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How to Write a Novel in Six Months, Week 5: Researching Agents

Updated on September 24, 2008
Photo: nuanc,Flickr
Photo: nuanc,Flickr

Researching agents? What is she, nuts? She hasn't even written the thing! It may sound presumptive, but before you get down to writing, you've got to know your market. That is, if you ever plan to sell your novel. Researching publishers and/or agents will help you understand reader's expectations for the type of novel you're about to write. There's no sense spending the next 6 months writing a 500 page fantasy romance only to find out the audience for those prefers only 350 pages to turn. (I'm just making this up. I have no knowledge of the fantasy romance category, except I'm pretty sure there is such a thing!)

Researching Publishers

For a lot of fiction genres (particularly romance) you can sell your manuscript directly to the publisher. In this case, they will probably have detailed submission guidelines (sometimes including story, character and plot requirements). Make sure you follow theses. Genre fiction has many categories, each with their own specific needs.

If you're writing non-category or genre fiction, it's probably either literary or mainstream. For lack of a better definition, let's broadly generalize by calling literary is meaningful, serious and often sad and mainstream as lighter, funnier, and more uplifting. I know those are terribly flawed, but let's just go with it, shall we? If you're writing a literary novel, I'm thinking your best bet is to build a name for yourself by publishing literary short fiction. And try to learn to enjoy ramen noodles. Kidding. Kind of.

If you're writing mainstream fiction and you really want it to go ‘mainstream', you'll probably need a big publishser and most of those require you have an agent. Sure there are exceptions, and we've all heard how John Grisham sold his books out of his trunk. But, are you Grisham? You're not. Unless, of course, you are. In that case - call me!

Find Your Agent at the Bookstore

The best way to find out about agents who may be interested in your book is to spend some time at your local bookstore. You won't be browsing, but looking for specific information. Find books that are like the one you'll be writing. Most of these books will have an acknowlegement page where the author thanks her family, friends, really good pets, and often - her agent! This is what you are there to learn. Soon you may see a pattern.

Although it may seem a great big publishing world out there, only so many agents are really interested in detective stories with talking dogs. While you're there, jot down the publisher, page count, and the back cover copy.

Back cover copy? Yes! You'll have to come up with a similar description for your own book when the time comes to pitch it to an agent. All the books on the shelf have been sold to someone. Learn all you can!

Are you ready? Go find some agents! They are going to be so excited when they finally hear from you!

How to Write a Novel in Six Months, One Writer's Journey

Week 1, Mapping Out the Six Month Plan

Week 2, Resources on Structure

Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends

Week 4, Sketching Characters

Week 6, Outlining

Week 7, Detail Scene Beats

Week 8, Writing the Synopsis

Weeks 9 - 18, Drafting Updates

Week 19, Sanity Break

Week 20, Transitions

Week 21, Reading the Draft

Weeks 22 - 24 First Revision


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    Serenity Live 

    10 years ago

    I'm so excited every time you write a new Hub about novel writing. I'm working on my first one now. And this one is both helpful and hilarious! Personally, I think your sum-up of literary versus mainstream is right on the money. I'm so lucky to already have an agent (my first book was a memoir - still looking for a publisher), because this stage makes me break out in a cold sweat. Writing I love - the part where you get someone to notice your writing - downright ulcer-inducing.


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