Friday, August 25, 2006


Apologies for my recent absence; have been working like a mad thing. Attempting to complete the first draft on Number 6 before I receive editorial notes for Number 5. This I think I will do! Have had great fun with Number 6, but as I reach the end I am ready to do something else. Number 5 - the fact that it is something I am truly proud of - excites me; I am looking forward greatly to the work. And then again I have already started research for Number 7. Due to regular work commitments it is rare for me to find more than fifteen or twenty hours a week to write. Nevertheless I use those hours wisely, and am still reaching something in the region of 40,000 words a month.
So, why the title of this post?
Well, I received an e-mail this morning from Maluma Derrick. He asks the perennial do I get published?
This - above and beyond any question - is the one asked most of writers. A close second is 'Where do you get your ideas from?' (That question we'll take up in another post!)
Okay, so where to begin. Is it chance? Is it simply down to luck? No, it's not. Taking into account the fact that you have a script you feel is as good as it can be in its current form (and don't forget that anyone - editor or otherwise - is going to have some suggestions as to how it could be improved; this is completely standard, no question about it, because you are reading it from a very specific and individual viewpoint (as the author) whereas someone else is going to be reading it with a fresh eye)...then what do you do with your script?
My recommendation is that you find an agent.
There are a great deal of opinions about agents, but all of them come down to whether you should have one or whether you shouldn't.
I think you should, for what it's worth.
The standard industry percentage for an agent is 10% of your earnings, but this is paid on earnings, not on money you haven't made yet! The agent takes a percentage of what he has helped you make. He doesn't charge you for services before the fact.
You are paying an agent for his experience, guidance, judgement, contacts, ability to get you a better deal...
For an example, I was paid an amount of money as an advance for my first novel. I did not have an agent. For my second contract (by which time I did have an agent) I received nine times as much!
So how do you get an agent?
You go out and buy a copy of the 'Writers & Artists Yearbook'. It's published each year, and there's a section in there that gives details of all literary agents in the UK, a little about them, some of the authors they represent, the genre of work they like etc. You make a list of all the agents that you think are appropriate for your material. You write a personal letter to each of them. It should be brief, give a very succinct and clear idea of the manuscript you are proposing to have them read, and the suggestion that you send them some sample chapters and a synopsis.
Keep a record of the agents you write to and the date on which you wrote. Make sure your letter is word-perfect, correct spelling, exemplary punctuation etc. This is a first impression.
When you receive replies asking for material, then send it. Print your script on A4, double space, at least one-inch margins on each side, top and bottom. Number the pages clearly. Send a polite cover letter thanking the agent for his time, and address it back to that person by name.
Keep a record of what you've sent out and who it went to.
Wait three weeks from your first batch of letters out. Make a list of all the agents that didn't reply, and write them again - succinctly, politely, reminding them that you wrote three weeks before and you would very much like them to look at some material. Wait for replies, and then send out any additional material requested.
Wait another three weeks.
Make a list of all the agents who still haven't replied, and write them again - succinctly, politely, and tell them you are still interested in forwarding some material.
Send out material promptly and professionally to everyone who asks for some. Don't send them more or less than they ask for. Address it to the person who wrote to you, not the company or a department. Make sure it arrives on the desk of the person who asked for it.
Wait for replies. Don't hassle them. These guys are busy, believe me.
Treat an agent as you would wish to be treated yourself.
You might get letters asking to send the complete manuscript. Do so. Be prompt. Be courteous.
You should get word back from someone who is interested in representing you. You may be asked to go and see them in person. They may recommend some changes and alterations to your script. Make the changes, if you agree that this could improve the work. I don't know any author (and I've met a good few) who hasn't had to stop and look at his own work and then realized that they could make improvements. Remember that if an agent is asking you to make some editorial changes he or she is doing it from the viewpoint that they believe with these changes they could approach a publisher with your work.
So what then? Well, once your agent has a script that he feels he can 'sell' he will forward it to the editor at the company that he feels will understand what you are trying to do. An agent - over years - has built a network of contacts and acquaintances in the publishing industry. He will know that a sci-fi should go to so-and-so, whereas a romance should go to someone else. This takes the 'luck' option out of it. An agent works for you. He uses what he knows, more importantly who he knows, to get your script on the desk of someone that will look at it because it came from your agent, and for no other reason.
That's what an agent does. That's why I think they are necessary.
I spent seven years writing and sending out material directly to publishers. It was a great experience, and probably necessary, but if given the time again I would get myself an agent. I don't know necessarily that I would have wound up in print any faster, but I kinda think I would have done. Hell, I know I would have done!
Now my agent does all the things I don't know how to do, or don't have time to! He chases money, he finds foreign publishers, he gets me interviews, radio appearances, signings, library tours, Literary Festival invites. He reads my work and tells me how to make it better before it goes to my editor. He rings people up and makes them do the things they promised to do. He's also become a very good friend over the last three years, and when he moved company I went with him...because I know that he's working for my interests, that he really gets what I want to do career-wise, and because he's just a damned fine bloke!
So that's my advice on this perennial question: How do I get published?
I hope it helps!
Speak soon, eh? Maybe, next post, we'll take up the second best question a writer can be asked:
Where do you get your ideas from?


Sguffalo Bill said...

Dear Mr. Ellory,

I would try to ask your question about "Where do you get your ideas from?".

Actually I am not a writer, but a post-modern artist. Anyway I am convinced that starting a piece of art is not too far from writing a new paper.

As far as I am concerned, my source of inspiration is mainly SGUFALA. Sgufala is mystic. Sgufala could prove as the elixir of life. Sgufala is the philosopher's stone. Sgufala is the right way.

Now you know the reason why my art is so successful.

Now you all might think about SGUFALA.

Truly yours,

Sguffalo Bill

Abraxan said...

Thank you for a wonderful article. I'm sending out query letters TODAY, trying to get an agent for my novel, Star Sons. I've researched agents, query letters, etc., until I'm dizzy, but your article distilled a lot of that research into one understandable piece. Thanks for that.

Lynda Sappington, off to find an agent!

Kirsteen Benson said...

Thank-you. Super useful. Kirsteen