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This month we have expert opinion from tutor Janie Jackson on the art of slicing irrelevancies from your writing in Gentle Surgery. Ten Top Tips covers getting an agent and there’s the usual inspiration and useful websites.

TOP TIPS...

On Getting An Agent

Do agents make a difference? Yes! If your book is handled by an agent it will increase your chances of success. For one thing, it will mean you dodge the horrors of the dreaded slush pile. Publishers trust the judgement of literary agents and will treat anything sent by them with special interest and care.

Agents certainly earn their 10 per cent commission. They have the contacts and inside knowledge of the business, and will offer you advice on honing your novel before it is submitted to a publisher. But, unfortunately, interesting an agent can be quite a trick in itself. So here are some tips on giving yourself the best possible chance of getting an agent.

1. There is little point approaching an agent with short stories, poems or articles. They will only be interested in novels or non-fiction books – until you are famous!

2. Use the list of Agents that you will find in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, The Writers’ Handbook or the equivalent book in your own country to check what kind of material each agent specialises in. There is no point sending a steamy novel to an agent who specialises in placing non-fiction books.

3. If possible, in the UK, choose an agent who is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents (www.agentsassoc.co.uk) as they are committed to dealing with writers in a professional manner. Whether an agent is a member is shown in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook

4. Should you pay a reading fee? Members of the Association of Authors’ Agents don’t request a reading fee. But quite a lot of reputable agents do – it covers the cost of reading the manuscripts. Before paying anything, try to check out the agent, using the Internet and word of mouth. There are bogus agents out there who only want your money and you’ll get nothing in return. Never answer adverts placed by agents requesting writers to contact them. Real agents are inundated with writers – they don’t need to advertise.

5. Only send off a covering letter, synopsis of your book and two or three chapters. Don’t send an entire book to an agent – unless of course it is a short children’s book.

6. But, do make sure that your book – especially if it is a novel – is finished before you approach an agent. If they are interested and want to see it immediately you could have problems and ruin your credibility if you can’t send the rest of the book to them.

7. It’s important that what you send to them is perfect in execution and presentation. Don’t finish your work and then immediately dash off the first few chapters to an agent. Let it settle and then check and re-check it until it is error free, tight and there are no typos. You’ll probably only get one bite at the cherry so make sure you give yourself the best chance.

8. Use the post to send your manuscript. It’s not yet acceptable to clog up someone’s inbox with hefty chapters from a novel. But don’t be afraid to approach more than one agent at a time – otherwise, you could be waiting a lifetime before you get an acceptance.

9. Take every opportunity to buttonhole published writers at conferences, courses and writing groups to see if they would be prepared to put in a good word with their agent on your behalf. Remember, often it’s not what you know, but who you know!

10 .If you manage to sell your book direct to a publisher yourself it may be worth approaching an agent and asking them to take you on. It will prove that you have a track record and you will find, over the years, that it pays to have an agent. The 10-15 per cent that they take from your earnings will be well spent when you take into account the various rights that they might sell on your behalf, the royalties they collect and the hassle that they help you to avoid!