Thursday, 13 May 2010

Big News! Agent!

This week I signed with Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents! Victoria will be representing my second novel, Bulfinch, and future works of fiction to editors at publishing houses. I'm absolutely thrilled; Victoria already has a list of pretty classy editors to start submitting to, and I'm looking forward to hearing soon about how the first round goes! GSLA is a respected agency, and they're represented some big works, like Girl with a Pearl Earring.

So, for those who don't know, a literary agent represents an author's work to acquiring editors at publishing houses. This is a vital service to the author since most major publishers don't accept "unsolicited" manuscripts - in other words, manuscripts submitted directly by authors. Agents basically select out promising writers from the immense pool of hopeful authors, which is why editors prefer to look at submissions from them - the sheer volume of unsolicited manuscripts makes the agent's role in selection just as important to editors as it is to the authors they represent.

Getting an agent is a huge first step for any hopeful author after she's learned to actually finish a manuscript. Writers find agents by querying them: sending letters (or, more typically, emails) with a synopsis of the work, a brief bio of the writer, and some basics on the manuscript: length, stage of completion, genre. And boy do we query in droves: my mom and several of her writer friends asked one another about it once, and determined they'd each queried about 100 agents before signing with their first ones. I think I got off pretty easy with about 40 queries before Victoria came along.

The process doesn't end with the query, either; if an agent likes the query, she might ask for a partial, or excerpt, of the manuscript, of anywhere from five to fifty pages; if the first partial is short, the agent may even ask for a second, longer partial before finally requesting the full manuscript. And even then, some agents - like mine - may ask for revisions before considering representation: they want to know you're willing to work with them, and there might be issues in the manuscript that make it unmarketable in its current state, but they want to be certain that revision will address those problems satisfactorily before agreeing to represent.

After an agent agrees to represent your work, she'll begin submitting it to editors. A lot of agencies also handle subsidiary rights if the author retains a portion of them after an initial sale: electronic rights, film rights, foreign rights, reprint rights. Agents work on commission and typically subtract 15% from the sale of most rights as their fee.

And that's how publishing goes 'round. Please ascribe any glaring errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation to a dangerous concoction of cold medication, sinus congestion and David Foster Wallace.