An agent won’t talk to me unless I have a deal?
December 18, 2012 | Written by Chip MacGregor
An author wrote me to say, “Many publishing houses will not accept manuscripts from un-agented authors, but many good agents will not accept manuscripts from unpublished authors. How then do I solicit an agent?”
This is the common conundrum faced by beginning writers. You can’t get a publishing deal unless you have an agent, but you can’t get an agent unless you have had a publishing deal. My response? You’re screwed. But that’s the writer’s life.
The best way to find an agent is still to approach the problem professionally. First, write a great manuscript. Next, do some research. Find out who represents the sort of thing you write. Try to figure out a way to meet and talk, if at all possible. Go to a conference or two and try to meet the agents you’ve discovered. See if you have a mutual friend who can arrange an introduction. Write to them and ask them to take a look at your work. Be persistent, but not a pest. And be professional. Every agent I know is interested in seeing a great manuscript, even from a new writer. It’s true that it’s harder for a newbie to get started, but that’s true in any field — it’s hard for a new musician to get bookings, or a new painter to get into galleries, or a new life insurance salesman to land clients.
So one word about new authors: Make sure you’re really good. You see, the majority of stuff I see from newer authors isn’t turned down because the writer is new; it’s turned down because the writing isn’t all that great. I see proposals all the time that are about 60% done, and they’re asking me to consider it before it’s ready. Don’t assume you’re a genius just because your mom (or spouse, or best friend, or priest) told you so. Get some professional opinions, listen to others, and become a better writer. All those people who are famous writers now probably weren’t very good when they first started. They all needed to practice, to get training, and to learn from more experienced types before they could succeed. So learn the craft, create a really good manuscript, and your chances of landing an agent improve tremendously.