by Stephen May
There is no doubt that it is very handy for a prose writer to have an agent. A reputable agent will get you credibility with publishers (who are reluctant to see authors representing themselves). They will also find the right editor for you, negotiate the deals for you and provide experienced, forensic and critical, but supportive, input into your work.
You can make progress in publishing without an agent, but it’s more difficult. Finding one can be easier said than done, however. There are a million manuscripts in the offices of literary agencies, so how do you get an agent to pick up yours? Before you get too disheartened though, be aware that a lot of those other manuscripts will be discarded after a cursory glance at the opening paragraph. They are nowhere near as good as your manuscript because yours is as polished as you can make it. Most writers send their work off way too early. An agency is not the place to get initial critical feedback. That’s what your writers’ group is for.
Make sure you send your work off to a named agent, otherwise it will be read by the newest intern. Make sure that you send it in a proper jiffy bag and only send the first 60 pages. Anything more is intimidating. If they like the first part of your novel they’ll ask for more. Keep your covering letter courteous, professional and, crucially, short.
Most importantly, do your homework. See what other writers an agent represents. All first-time novelists will thank their agent somewhere in their book.
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