Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: How to Get an Agent

Do you want an agent?


I see lots of you nodding your heads.


Getting an agent isn't the huge mystery some think it is.  Yes, plain old luck -- being in the right place at the right time with the right ms --  accounts for about 40% of your chances.  However, most of it comes down to one thing.

Learn Your Craft.

About 5 years ago, I joined a small online critique group.  We wrote short stories and polished them until they sold to zines and anthologies.  Then we started writing novels.  From the original group, some people have come and gone, but about 4 of us have remained with the group all this time -- and 3 of us got agents.  Yes, that's 3 out of 4.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.

Here's how we did it.

We started a private online forum, and anytime someone found a great article on writing craft, we'd run back to the forum and post it so others could read it.  When we found writing or first page competitions that offered agent feedback, like Miss Snark's First Victim, we shared the info, joined the contests, and discussed the agent feedback we and others received.

If one of us took a class from professional authors or editors, she'd rush back to the group and share all she'd learned.  

We picked apart each others work.  We didn't get defensive or angry or have hurt feelings.  We said "Thank you," took good suggestions, and worked hard to improve our writing skills.  

We began to improve.  A lot.  

We began to win or semi-final in competitions (like ABNA or Writers Conferences).  We queried and got a few full requests.  We commiserated on our rejections and learned from them.  Then we wrote new novels and got a lot more full requests.  Then we wrote even more novels until -- suddenly -- instead of a rejection, we each got an OFFER!


*And there was much rejoicing!*



Some of you may think: 
I don't have time for a writing group.
I can't find a group I like.
The groups I find don't write in my genre.
I can't afford to buy expensive craft books.
I don't have time to go searching for articles on writing craft.
I want people who're *nice* about my work -- it's my heart and soul after all...

You have more options than you think. 

Sometimes my group goes into hibernation when we're busy with life or writing new projects.  But we eventually come back together and share crits.  We are busy people, but we are committed. And whereas local writing groups obligate you to set aside time to go to meetings, online groups just need 15 minutes for a check-in -- any free 15 minutes you can spare.

Just as reading others books is important, so is reading articles on craft.  You don't have to buy expensive books.  There are plenty of excellent online articles that are free.

You don't need to have others writing exactly your genre.  Of the three of us who got agents, one writes Paranormal Romance, one writes YA Contemp, and I write Horror (and others in our group write everything from literary to epic fantasy).  The genres are different but almost all the techniques of good writing are the same.

Be aware of agent judged competitions (like Miss Snark's First VictimPitchWars, and SC Write Query Contest -- all free to enter and going on now), and read the feedback other readers and agents give.  Agent feedback is gold.  They rarely give it because they don't have time.  Soak up as much as you can.

If you want *nice* feedback, give your ms to your mother.  If you want to get an agent, find critique partners who know their stuff.  


You don't want an agent?  You're going indie?  Fine.

You Still Need to Learn Craft!

(If I sound unhappy, it's because I get disappointed when I pick up a book from an acquaintance on FB or wherever who has begged, "Please, please read my book," and I find things like info dumps, POV head-hopping, cliches, and no understanding of "Show Don't Tell" or basic writing craft.  It's like they don't respect their readers enough to make a serious effort.)


To help you out, here are some excellent articles on craft:

Activate Your Story by Agent Jill Corcoran -- on how to make sure you’re starting your story in the right place on Agent Jill Corcoran’s blog.

How to Open Your Story Three Dynamic Ways by Dr. John Yeoman -- on how to write openings that will make the reader keep turning pages on the Writer’s Village Wicked Blog.

Turkey City Lexicon from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) -- their list of writing "dont's," ways not to write a story, or things they've seen too much of.  (This is a great article and very funny too!)

Writing Fix: Reinvent Your Story by Linda S. Clare – on how to take a trunked novel and breathe new life into it on the Linda S. Clare blog.

Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories by Jeff Lyons – on how to make sure your story premise is high concept and stands out from the crowd at Writer’s Digest blog.

How to Write Genius Characters by J.S. Morin – tips on how to write characters who are smarter than you are on the J.S. Morin blog.

Finding the Right Door to Enter Your Story by P.J. Parrish – on how to write the crucial beginning chapters to your novel at the Kill Zone blog.

10 Errors to Avoid When Writing About Guns by Benjamin Sobieck – on how to write the correct details if your characters are using guns or rifles on Jane Friedman’s blog.

Skeletons in Her Closet – The Forensics of Skeletons by Fiona Quinn – on how to correctly describe skeletonized remains at the Thrill Writing blog.



This is a post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the brainchild of Alex J. Cavanaugh. It exists so the community of blogging writers can share and support each other, blog-hopping to cheerlead and commiserate. To find out more, visit: Insecure Writer's Support Group. Plus, check out the IWSG Website for lots of helpful info and links.

56 comments:

Cherdo said...

This is a great bit of wisdom you've shared here, Lexa. There's no shortcut; you have to learn the craft. Everyone who thinks it's easy has never tried it. I really respect your talent!

Loved Soulcutter!

Yolanda Renee said...

Writing groups are great for a lot of reasons, love your example. Online groups are good, but local writing groups so much more fun! Both are ideal!

Happy IWSG day, Lexa!

Dr. Theda said...

Some very good suggestions dear Lady Lexa...

PlanetKimberly said...

Excellent post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and article links with us. I need to find a good critique/writing group soon.

On a side-note, I showed my husband your clip of Jim Carrey doing that funny dance. We laughed because I do that dance around the house and I wave my arms around my head in a circle. It's a dance move we do in Zumba. My husband said I look like an orangutan doing that.

Kate Larkindale said...

Great post, Lexa!

And as one of those in Lexa's online crit group who has been there from the start and is now agented, I cannot stress how enormously helpful this group has been. Not just in terms of writing craft (which has been invaluable), but also the support given and received in the group. I know I wouldn't have made it this far without those people. Especially Lexa, who manages somehow to be both my biggest fan and my harshest critic.

If you can't find an online group that suits you, start one of your own and seek out people to join it. It works, I swear!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Well done, Lexa! And a great post!

I once had an agent for about six months, before she decided to close the agency and focus on her own writing. The only printed rejection I ever got was from a MS she sent out. ;-) Most agents never replied to my inquiries - and I was sending inquiries, not dumping MSS on them. Of those who had the courtesy to reply, the reply was usually, "Sorry, my books are full." One even said, "I've read your work before, I know you're a good writer, but my books are full." Precisely two actually read my MSS. One said, "Sorry, too short, it has to be 100,000 words and the first of a series for me to sell it." (It was an 80,000 word YA novel and stand-alone. I sold it myself, eventually.) The problem is, this country has a small population and a lot of demand for agents. Also, I ended up writing some education titles and one agent told me that, even though I already had a contract and just wanted support, she wouldn't touch an education contract with a ten foot pole, because you can't negotiate a better deal on them. The book she refused to represent me for is still making money - and decent royalties for me - after 12 years. In the end, I just did my own running around. Publishers know me now and will usually at least look at my MS.

I'll check out those links, anyway - thanks! I agree with Yolanda that there's nothing quite like a local group. I belonged to one, many years ago. Most of us sold something eventually, one became a NY Times bestseller, one is making a living from writing. None of us ever got an agent(except me, briefly)

JeffO said...

Why, that wasn't insecure at all!

"We are busy people, but we are committed."

"we are committed."

"we are committed."

This is ultimately what it comes down to.

Nice post, Lexa.

Tara Tyler R said...

this post was gold! thanks for sharing all that awesome info and advice! and way to nab an agent! i'm about to dive back in and see if i can find one to work with.

happy hump day!

Rachel Pattinson said...

Great post, Lexa! It's so important people get the basics right before they publish - your book won't sell if it's not a good book! I love reading articles and tips on writing, even though I'm self-published now; I feel like you can never stop improving your craft :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's great how your critique group partners and you were able to support each other so much during the querying and pre-querying process. Sounds like you had a great system. Critique groups are so essential for writers.

Medeia Sharif said...

Wonderful post. I learned about the craft by getting agent and editor feedback, joining a critique group, reading books and blog posts, and going to conferences. Some of these things cost money and they all required time. There are no shortcuts.

Misha Gericke said...

I agree with you. The craft must be learnt even if one doesn't want an agent. How else will we create a fanbase that thinks we're actually good at what we do? ;-)

J Q Rose said...

My writing group has a similar history with yours. When we first started, none of us had published novels, but now all of us have traditionally pubbed books, many, not just one. We do presentations together and share info. I like the idea of entering the contests. I'll share this post with my gang. Thanks so much for the great info!

Christine Rains said...

Excellent advice! I have an online group and a local critique group that meets at the library once a month. I've learned so much about the craft from these wonderful people. I'm still learning, and I hope to always keep improving for the rest of my days.

Diana Wilder said...

Bravissima! Great post!

I think people are afraid to submit their work (to agents, to cohorts, to other writers, to friends) because they are afraid that what they hear will be 'This Stinks'. Period. (Behold the 'Insecure Writer's hangup') In actual fact, aside from the occasional 'Thank you - not for us' scribbled by a hugely busy agent on a submission, you aren't going to get something like that.

I spent a year working with a very good agent who was considering taking me on. His group read my MS over and over, made suggestions, and sent it back. Ultimately, they declined, but I had a year of intensive criticism and guidance (and I didn't know then how valuable that was).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is awesome! Thanks for the information and the links. Sharing information was a smart thing to do with your group.

TBM said...

Oooo...lots of good links to explore. I'm with you, writers need to learn the craft. It takes time. It means listening to criticism. It means putting yourself out there. It's scary, but it does work.

T. Drecker said...

Writing groups, CPs, betas--they are miracle workers. The criticism is golden and I'm always amazed at how different people are good at spotting different things. Great post.

Melissa said...

Learn your craft!
Amen. Preach it, sister!

Like you, I learned most of it via blog articles and good critique partners who weren't afraid to tell me (kindly) how bad my writing really was.

I do think we need to have a bit of compassion for the newbies, though. Sometimes they publish amateur stuff because the truly don't know how much they don't know.

Great post! :)
IWSG #119 until Alex culls the list again.

Stephen Hayes said...

This was a wonderfully informative post with great information. Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer Hawes said...

This is absolutely true. I am involved in an active critique group and have several beta readers I exchange manuscripts with. It's essential! I do cringe at some of those Indie books. Just saying what you said, EVERYONE needs to know the craft! It does take time, but it's so worth it in the long run.

Catherine Stine said...

Such great links! And I do love that dance meme.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Thanks for the great links. Saving them.
Years ago, I wanted an agent. Sent lots of queries, received some nice replies and comment. No one signed me though. Today, I'm happy with the way things are.
I'll share your advice with my critique partners. I think some of them are looking for an agent.
Your posts are always so good and informative. I think you're doing very well with your writing.

Blogoratti said...

Wonderful piece of advice and really insightful too. Thanks for sharing, and greetings!

Julie Flanders said...

Wow your group sounds wonderful. It was inspiring to read about your journey together!
And thanks for sharing these links, I am saving them all.

Bish Denham said...

Wow, Lexa, you've done a great service here!

cleemckenzie said...

What? Did you eat your Wheaties this morning? You're on fire. Great post today. Keep up the great job.

Crystal Collier said...

I'm right there with you. It is all about learning your craft and practicing what you learn.

S.K. Anthony said...

I absolutely love this post. It's so true!
It comes down to learning your craft no matter what ;)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Lexa, I just love this post.I have learnt a lot from all the writing craft tips my blog buddies share. And ofcourse from the feedback of my critique partners.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...


Excellent post, Lexa. One point, just because one gets an agent doesn't mean the work stops there. I've had 3. One I shared with a famous rock star and a famous journalist. Which resulted in my agent had no time left for me. Still crying the blues over that one. My first agent had a massive heart attack and had to retire. My 2nd had a nervous breakdown. My 3rd, I fired. I stopped looking a few months and am now checking out publishers who don't require solicited mss. I guess I'm back to square one since firing my publisher too. Your post is very encouraging at a critical point in my life. Thanks!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

This is a great post, Lexa! Let's say it all together: THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS!

I am adding this post to links I have created for some writing classes I teach at a community college!

Emma Adams said...

I couldn't agree more! I'm glad I spent years learning my craft in the query trenches before I self-published. I don't have a writing group, but I do have some fantastic CPs and beta readers, and I'm still obsessive about putting my books through multiple editing rounds before I even consider showing anyone else.

M.R. R. said...

Thanks for the links.

Cathrina Constantine said...

Great post, Lexa, and yes, I need to find a writing group in my area. It would help tremendously.

Kim Lajevardi said...

Learning craft is imperative and a critique group--especially awesome critique partners like you guys--irreplaceable. I love the links. I'm going to save them and read them over.

Michael Di Gesu said...

APPLAUSE! APPLAUSE! APPLAUSE!

WELL SAID, LEXA! I couldn't agree more. And I am one of those writers who is determined to get an agent and have my work published. I have leaned a great many things in my six years of writing and I will learn lots more thanks to your wonderful links!

THANK YOU! This may just be the push I need to put the final shine to my work....

Lynda R Young said...

Great, great article. Brilliant. Feedback is essential, as is learning the craft and keeping at it.

Nancy Gideon said...

Great post, Lexa! I've never been a joiner but I love our area writers group and my critique group for place to find support, hone craft and share information. I started out thinking I was the only writer in the State of MI with only the library and a copy of Fiction Writers Market. Man oh man, writers don't have any idea how good they've got it today.

Kimberly said...

Awesome, awesome post - I love critiquing and getting critiques, sadly, I don't find that everyone does. :)

These are such great tips and I'm going to check out some of these links right now! Thank you. :)

Rhonda Albom said...

At least I am past step one, I have a critique group. Beyond that I have a long way to go, but so many great tips here. Thanks for all the resources. My first order of business will be to share this post with my group :)

Cathy Keaton said...

This is a really cool way to land an agent and a way I bet agents would say is excellent, too. I have no intention of getting one, but sometimes self-published authors need them if they want to find publishers for their books overseas.

Certainly, this approach will inspire those who are searching for agent representation to get serious and team-up with other like-minded authors. :)

Julia Thorley said...

Such sage advice. I've occasionally asked my fellow local writers: 'There a great workshop coming up. Want to come with?' So many times the reply is 'No, I don't need help in writing.' I bite my tongue, but inside I'm thinking: 'Really? Are you sure?' Why do we find it so hard to take advice and criticism? Ego? Fear?

Murees Dupé said...

Great post, Lexa. Learning the writing craft is so important. I know I'm always learning something new. Thank you for the great info;)

Samantha Geary Jones said...

You had me at Amy Schumer:) You're absolutely on point! Working in two completely different industries *film music & literary* has helped hone my craft in innovative ways. Delving headfirst into new storytelling platforms *YouTube serials, live stage performances, album promos*, and working with high level creatives in varying fields, has inspired and motivated me to become a stronger storyteller.

Uncharted

Chemist Ken said...

Lots of great links there. Thanks. Sound like you have an awesome critique group. Congratulations. Excellent post!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Excellent post, Lexa, and I love your suggestions.

Love what you've done with place, btw!

Huntress said...

oh boy! bookmarking this page

L.G. Smith said...

Some good straight talk there, Lexa. And hi again!! Been out of the loop for awhile. Had some agent drama of my own happen. Had an offer. Turned down the offer to do a revision for someone else. And just got that done and turned in. So...now I'm back to the waiting game. And perhaps the query trenches too. We'll see. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's not easy to get one, but armed with knowledge and skill, it's possible.

Denise Covey said...

Whoa Lexa, this post kicks butt! You've just proved how difficult/involved writing is. It's no walk in the park. Congratulations for your dedication. I, too, get disappointed when I read many ebooks especially, for all the reasons you say. People are told over and over again that they still need an editor and cover designer and formatter at the very least if they're self publishing, but that obviously doesn't always happen. Good writing is the best marketing tool.

Have a great writerly month!

Denise :-)

Scribbles From Jenn said...

"If you want *nice* feedback, give your ms to your mother." LOVE it!!!! I just got back from a three-day SCBWI Conference and you are right, it's work, but, in time, it will payoff. Thanks for the links, I'm bookmarking this post. Because in writing, and in life, there is always more to learn.

Ann V. Friend said...

Awesome post and information! Thank you.

lorilmaclaughlin.com said...

Thanks for all the great advice and links! It's always satisfying when hard work pays off.

Cynthia said...

I don't know if I belong to a set group but I have sought out writers from events and classes to stay in touch with for support and for instances of sharing work with one another for feedback.

Sharon Marie Himsl said...

This is excellent advice. Thanks for sharing!

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