who is representing recently released or soon-to-be-released titles and look at those books to determine if the agent might be interested in your work. Publisher's Marketplace (www.publishersmarketplace.com), a fee-based service, provides such up-to-date information, and Poets & Writers magazine's "Page One" section (www.pw.org/mag) lists a limited number of new titles with agent details. You can research these agents knowing they are actively selling novels.
There are many publications and Web sites that provide listings of literary agents. The Writer magazine's Web site has a searchable market database available to magazine subscribers that includes agents. You can find other listings in an online search or by visiting the writer's reference section of a bookstore. Approach such lists as a starting point in your research, rather than an end. Find out what books each agent represents and which publishing houses the agent has worked with. If that matches up with what you hope for your novel, then put that agent on your list.
If you write short stories, or if any of your novel's chapters can stand alone as short stories, consider submitting them for publication in literary journals. Many agents read such journals in an effort to find new and fresh voices. It's rare, but you might just find an agent contacts you.
Don't feel you have to go with the first agent who expresses interest. It's important to find an agent who is reputable and passionate about your work. Many writers are so eager to be represented that they sign up quickly and ask questions later. If you do this, you might find yourself in the hands of someone who isn't all that jazzed about your work, and as a result your manuscript languishes on a shelf. Worse, you might unwittingly stumble into a con, shelling out money for various fees for months before realizing your manuscript was tossed in the trash long ago. You can protect yourself by looking at an agent's history. You can also check out the online forums that monitor agents, such as Predators & Editors (www.anotherealm.com/prededitors) and Absolute Write's forum on "Bewares and Background Checks" (www.absolutewrite.com/forums). The Association of Authors' Representatives (www.aar-online.org), a society that requires agents to meet certain professional standards, is another valuable resource. Not all reputable agents are members of AAR, but if your potential agent doesn't have much of a background to go on, this might be useful information.
Is there a standard to the spacing of lines of a manuscript? I've heard several authors talk about the number of pages they write per day as a goal. There is a great difference between single-spaced and double-spaced pages--and even handwritten pages. I would love some clarification on this subject so I can create a more realistic goal for myself.
The industry standard for manuscript pages is this: double-spaced, margins that are an inch to an inch and a half, and Times New Roman in 12-point or a similar-size font. That's the format you should use when you send your work out, and it's the format many writers reference when they discuss manuscript pages.
If a writer doesn't specify the kind of page when talking about the writing process, though, you can't know for sure if he's referring to this industry standard. While some people draft in manuscript pages, plenty don't. Some writers don't even use computers. Perhaps a more effective way to investigate this is to talk in terms of word count or even the time spent writing. That can give you a more precise idea of how much that author writes in a day. (If you're drawing from what authors share in published interviews and articles, rather than, say, a question-and-answer session where you can ask for clarification, then your guess is as good as any.)
You might find that looking at what happens in your own writing sessions is an even more effective way to calibrate your daily goals. After all, we all have our natural rhythms and compose at very different paces. For several weeks, keep track of what you write each day and how long you write. You might find it useful to open a new document each writing session and include a start and end time to keep this organized. Afterward, go over the material and see which days you were most productive. Keep in mind that this won't always be the days you amass the greatest amount of pages. Look for both quality and quantity, then use that page count as one to aspire to in future sessions. As you get into a rhythm with that goal, you can occasionally push yourself by going beyond your page count or spending a bit longer in a writing session, and eventually that can become your new norm.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and edits Letterpress, a free e-newsletter for fiction writers.
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