Getting signed by a literary agent means you are a step closer to becoming a published author. Agents work hard to get creative manuscripts into the right hands. Natalie Fischer from the Bradford Literary Agency has her own process for finding the authors she wants to represent. She breaks down her inspiring job as a literary agent in the following article.
From Pitch to Sale
I can’t speak for all agents; this business is as subjective as it is variable. But I thought it might be interesting to shed some light on how things work as I see them in the writing world, from first look to sale. So, here it is – what happens from the moment a writer hits SEND on that query letter…
I usually know from the first paragraph of a pitch if I’m going to turn to sample pages in a query.
What grabs my attention: a unique angle (or hook) in a genre I represent, with elements I love (i.e., a dark tragic historical YA, gothic steampunk, or sensual and funny historical romance). Something I haven’t already seen 100 of that week.
I usually know from the first sentence of manuscript if I want to read more.
What grabs my attention: voice. Typically, I’m drawn to one of two things: snark or “beautiful dark” writing. Dry humor always interests me, but a well-crafted (beautiful) and touchingly tragic (dark) voice also draws me in.
When I do want to read more, I’ll request 30 pages.
What grabs my attention: if the voice continues strong, I don’t lose interest as I read or feel the pace is dragging, the writing is solid, it goes in a promising direction and not an already-seen-this or predictable one, if I want to take the time to keep reading to know what happens instead of feeling I can read the synopsis and be satisfied, I can put it down and pick it back up and still want to keep reading, I feel excitement bubbling up in my chest as I start to imagine sending this out to editors…
When the first 30 pages knock my socks off, I’ll request the full manuscript.
What makes me want to offer: after requesting the full, I am SO excited to dive in and read the rest I load it to my Kindle right away, and all the promising elements of the first 30 pages continue and grow. The plot may need some work, but any issues are fixable issues; what remains solid are the writing (including grammar!) and voice. As I read I start to formulate a submission list in my mind, and know this will have a market/is sellable. The hook still remains an interesting twist within the genre, something not every editor already has (something not every bookstore already has ten of). The end of the manuscript doesn’t leave me feeling unsatisfied (even if no true resolution), the main character within the novel has a recognizable arc, I find all the characters real and relatable (three-dimensional) and buy into motivations and care about plot development. I don’t feel it’s going to need several revisions before being ready to submit. I have no hesitations on saying YES.
If I find the manuscript promising (the manuscript has strong writing and I like the hook and think it is unique), but know there are glaring issues I want to see the author tackle first, I will ask for a revise and resubmit.
Some glaring issue examples: word count is WAY too high, I start stacking up revision notes left and right on pacing, motivation, characterization, plot holes, etc and know it is going to need an overhaul developmentally.
If I fall in love with a manuscript, I will call the author and offer representation.
What happens: I will usually email to set up a time to chat to make sure to catch the author on the phone. I will lead in with everything I loved about the manuscript, and offer representation. From there I will ask the author if he or she has any questions; usually he or she may need to think about it, so I’ll lead into things I like to discuss, such as expectations, revisions, other works in progress, desired career direction. Then I wait. The author needs to notify other agents still reading, will usually want to chat again or email to go over a list of questions (typically these), while I bite my nails and decide I’ll just DIE if he or she doesn’t say yes.
The author says yes to representation; I do a small dance, and then I send off the agency agreement.
What to expect from an agency agreement: I take it as a bad omen if the author needs to nitpick every detail; our agreement is very straightforward, and so it raises red flags that a) the author doesn’t have much trust going in or b) the author may be difficult to work with (i.e.: is this how they’ll handle the publishing contract, which is ten times longer?!). I will negotiate to my best ability to work out agreeable terms, but there are industry standards I will never deviate from.
The author signs and, once I have received the signed agreement, revisions begin.
First step: broad strokes (plot/character development and readability factors). This can go several rounds before ready for-
Second step: line edits (typos, minor plot point errors, trimming/tightening, polishing)
When revisions are winding down, I will start to craft my pitch and put together a submission list.
What I do: I’ll usually start with my client’s original query letter as a base, if one is available, and start tweaking. Here’s an example of a base and my re-worked pitch:
Sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters’s life is perfect. Just like her. Her city. And her people. Nothing could make it better. Or…so they want her to think.
She’s been trained from the age of three to be an Enforcer, –a trained assassin –and is now the only child of the Governor and Governess of the underwater utopia know as Elysium.
But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, finds his way into her comfy little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.
She must now find a way to rescue Gavin from her murderous mother’s hands, regain control of her body and the implanted instructions constantly urging her to kill, and find a way to get her, and Gavin, to The Surface before the secret Mother’s been hiding destroys them all.
RENEGADE is an 83,000 word Young Adult Dystopian and is geared toward the Upper YA market, but has crossover potential . Readers who liked Suzanne Collin’s HUNGER GAMES trilogy and Scott Westerfield’s UGLIES series, will enjoy reading this book.
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has trained to be an Enforcer, an assassin in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes to be Daughter of the People, she’s spent her entire life thinking that everything is perfect: her world, her people, and Mother’s Law, all that protects them from the savage remains on the surface world.
But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.
Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb…and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.
RENEGADE is an 84,000 word Young Adult Dystopian with a deadly psychological twist. Author Jessica Souders was born in the heartland with an overactive imagination and an over abundance of curiosity. An active member of the RWA, CFRW, and the SCBWI, she lives in Florida with her husband and their two children. You can read more about her and her work on her website.
-(Renegade debuts this Fall from Tor Teen)
The submission list is an intricate process. I’ll start with any editors my client may have a personal connection with, if any (from a conference or previous book deal) and any editors who immediately popped into mind while I was reading/reviewing. I’ll sort through recent meeting notes and think through who was looking for what and add those names to the list. Then I’ll start putting together publishers. From publishers, I’ll branch into imprints. From imprints, I’ll narrow down to editors who may be a fit, taking into consideration books they already have on their list (an editor won’t acquire something that directly competes with another title), recent deals, and tastes. I prefer to work in rounds rather than pitch every editor upfront.
Once revisions, sub list, and pitch are complete, I submit!
What happens: I always pitch an editor before I send the manuscript, regardless of how perfect I think a manuscript will be for someone. I email the client the final list of who is reading/considering, as in the process, things do change sometimes. I follow up with editors within 3-4 weeks.
It’s back to the waiting game from here. It can take days to years for a manuscript to sell. I encourage the author to start a new project at this point, to ease the tension. Sometimes an editor will let me know a project is going to acquisitions, and sometimes she will call out of the blue with an offer. Depends on that editor’s style. But, at the end of the day, I receive an offer, and I inform the author. Then the fun begins…
Traditionally, it takes 18 months from publishing contract to publication.