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Books by Authors of the Greater Los Angeles Writers SocietyBooks by Authors of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS)
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books – University of Southern California
April 2013

 

As a newbie to the book industry, I learned early that there is much more to the writer’s life than writing a book. The creative process, the fun part, is only the first of three phases of producing a book. With my manuscript completed, I must now navigate the business side of writing: publication and promotion.

Book production has its own business model and specialists. One such specialist—I’m happy to note—is the literary agent. In an article published in Poets & Writers 2012, literary agent Rebecca Gradinger of Fletcher & Company defined her role, as follows:

The agent is the writer’s sounding board, creative adviser, business partner, and advocate. The agent negotiates the best possible deal for the writer and then stays in regular contact with the editor, who becomes the cheerleader in-house, working with marketing, publicity, sales, and everyone else who has a hand in getting the book out into the world…

Contracting the services of a literary agent comes with its challenges. With so many great writers vying for representation, the demand for agents is highly competitive. One agent equated the process to applying for a job (Writer’s Digest, October 2012).

With so much at stake, a simple letter to a literary agent, known as a query letter, becomes almost as important as one’s manuscript. I had to get it right. Here are the jottings I made of advice from literary agents—published in the Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers magazine—on how to grab their attention.

  • Address query to one specific agent;
  • Limit letter to one page;
  • Be as professional as possible;
  • No spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors;
  • Style is important, but clarity is key;
  • Identify book by genre;
  • Sell the work, not yourself;
  • Short tease of the plot—identify main characters, include only the most important conflict and action points;
  • Indicate you’re familiar with agent’s client list, books he or she represents;
  • Brief background of writing credits.

Due to thousands of query letters they receive monthly, literary agents cannot respond to them all. On the agency websites I’ve visited, several of them advise that failure to receive a response to one’s query letter within four to six weeks indicates that they are not interested in the project.

Rejections are inevitable. Patience and persistence are a must.

Regardless of how special my book may be to me as its creator, it’s a consumer product that must be marketable. Does my mainstream/literary, multicultural novel have the literary qualities and marketable ingredients for attracting a traditional publisher? Will I find a literary agent to champion my novel? Without the willingness to tread in unknown waters, I will never know.

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