Let’s be honest: there isn’t a writer among us who doesn’t want to get an agent and see his or her book(s) published by a major house. It isn’t our purpose here on The Grassroots Writer’s Guild to suggest otherwise. Our point is that we can’t just sit around on our hands, waiting for a contract to drop out of the sky. We all know it’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, and harder than ever to sell to our work to publishers directly. Much of that is due to conglomeration among publishers, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s relevant to this post is that as writers attempting to secure quality representation for our work, we must come up with ways to make that work stand out from the ever-increasing competition.
Agents are very skeptical of new authors, and, looking at it from their prospective, it’s hard to blame them. Literary agents run a business, and that business is to sell books that generate income. The expanse of the internet and e-mail, not to mention social networks like Facebook and Twitter, has made it a snap for anyone to “write” a book and push it to weary agents and editors without investing so much as a stamp. Given how tight the market has become, with fewer and fewer people actually reading for pleasure, agents must be incredibly selective with their client lists, especially fiction. They can no longer afford to take on writers whose work they personally fall in love with unless that work suggests a sure sale, or very close to it.
The question is, how do we convince them our book qualifies?
First and most importantly, we make sure it’s the best it can be before sending out queries. (That’s rudimentary advice, but you’d be surprised how many writers ignore it.) Write a good first draft, flush out the characters, write a second draft, tighten the plot, then rewrite it all again. When the story and characters have been shored up via a third draft, get some input from writing peers. Set aside emotions and digest their comments honestly. Edit some more and rewrite again. Strive for perfection, but—and this is important—don’t dwell on it or the project will never be complete.
Another thing we can do is develop strong marketing skills. It’s imperative to put ourselves and our books out there so readers can find us. Make a website and blog. Post sample chapters. Sell e-books and CDs. Offer to do readings at local bookstores and radio stations. Invest in a small number of printed copies and submit them for local reviews. Sell them as limited first editions. Do interviews. Get people talking. Develop an audience. Prove we have what it takes not only to write a good book but assist in promoting it. Doing so might not land us that elusive contract, but it might be enough to get a toe in the door.