Q: I’ve written a manuscript, how do I get an agent?
A: First of all, major congrats on finishing a novel-length work. Ninety-nine percent of aspiring writers will never manage to do even that! Second of all, you’re in luck! Writing fiction is unique, amongst the arts, for being very transparent in terms of how to break in. Just google “how to write a query letter for a novel,” and read up on how to write a one-page query. Then do some research into agents (looking at who reps your favorite authors, for instance, or you could see what’s cooking in the deal reports) and, once you’ve got a list of agents, google them and figure out their submissions guidelines. Then email away! Do it in batches of 10. If you don’t get any responses, go back, rework your query letter, and try again. Repeat until you’ve either lost all hope or have run out of agents.
The other advice–the advice that authors don’t necessarily like to give, since it leads to people badgering us–is that you do have a slightly higher chance of an agent taking you if you’re referred to them by one of their clients or friends. It’s not exactly that they’ll give you a free pass–it’s more like they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. If you come in over the transom, they might toss out the query if the book opens slow or if the storyline seems unclear. But if you’re referred by a client of them, they’ll feel honor bound to read a little further, and that does help a tiny bit.
But plenty of writers (most of them!) still get / got their agents through blind querying.
Q: How did you get your agent?
After that agent and I parted ways, finding my second agent proved to be much simpler. I knew at this point that I wanted an agent who represented both children’s literature and literary fiction for adults, so I got a publishersmarketplace.com account and just went searching through the deal reports for every agent I could find who did both. There weren’t that many!
Then I ended up emailing a lot of their previous clients to figure out what they were like. I had several specific questions, because at this point I knew what I wanted in an agent and what I didn’t want. Over time I refined my list of agents to about 30 agents. Meanwhile I’d written a query: I had thought that my query-writing skills were terrible, but for this novel the query actually wrote itself and it was amazing. Nonetheless I asked several friends to look it over.
Then I sent out queries to ten of the agents (including three of my top ten agents and then seven of the next tier). Once I started getting requests for the manuscript, I shotgunned the query to the remaining twenty. I got a lot of requests for the full manuscript, which is I think typical if you’re a novelist who’s already published. Then within a week I’d gotten an offer from Robert Guinsler, my current agent. He was incredibly excited about the book! I asked for a week to consider his offer, during which time I pinged the other agents who had the query. This shook loose even more requests for the manuscript. I ended up getting other offers, but I ultimately chose Robert, since he really just seemed like the best person to sell my book.
Q: I write speculative fiction. Would it be worthwhile for me to do an MFA?
A: Umm…depends on what you mean by ‘worthwhile’. Will it help you publish? Definitely not. Agents and editors in the speculative fiction world don’t really care about MFAs. However, if you can get into a funded MFA program, one that offers tuition remission and a stipend, then it can be a pretty good gig: not very much work, lots of free time to write, the company of other writers. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this MFA program is likely to be particularly conversant with genre speculative fiction…
Q: I write speculative fiction. How do I get into an MFA program?
A: This series of posts is about four years old at this point, but I think it’s still pretty worthwhile advice. Here’s part one, part two, part three, and part four. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me (I think my email address is on the sidebar of one of these pages).
Q: Will you take a look at my work?
A: I ought to say, ‘No.’ But in truth the answer is more like, ‘Maybe?’ It kind of depends on how I’m feeling when I get the email. I’m more likely to say yes if you’re queer or a person of color (particularly a South Asian). I admire chutzpah, though, so I won’t judge you for asking!
Q: How did you decide to write YA?
A: A lot of YA writers get pretty defensive about this question, because they feel like it implies that YA is a lesser genre, but I actually understand it. In most genres, people write books for an audience that’s like themselves, but when you write books for kids, you’re writing for an audience that’s different from yourself, and there is a weirdness to that.
For me, it was primarily path dependence. I was writing a speculative novel with a seventeen year old protagonist, and I eventually ralized it’d be easier to sell it as a YA novel (since YA is, at least right now, much healthier as a genre than adult SFF). Writing that book and submitting to agents who handle YA made me, I guess, get into more of a YA mindset, so I eventually wrote an explicitly YA book, and that’s what became my debut: Enter Title Here.
I really enjoy writing YA. I don’t think of it as writing for teens, I think of it as channelling my own teen self. There’s something intoxicating about all that energy and emotion.