You need to know about both!
• How to write a query letter (to land an agent for a book)
• How to write a book proposal
• How to find an agent
• Agent/editor blogs
(These are different from the query letters you send a magazine or newspaper editor)
How to Write a Query Letter (AgentQuery.com) A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book....[It] has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writers biography. Dont stray from this format. You wont catch an agents attention by inventing a creative new query format. Youll just alienate your chances of being taken seriously as a professional writer. A query letter is meant to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent. See the sample "hooks" AgentQuery provides.
How to Write a Query Letter (agent Rachelle Gardner's advice is different from AgentQuery's--give them what they want!)
Query Shark. Spend a little time on this site studying how queries get rewritten and improved. Offer your query for revision, study the revisions offered to others, scroll down the left column toward the bottom and studies revisions on "Queries that got to yes."
The Complete Nobodys Guide to Query Letters (Lynn Flewelling, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America)
Successful Query Letters for Agents (Jason Boog, Media Bistro, with 23 agent query letters that actually worked, 12-18-12)
Successful Queries: Agent Jenny Bent and "Oh My Gods" (Chuck Sambuchino, Writer's Digest, 10/4/11)
Successful Queries (on this page are links to many in a series of query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents).
How to Write a Successful Query (Moira Allen, Writing-World.com, on query letters for magazine articles)
Writing a Query Letter (romance writer Charlotte Dillon's excellent page of tips and links to more advice about query letters, and samples of winning query letters for romance and erotic novels
9 Frequently Asked Questions about Query Letters (Chuck Sambuchino, Writer Unboxed, 9-24-12)
Queries and Synopses and Proposals (Writer's Digest)
The biggest mistake writers make when querying literary agents (jm tohline), followed by The best query letters do...what?
If you've read your primers on getting a book published, you'll know that the whole process has changed greatly; that you will almost certainly need an agent to place a book, especially if you're a new writer; that if you're seeking a publisher for a novel you'll probably have to write the whole thing first (to show that you can pull it off); and, if you're writing nonfiction, that you don't write the whole thing first, but sell from a book proposal, a sales piece for the proposed book. Indeed, you will sell the book from a book proposal even if you have already written the book, because the acquiring editor needs something to share with colleagues helping decide whether to buy the book. Here are some books to help you think through the process:
Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published, by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato, explores how to think through a serious nonfiction book (and to understand an editor).
The Fast Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal by Stephen Blake Mettee (short, to the point --what to do and what not to do-- from a seasoned editor and publisher)
Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing Your Book by Elizabeth Lyon, offers a template, a step-by-step process, for writing the proposal, good for authors who need handholding.
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner, is good on the whole process of publishing.
Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why, by Jeff Herman and Deborah M. Adams, shows and tells (but many disagree with some of his suggestions)
The Art of the Book Proposal, by Eric Maisel (Kindle edition), developing the idea.
Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books by William Germano (for publications in academia). See also these proposal guidelines for Harvard University Press
Among other things, what publishers are interested in are: the title (some books have sold on the title alone; if yours isn't great, the publisher may change it), how good an idea you have (and how easy it would be to sell in 25 words or less), your "brand" (how recognizable your name is), your platform (the size of your fan base, or potential fan base, and how easily you can expand that fan base), your track record (sales on previous books), the quality of your writing (which you demonstrate in the proposal itself), how timely the topic is (for nonfiction), and how you plan to promote the book (including how promotable you are, which includes how you come across personally). If you have a video of yourself giving a dynamic talk, you might include that, or a link to it or to a few minutes from it.
The Adventures of Comma Boy by Keith Cronin (a comic strip for aspiring writers, agents, publishers, and publishing fantasizers, featured in Publishers Marketplace. Comma Boy archives here.
An Editor (Who Helped 'The Help') and an Agent Talk About Revision. Listen to Alexandra Shelley (editor of Kathryn Stockett's "The Help") and literary agent Eleanor Jackson discussing revision, publishing, and how to know when a book is 'finished' (on She Writes Radio).
Building a Memoir Writing Platform: What Is Your Message? Part 1 and Part 2 (Kendra Bonnett, 2-28-10, on Women's Memoirs). What's your message is part of figuring out who is your audience, which means who will buy your books! A very helpful discussion.
The confessions of a semi-successful author (Jane Austen Doe, Salon.com, 3-22-04, on the "noir" side of publishing)
Helpful tips from a Harvard writers conference (Livia Blackburn's blog, A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing)
How to Get a Book Deal with World's Largest Publisher by Timothy Ferriss (on , author of The 4-Hour Workweek (not a typical book or author -- a super-self-promoter!)
How to Write an Effective Book Description (Richard Ridley, CreateSpace 3-31-11)
Nonfiction Book Proposal Outline (an excellent and succinct guide, from Ted Weinstein Literary Management)
Should you, the writer, hire an editor? (Writer Beware's excellent links, including some of these:
Should You Pay Someone to Edit Your Work? (Nathan Bransform, agent-turned-author, 10-5-09)
Should I Hire a Freelance Editor? (agent Rachelle Gardner, 3-25-10)
Should You Hire a Professional Editor? (Jane Friedman, Writer Unboxed, 3-19-10)
The Doctor Will See You Now (book doctor Lisa Rojany-Buccieri on what book doctors can and cannot do)
What to Expect from a Professional Critique (Margot Finke)
The Importance of Self-Editing (Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware)
7 Common Myths About Hiring a Freelance Editor for Your Book (Nancy Peske)
See more such pieces on Writer Beware links.
So you want to write a book (Sarah Wernick's excellent guide to basics)
Ten Factors to Consider When Writing Book Proposals (Dennis E. Hensley, Right-Writing.com)
The Ten Most Common Reasons Book Proposals are Rejected and What These Reasons Really Mean (Marcia Yudkin)
Title Z ($, track book sales)
The top 5 secrets to getting a book deal (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal)
What's Your Platform? Another Way of Asking, Who's Going to Read Your Book? (Kendra Bonnett, on Telling Her Stories)
Writing a book proposal, by Sarah Wernick (So You Want to Write a Book)
HOW TO FIND AND CHOOSE AN AGENT
Agents vary on many counts (including how much and how well they help you shape your proposal, how aggressive they are in finding publisher, how well they know how many publishers, and how reliable they will be about protecting your interests after the book is published), so finding one through another writer friend is perhaps the best way, especially if the friend can also recommend you. Many writers have found this book very helpful: Making the Perfect Pitch: How To Catch a Literary Agent's Eye by Katharine Sands.
To find an agent without leaving home, check the online database, Agent Query (which contains fabulous links to other resources for writers). Check the Association of Authors' Representatives to see if a particular agent is a member (you want them to be--agents are going to be handling and managing your money!). You can also find contact information on agents in the reference book Literary Marketplace (Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry with Industry Yellow Pages), available in many public libraries. But to make life easier on yourself, if you're going to be making a lot of submissions, consider buying Chuck Sambuchino's 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, which contains much useful information about the process, or Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Agents, describes the tastes and track records of the agents and editors listed therein. The Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents is revised annually, and you'll find useful info on Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog. Many writers find How to Get a Literary Agent by Michael Larsen useful. You can learn a lot about an agent through Publishers Marketplace, a subscription website that tracks book deals (by $$ size), with agents listed and provides a wealth of information, including a contact database, hosted web pages, a rights and proposals board, a book review index, a book tracker. Publishers Marketplace publishes Publishers Lunch, a free sampler of the more comprehensive Publishers Lunch Deluxe ($20 a month), which keeps you up to date on recent deals. Rachelle Burk's website, Resources for Children's Writers, is targeted to that specialty, and you'll find links to just about everything you need, including lists of publishers and agents who specialize in books for the young. Finally, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America publish an online Thumbs Down Agency List and additional cautions about bad-apple agents.
Some consider it a conflict of interest if an agent offers to refer you to an editorial service--some agents run editorial businesses on the side, or get a referral fee for referring you. It might not be the best way to find a good editor or book doctor. (Similarly, many consider it a conflict of interest that agents are beginning to act as publishers, since agents are supposed to represent authors' interests with publishers--but that's another whole ball of wax.)
There's one agent (BD we'll call him) who routinely sends out calls for writers for projects that require a good deal of research on often complex topics. His requests typically end with "This will be a work for hire for a low four figure advance; no royalties; with a 15% commission deducted by the agent." I'm sure he finds authors, but this is an atrocious deal on every possible basis (rights, lowball $, no royalties). This is not an agent you want representing you.
About That Book Advance
Changing realities over time (Michael Meyer, NYTBR, 4-10-09)
Advice for Writers: Preparing Your E-Manuscript (Subversive Copy Editor, 7-5-10)
Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks oh my! (Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business Rusch, 5-4-11). Publishers give better contracts to authors with clout, lesser contracts to newbies; agents vary in how well they advocate for their authors. Be aware of what goes on.
Agents as Publishers--an accelerating trend and a conflict of interest. Here you can find opinions and write-ups on the trend:
Literary agents and the changing world of trade publishing (Mike Shatzkin, Shatzkin Files, 11-14-09). If authors start self-publishing, will agents become consultants? How will e-books change the agents' role?
Why don't agents want to play? Amazon flies a bunch to Seattle to find out (Richard Curtis, eReads, 11-11-10)
Your Agent Should Not Be Your Publisher (Peter Cox, Redhammer, 6-8-11), as discussed by Mike Shatzkin in A debate across panels is coming at our London show on June 21 (Shatzkin Files 6-8-11)
Ed Victor sets up publishing imprint (Charlotte Williams, The Bookseller 5-10-11). It's starting in the UK.
More agents to explore publishing models (Charlotte Williams, The Bookseller.com, 5-13-11) "Literary agents Curtis Brown and Blake Friedman have said they are planning to follow Ed Victor's move into publishing, after he announced an e-book and print-on-demand venture earlier this week."
How Agents Can Avoid Conflicts of Interest (Passive Guy, The Passive Voice, 5-14-11, a blog about disruptive changes and change agents in publishing). "I believe the current trend for agents to sign their clients to long-term publishing contracts with an in-house agency publisher is not a good idea for several reasons." See also Agents in Conflict
Literary Agencies as Publishers: An Accelerating Trend (Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware, 5-17-11)
Literary agents and publishing: a conflict of interest? (Rob, The Fiction Desk, 5-14-11)
Agents who handle children's books (PDF, SCBWI Agent Directory, ed. Aaron Hartzler & Kim Turrisi, 2009-10 SCBWI Publications Guide, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
The Art of the Pitch (Alan Rinzler's insider tips for preparing and delivering a winning pitch to an agent or editor at a writer's conference, The Book Deal, 3-29-10)
Bewares and Background Checks (Absolute Write's discussion group for questions, comments, and warnings about agents and publishers)
Lynn Chu: Agent Unplugged, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's informative interview with this principal of Writers' Representatives LLC, appears in the public part of the January 2010 issue of ASJA Monthly (the confidential section goes to members only). This is as helpful an analysis of what authors should know about their rights in the new electronic world as you are likely to read. It starts on pp. 6-7 of this PDF file,then jumps to p. 13. Print those pages out and highlight them! Her most valuable comments are on book publishers trying to becoming licensing agents for e-rights while taking a print publishers' share of income and without doing what a licensing agent ought to do, and since authors will very quickly learn how much they can do without the publishers, they are playing a dangerous game. Authors: there IS no standard on e-publishing terms, so do your homework. At a minimum, read this article.
Collaboration agreements and agreement forms
Cranky Agent Alert (Wendy Lawton, Books & Such, 10-2-12, on inappropriate query and pre-query behavior by authors--things NOT to do)
Contract terms for book publishing (full section of links to everything from the Author's Guild's Improving Your Book Contract: Negotiation Tips for Nine Typical Clauses to 8 clauses an agent is likely to negotiate in a contract to The Importance of Reversion Clauses in Book Contracts
The Easily Overlooked Art of Agent Research (Jason Boog, GalleyCat, 9-24-08)
Five agents talk about their business (for YA Fantasy authors)
5 Reasons Agents Dont Explain Their Rejections (agent Rachelle Gardner, guest posting on Books & Such, 2-21=13)
How to find an agent
How To Find A Literary Agent (Nathan Bransford, and do read Publishing Essentials, links to which are along left side)
How To Find A Literary Agent (When Youve Self-Published) (Laura Cross, author of The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent, guest-blogging on The Savvy Book Marketer, shares tips for self-published authors seeking agent representation)
Everything you wanted to know about literary agents... (Neil Gaiman, 1-11-05)
Publishing Secrets: Battle of the UNs--Unagented/Unsolicited Submissions (Jeff Herman, Publishing Secrets)
How To Protect Yourself From Shady Literary Agents (Writer's Relief, Huffington Post, 9-19-12). See also Literary Agents You Should Avoid: 3 Major Red Flags Writer's Relief, Huffington Post, 9-5-12) and 10 Ways to Annoy Literary Agents (Writer's Relief, 8-2-12)
Inside the Secret World of Literary Scouts, Part 1 (Emily Williams, Publishing Perspectives, 12-14-09)
Interviews with Agents (Poets & Writers interviews with Agents and Editors)
A Q&A With Agent Georges Borchardt by Jofie Ferrari-Adler (Sept/Oct 2009)
A Q&A With Four Young Literary Agents (by Jofie Ferrari-Adler, interviewing Julie Barer, Jeff Kleinman, Renee Zuckerbrot, and Daniel Lazar, Jan/Feb 2009)
A Q&A With Agent Molly Friedrich (by Jofie Ferrari-Adler, Sept/Oct 2008)
A Q&A With Agent Lynn Nesbit by Jofie Ferrari-Adler, Jan/Feb 2008)
QueryFail: How not to land an agent (Tara Lazar's blog roundup of worst query lines, sorted by submission guidelines writers failed to follow, as cited in Twitter QueryFail)
Thumbs Down Agency List (Writer Beware, maintained by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss)
Top Literary Agents for.... This series (compiled in 2007, by the blog Literary Agent News) is far from perfect. Caveat emptor. I'll add comments as I get them from readers: Top Literary Agents for Memoirs, for literary fiction, for true crime books ("does not include the #1 agent in the genre, Jane Dystel, or anyone at Dystel Goderich; and Wendy Keller agency says thanks, but they've never sold a true crime book"); for horror novels, for mystery novels, for science fiction novels, for fantasy novels, for young adult novels, for romance novels, for self-help books, for travel books, and for business books. Tell me if these links are, or are not, useful. For more up-to-date information, check out the sites profiles of individual agents.
Top Literary Agents Reveal How To Get a Deal With a Major Publisher (PDF of transcript, panel discussion, hosted by Steve Harrison)
The Truth About Literary Agents' Fees (Writers Beware, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, SFWA)
24 Agents Who Want Your Work (Chuck Sambuchino, Writer's Digest 11-10-09)
Twitter. A directory of Twitter handles for literary agents
Writer beware (A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss blog about scams involving agents, writing contests, and the like)
Writer Beware (warnings about amateur, marginal, and incompetent agents and MANY links useful for novices)
QueryFail. In March 2009 literary agents Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay hosted QueryFail on Twitter, an exchange of rants in which agents and editors shared worst query lines from their slush piles. Tara Lazar did a roundup of lessons learned (without the quoted lines) on JacketFlap.com, which you can read at the entry called QueryFail: How Not to Land an Agent. Literary agent Janet Reid brought up the prospect of a parallel "AgentFail" in her blog column The agent bubble (incidentally, she says that one of the few places agents get to hear what writers think is AbsoluteWrite), and the BookEnds Literary Agency hosted a forum for writers: Agentfail Right Here.
In essence, here are the lessons for authors submitting to agents: Do your research on the agent, follow their submission guidelines, address your query to the right agent (and spell their name right), and copyedit your query so it contains no grammatical or spelling errors. That alone will bring your query to the top. As for agents: Be sure the guidelines on your website are up to date. Respond! Everyone: be courteous and remember, we're all human. One side effect of this exercise was that some agents came across as "Mean Girl."
In this curious age of blogging, you can pick up many tips about agents, book proposals, and how best to market your book to a publisher by skimming these agent blogs. Go first to Nathan Bransford and read "Publishing Essentials." Take time, do your homework, and read the advice and insights in these blogs:
Agent in the Middle (Lori Perkins, specializing in novels and erotica)
Alice's CWIM blog (from the editor of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, now moving her blog to SCBWI)
Ask Daphne (Kate Schafer Testerman)
Book Cannibal (Cameron McClure on fiction)
The Book Deal (Alan Rinzler, An Inside View of Publishing)
Brooklyn Arden (Cheryl Klein, children's books editor)
Buried in the Slush Pile (an editor's blog about children's book agents and publishers)
Chip MacGregor (a Christian agent)
Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency)
Dr. Syntax (Peter Ginna of Bloomsbury Press)
Dystel & Goderich
Editorial Anonymous (blog of a children's book editor)
Et in arcaedia, ego (Jennifer Jackson)
Fine Print Literary Management
The Forest for the Trees(Betsy Lerner)
Hartline (Joyce Hart)
Janet Reid (about agenting and publishing)
KidLit.com (Mary Kole, representing children's literature)
Miss Snark (no longer posting, but lots of good stuff in this agent's blog archives)
Nathan Bransford(some read this former agent daily, when he was an agent; now he works for CNet and he's still one of the best bloggers; click on and read "The Essentials")
The Profitable Publisher (Marion Gropen, on independent publishing)
POD-dy Mouth (stopped blogging in 2007 but you can read backlist)
Query Shark (study great examples of how to revise a query so it works -- Janet Reid's other site)
Rants and Ramblings (Rachelle Gardner, good general advice; specializes in Christian/inspirational)
Redlines and Deadlines
The Rejecter (an assistant at a literary agency, who rejects bad query letters)
The Swivet (Colleen Lindsay, an unrepentant nerd and literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management, apparently on a blogging break)
Upstart Crow. Check their Literary Toolbox,especially the Writer's Bookshelf (especially on book illustrations)
Writing Advice Database (Nathan Bransform, agent-turned-author, with solid advice on a wide range of subjects)
Choosing a freelance editor: What you need to know (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal)
Formatting Your Manuscript (Nathan Bransford)
How a Book Gets Published (Nathan Bransford)
What Do Literary Agents Do? (Nathan Bransford)
How to Find a Literary Agent (Nathan Bransford)
How to Write Query Letters ... or, really, how to revise query letters so they actually work (Query Shark, Janet Reid's specifically query-helpful site)
Frequently asked questions, answered by Nathan Bransford
Websites, organizations, and other resources
A GREAT READ
BOOK AND MAGAZINE PUBLISHING
WRITERS AND CREATORS
ETHICS, RIGHTS, AND OTHER ISSUES
EDITORS AND EDITING