How do you know if you’re ready for an agent?

Recently I received an email from a long lost acquaintance who decided it was time to write a book. He asked me if I could give him contacts in the publishing industry, including my agent. In his letter, he proved he didn’t know anything about this crazy publishing industry, so I sent him my standard “Dear New Writer” letter and haven’t heard back.

The truth is, this writing gig is not easy. It’s not as simple as asking a friend in the industry to put in a good word for you. It’s tedious and time consuming.

My friend’s words got me thinking. How would someone know if they were ready for the bigtime? Is there a magical way of discovering when one is ready to find an agent? Curious? Read the checklist below to see if you’re ready.

Here’s a checklist for those of you who are wondering if you’re ready for an agent:

  • I have attended a conference (local is fine) and received feedback from someone in the industry. (And if that feedback is negative, I’ve learned to thicken my skin and change what needs to be changed.)
  • I have found a critique group (online or in my city). I’ve submitted several things to be critiqued and have learned to take criticism in a constructive, productive way.
  • I have learned (trained myself) to make deadlines. (If you haven’t done this, give yourself a deadline today. Say, “I will write three query letters” or something like that “by January 25th.” Then meet that deadline. Make another. Meet it.)
  • I have mastered the art of query letter writing.
  • I have published several magazine articles on the local level, and perhaps a few on the national level.
  • If I write fiction, I will have completely finished my novel and had it critiqued (or even paid for a critique).
  • If I write nonfiction, I will have finished my proposal and three chapters until they shine like a new copper penny.
  • I have learned the industry well. I am well-versed in Sally Stuart’s Market Guide. Purchase it on the right hand side of this blog.
  • I have a body of work that’s been recognized (either by being published, or garnering awards).
  • If I write nonfiction, I have a good, solid platform. (If you don’t know what this means, you’re not ready for an agent.)
  • I’ve established a readership online through a blog or website. I have a significant online presence.
  • I have read over five books on the craft of writing.
  • I am not naïve about the fiscal workings of the business. (I have a cursory understanding about advances, royalties, rights, copyrights, and how authors get paid.)
  • I am not delusional, thinking my first book will hit it big and land me on Oprah.
  • I am teachable.
  • I am not a one-book wonder. I have a good listing of book ideas.
  • I understand the concept of branding.
  • I have started to develop friendships within the writing community.
  • Someone in the industry has said that my writing is ready for publication (and he/she’s not related to me).
  • I write every day.
  • I have not despised writing in obscurity.
  • I value BOC time (bottom on chair).
  • I set word count or page goals and meet them.
  • I sense God pushing me in this direction.
  • I have integrity.
  • I am low maintenance.
  • I value professionalism. I am willing to make strategic investments in my career. (Professional photo and business card, website that doesn’t look slapped together, etc.)

If you can say yes to most of the things on this list, chances are you’re ready to start thinking about an agent. The best way to meet an agent is in person at a conference. But if that won’t work, do your research and start submitting. A word of caution: DO NOT SUBMIT unless you are completely sure what you’ve written is fresh, stellar and breathtaking. Agents are longing for excellent writers who have surprising, world-altering ideas. Work-work-work until your book is that. Study the market to make sure your idea is different.

2 thoughts on “How do you know if you’re ready for an agent?

  1. Tough to hear – but inspiring. I think once someone (me) has slapped a book together, thrown words in what *seems* like an organized fashion, it makes sense to pursue the next step. But. It’s so helpful to know I’m not done. It’s helpful to know I can grow and my craft can be fine-tuned. My MIP is precious to me – covering a topic I’m incredibly close to – the last thing I need is someone ripping it to shreds simply because I failed to edit precisely. (If I receive a rejection or my manuscript looks as though it’s bleeding because of the markings AFTER I’ve finished, well then perhaps I should keep my day job and keep polishing the story) 😉 Thanks for the reminder, Mary.

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