Today I talked to a friend of mine whose husband wrote a young adult novel. My friend said her husband was so frustrated and disappointed because it seemed impossible to land an agent. She wanted to know if he should just try to submit directly to publishers. After I spoke with her for a while, I discovered her husband had made some typical newbie mistakes. So here, for anyone thinking about trying to find an agent, are some tips:
1. Do not submit to 50 agents all at once. Why? Because chances are, you still have work to do on your manuscript. Even if you think it's perfect, I promise you, it's not. It is great to have a list of 50 potential agents. But you should only submit to 5 or 6 at a time. See what the response is. If you get all form rejections, you might want to take a long hard look at your manuscript and your query letter. You might want to take them to a critique group or a book doctor or a published author. If, however, you get some personal rejections, see what the common themes are. Then revise your manuscript to make it stronger. The big problem with sending to 50 agents at the same time is that you have nobody left to submit to when you improve your manuscript. Your impatience has cost you dearly.
2. If a reputable agent gives you specific feedback and asks to see the manuscript after you've revised it, do a happy dance, and Get To Work! This is not the agent's way of letting you down gently. Believe me, the agent would just send you a rejection letter! This is your Big Opportunity. Even if you don't agree at first with the agent's comments, try to see what he or she is saying. Be open to revision. Seriously, if you don't want to revise, you really shouldn't be an author.
3. Don't tell anyone (agents or editors especially) that kids are loving your manuscript. Although it may be true, there is no way for anyone to know if the kids really just like you and the fact that you wrote the story. It doesn't sway agents or editors at all, but it does make them think you are an amateur.
4. Don't submit directly to publishers. Even though I sold my first two novels without an agent, I don't advise this today. The market has changed. Publishing has changed. An agent is pretty necessary in today's climate.
5. Be persistent, patient, and positive. Chances are you have a lot of revision, rejection, and more revision ahead of you. Every author does. But stay true to your dream. Stay true to your craft. Don't give up. Make your manuscript so unbelievably great that it will not only catch an agent's attention, but it will also go to auction, win awards, and become a best seller.
6. Lastly, remember why you are writing in the first place. I hope it's not to make millions of dollars and retire to some island in the Caribbean. Because I gotta tell you, that's highly unlikely. But if you are writing because you have to write, because you have a story to tell, a story that matters... then keep going. When I was writing my first novel, I taped this mission statement up next to my computer and I consulted it often: I am writing stories that will touch children's hearts and souls and make them see the world and themselves in a new light. That gentle reminder helped to keep me on track. What's your mission statement?