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Alan Jacobson, bestselling author of The Hunted and False Accusations has graciously allowed us to copy some information from his site Like us, he is simply giving information based on his experiences and is not acting as your attorney. Take some time to visit his site and let him know if you appreciate his information.

Click to ExpandHow do I get an agent?

There are two ways: conventional and unconventional. The conventional way is to buy a resource book that lists agents and their specialties. Many agents only handle certain types of fiction--and some handle only non-fiction. By doing your homework, you save your time and money in not making erroneous submissions. These reference books also list recent sales by the agent as well as guidelines the individual agent requires for a submission. One such publication is Guide to Literary Agents from Writer's Digest Books.

The unconventional way is becoming more mainstream these days. In short, there is no substitute for doing business in person. Meeting someone face to face is the most effective way to make a connection...and business (publishing is a business) is all about making connections. How do you meet an agent (or editor) in person? Many writers conferences have taken the lead from the Maui Writers Conference in providing a forum for writers and agents to get together. Usually there is a fee for each face-to-face consultation you have with an agent. However, if you are someone who can schmooze and sell yourself, then it's well worth the fee. Again, you want to do your homework to make sure you're meeting with the right type of agent. Talking to an agent who specializes in historical fiction when you write self-help books will likely get you nowhere.

Click to ExpandIs it possible to get published without having an agent?

A physician friend of mine once coached me before I gave my first deposition. His advice: if the opposing attorney asks you, "Doctor, is it possible these injuries were caused by a UFO abduction instead of the car accident your patient was involved in?" my response should be: "Anything's possible." So I'll answer this the same way. Of course it's possible to get published without having an agent. It does happen. But like UFO abductions, the likelihood of it occurring is...somewhat remote. I think it's best to focus your energies on finding a good agent.

Click to ExpandWhat makes a good agent?

This is an involved question. want an agent who is enthusiastic about your work, who can fight for you when necessary, and who has solid contacts in the industry, primarily with editors. He (or she) should be attentive and make sure all potential avenues of distribution of your work are explored.

You also want your agent to be industry-savvy: that is, when negotiating contracts, you want him to be well-versed in industry norms; you want him to be able to tell you that something is reasonable or unreasonable, or that something is or isn't customary for the publishing houses. You want him to be well-informed on new issues and industry technologies. You also want him to be able to tell you about the ramifications of a particular clause in your contract. It's a bad feeling to later find something in your contract that doesn't mean what you thought it meant...or that you could have negotiated something substantially better just by asking for it. The agent needs to know to ask in the first place.

Finally, your agent has to be responsive. If you ask a question, he should respond in a timely manner.

Click to ExpandI've heard that some agents charge a reading fee. Is this reasonable?

I would never pay a fee for an agent to read my work, but this is a decision you need to make on your own. From what I've heard from others in the industry, the reading fees are unnecessary and usually indicate a sub-par agent who looks to the reading fees for his or her source of income rather than the sales of author material.

Click to ExpandI've finished my novel and I'm ready to submit it. Can you give me some guidelines on how to find an agent and how to submit my work?

Getting an agent is very tough these days--not that it was ever easy. First spend some time poking through my website to gain an insight into the publishing industry and its nuances and practices. Then buy a book that lists literary agents (Jeff Herman has a good one, I hear). When deciding to which agents you should submit your work, make sure they handle the type of book you write. Next, comply with whatever requirements are outlined in the little summary provided for each agent. If they say to send the first 15 pages, don't send 50. (I wouldn't send the entire manuscript at the outset, as it's expensive and unnecessary. I know someone who just hit his 100th agent rejection, so the costs add up).

Make sure the text is printed on clean paper, single-sided, in a standard (Courier or Times Roman) font, 12 point, with one inch margins. Your name and the book's title (and page number) should go at the top of each page. Include a query letter that contains the best writing you've ever done. Their feeling is if you can't write a good query, you can't write a good novel. I'm not sure I agree with that, but the point is it doesn't matter what I think--just make it an intriguing letter. For details on what to include, consult Jeff Herman's book; I'm sure it contains a section on query letters.

Finally, I wouldn't make exclusive submissions, even though this is what agents prefer. (This means you send out a query and wait to get a rejection from that agent before sending out another.) You have to be fair to yourself. Look at it this way: if it took 100 submissions to get signed by an agent, and you sent out one query at a time and waited about two months (if you're lucky) to get a reply, you'd literally spend about 15 years mailing out queries. More than ridiculous, it's not good business.

If you want to get scared and depressed at the same time, read Noah Lukeman's book, The First Five Pages. A former editor and current literary agent, he outlines some of the things agents and editors look for in a manuscript. Some of the advice is excellent, while the behind-the-scenes look at how agents and editors make a decision on your manuscript is, as I said, scary and depressing. Assuming the information is accurate, it's information you need to know. It's also a sad commentary on how our publishing industry operates (though that's clearly not what he intended).