By Keith Yatsuhashi
The road to finding an agent is a long and difficult one. I learned a lot along the way, and thanks to some incredibly good luck, I have a really great agent and agency representing me. I made some really bone-headed mistakes but those helped me hone my query skills and learn more about the business. I’m going to share some tidbits that I hope will help any new authors out there – TBH, I still consider myself a new author. 😉 A very new author. Okay. With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
- Get as much input on your manuscript as you can. Those ‘in the biz’ call these people beta readers. Beta readers are invaluable. They’ll tell you when your story’s off track. They’re unbiased and not afraid to tell you the truth about your work. Going to friends and family isn’t as much help as you’d think. Think of them as your support group not your critique group. How do you find Beta readers you ask? A simple Google search will set in on your way. Compile a list from there and check writers boards and ask questions for due diligence.
- Use independent editor if at all possible. If you’re serious about writing, investing in an editor is a must. I leaned so much from mine, (the wonderful Lorin Oberweger of free-expressions.com), starting with the tearing the manuscript apart and making it better bit and moving on to how publishing works in practice and how to submit your manuscript once you’ve finished. Which brings me to…
- Learn about the business. Every industry operates under its own rules. You need to know what those rules are and stick to them. I didn’t and boy did I pay the price. I approached agents and publishers the same way I reach out for new clients: which is pretty much cold calling (or more appropriately, a cold emailing). This is a big no-no in publishing. Agents and publishers are very specific about how you should approach them. They post everything you need to know on their webpage. Make sure you look those up before you submit. If you’re lucky enough to meet agents at a conference and can pitch, be ready to send them what they ask for the way they expect. They may ask for a ‘query’ or a ‘partial’ or a ‘full’. I’ll assume most of you know the terms. I didn’t; which is why I’m telling you to learn as much as you can before you start submitting. 🙂
- Have your material ready. Work on that query letter as hard as you work on your book. Run it by your beta readers and get their input. Ditto with the synopsis. The query letter and synopsis are your first impressions. Make them count.
- This business moves slowly. You may not hear anything for month. This is normal. You should also look at the websites of the agents and publishers you submitted you for a rough idea on wait times. Don’t call and don’t send a follow up after just a few weeks. I wasn’t ready for this kind of pace, so I REALLY needed to learn patience.
- If you haven’t heard after six months you can assume one of two things: either your submission got lost, or the agent passed on it. Send a polite email follow up. If you hear nothing again, move on.
- Research an agent’s genre. Agents are very clear with what they represent. You’ll find this info on their websites too. Don’t sent a thriller to an agent who reps children’s books. The same is true for any other genre. If you’re not sure where you fit in, go to an online chat group and ask around. Someone there can tell you quickly.
- Editors fix everything. This is a myth. Editors are your best friends, but in my experience, they don’t go out and perfect your manuscript. They offer suggestions and guidance and tell you where you stand. They leave the fixing to you while guiding you through the process. Which brings us to…
- Learn the terminology. This is similar to number three and number eight. Right up until my book was in edits, I assumed I’d have very little to do. Not so. My publisher had started with me fixing the story’s structure. Once I got that right, my next edits focused on character development. After that we moved on to polishing and lastly to proofreading. Knowing in advance what to expect will help you prepare for each stage of the process.
- Don’t let the rejections get you down. Learn from them. While most agents are too busy to give you advice, (don’t ask for it) some will offer it in their rejection emails. Pay attention and look at what they tell you. Don’t over analyze, just take the comments for what they’re worth and use them to improve your manuscript.
And above all—Good Luck! You’ll get there. It might take a while, but once you find support—online chat groups are all over the net to provide that—you’re well on your way.
Keith Yatsuhashi is the author of KOJIKI (Angry Robot Books, 2016).
Keith was born in 1965 in Boston, MA. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984.
In addition to his love of writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons. Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children—Caitlin, Jeffrey, and Justin.