OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Back in July, I signed with a New York agent, Rachel Ekstrom and then I explained the reasons why I want to pursue a hybrid career with my writing, with some books in traditional publishing and some self-published.
In terms of an update, I have just finished a round of edits on Pentecost, the first book in the series and Rachel will be submitting it to a number of publishers in the coming weeks.
The traditional way to get an agent
For many years, there has been a well-trodden path to getting a literary agent. Here's the short version:
* Find agents to target
* Write a query letter
* Get rejected, hear nothing or get asked for a partial or full manuscript
* Send submission package, including partial or full manuscript
* Get rejected (go back to the top of the list) or sign with the agent
This process took many authors years and the number of rejection slips seems to have become almost a matter of pride for some.
How I got an agent
I never even considered querying my fiction the traditional way. I don't like the energy of rejection or the amount of time I could see being spent in the querying process.
By the time I wrote Pentecost I already had an online audience through this blog and knew a lot about self-publishing from my first non-fiction book. I was already devouring fiction on the Kindle and could see the opportunities with ebooks.
I'm also a business-woman and saw self-publishing as a better, faster way to get my books out there and earning. So I decided to spend my limited time on writing and marketing my own books.
But when the sales of Pentecost and Prophecy reached over 40,000 in the first year, I began to get some commercial interest. Both books still rank as Amazon bestsellers in the UK store, so they are quite clearly in the commercial fiction arena, and with ideas for a series of at least 7 books, there is potential for growth.
Then in the first half of 2012, I created the ProWriter courses with New York Times bestselling author CJ Lyons.
CJ & I collaborated on multimedia courses, one of which was How to get published, the traditional way, based on CJ's extensive experience. I learned so much from her about agents and the possible opportunities through traditional publishing that I began to be more interested in getting an agent.
In July 2012, I attended Thrillerfest in New York and so I had the opportunity to meet some agents, as well as to pitch in person at Agentfest, which was part of the program.
A few weeks before that, I was introduced to Rachel Ekstrom at Irene Goodman Literary Agency through a personal connection based on my indie success and my existing platform which enabled me to jump the slush pile and submit the full manuscripts directly without querying. I met Rachel in person at Thrillerfest.
At Agentfest I pitched three more agents, and two of them asked for full manuscripts, and the other for the first 30 pages. Within a week, I had an offer of representation from two agents and decided, after much deliberation, to sign with Rachel because of the rapport we had but also because of the fantastic agency she is with, and how happy the Irene Goodman Agency authors are. More about why in my post on the subject here.
You can also listen to me talking about going from self-publishing to getting an agent on the Self-Publishing Podcast [language warning for this, not a clean podcast. I come in at about 17 mins]
If you want an agent, it's important to look at what you want to achieve as an author as the agency contract may have terms you can't agree with. I specifically chose Rachel and the Irene Goodman Agency because they have a demonstrated commitment to their author's success, incorporating self-publishing as a possible option for a hybrid career.
The indie author's guide to getting an agent (or, the new way)
Some would say this is not the “normal” route to getting an agent, but to be honest, I think it is becoming more usual in a crowded market. Indie authors who hit high on the charts get offers of representation very quickly and I've had a number of them on the podcast: check out the interviews with Mark Edwards and Rachel Abbott.
For me, it came down to:
- Writing a good, commercial book that had already been edited. Pentecost continues to sell well and rank on Amazon and I always intended to write commercial fiction that would be applicable to the mass market. Traditional publishers are a business and so they want to buy books that will sell and make money. This is probably why there will be more experimental fiction in the self-publishing arena as time goes on (and that is no comment on what is “better” writing).
- Establishing a platform that enables you to meet other authors and prove your professional approach, as well as demonstrating to the agent that you know what you're doing marketing-wise. This can lead to personal introductions and also makes your ‘package' look better. I gave the agents a glossy, color 1-sheet that included my platform figures including blog subscribers, podcast downloads, social media contacts and more. It proves my ability to sell and market myself as an author as well as the books.
- Successfully self-publishing. When I pitched to the agents, none of them were worried about the fact I had self-published. They were only interested in the numbers and 40,000 in a year was enough to be considered interesting. I don't believe it's worth mentioning it if you aren't selling a decent amount, and in fact, “failing” at self-publishing can be a distinct turn-off for an agent/publisher.
- Investing in conventions where you can meet agents in person and stand out from the crowd. Yes, Thrillerfest is one of the more expensive cons, but it is full of professionals in the writing and publishing world. Meeting agents in person meant I jumped the slush pile as they were able to catch the passion about my books (and being a Brit in America also helps as I was memorable!)
Some people have said how this route could be seen as a shortcut but it's absolutely not in terms of time or effort.
I could have queried Pentecost back in Feb 2011, so that's 18 months that could have been spent querying. I've spent a lot of effort on writing, marketing and everything that goes into self-publishing. So there are pros and cons for either way.
However, I definitely prefer this indie approach as it means I have had 18 months of income as well as over 40,000 people reading the books and I have build up an email list of fans who will be ready to buy the next book when it is released – whether self
Do you have an agent, or do you want one? Do you have any tips or stories to share? Please do add a comment below.
Images: checklist by BigStock , and my own, envelope purchased from iStockphoto