I know there is a great deal of debate as to whether aspiring writers should try and get an agent, or try and go it alone. There are good arguments on both sides, but I personally feel that having an agent is absolutely invaluable - not only do they know their way around the publishing industry much better than do writers (this is their job, after all!), but if you are fortunate enough to get a publishing deal, they will ensure you get the best one possible.
And the fact remains that many 'bricks and mortar' publishers won't accept submissions unless through an agent.
It is true that they will take 15% of your earnings, but it is also true that they will be much more likely to sell your book, and (if you decide to go it alone) remember that retaining 100% of nothing will still leave you with nothing!
It is, conversely, not true that you need a finished manuscript before you seek representation. When I sent my initial submission, I had only written about a third of it. If they like what they see, they will be happy to wait for the rest.
So how did I go about it? A family friend recommended an agent that was very successful in dealing with novels in the action/adventure genre, and I did some further research myself.
This point is crucial, actually - only approach agents who represent the kind of work you write! If you write historical romances, there is literally no point whatsoever approaching an agent whose success has been with techno-thrillers.
So research is key! Check out the Writers and Artists Yearbook, find out which agents might be suitable, and then double check their websites and lists of authors to make sure that they do in fact represent the kind of books you want to write.
Luigi Bonomi was the agent I approached (I only approached one at first, although there are again conflicting views over single or multiple submissions), as my research had shown that he was in fact one of the best around in my particular genre (and was Literary Agent of the Year in 2010!).
I wrote a simple, business-like letter, a synopsis of the entire novel, and the first thirty pages or so.
Please see here for Luigi's advice on making a submission - invaluable stuff!
I followed the guidelines in this article (research is important!), and fortunately he liked what he saw, and he then asked to see the rest of the manuscript. It was at this stage that I said it had yet to be finished, but he was happy to see what I had done so far.
Again, I was fortunate enough that he liked the rest, and was therefore willing to wait for me to finish the whole thing. We set a date for the completion of the first draft, and I set to work!
It is amazing what a little incentive can do - it had taken me about ten years to write the first two hundred pages, but when I knew an agent was interested, I suddenly (magically!) found the time to finish the rest in about two months!
When he read the complete first draft, he invited me to his offices in London for a chat, at the end of which he offered to represent me - a very exciting moment indeed!
I realise I am extremely fortunate to have secured representation from the only agent I approached, and that this is not a regular occurrance, but I believe that - if the work is good enough - researching the right agents to approach, and then following their submission guidelines to the letter - is half the battle.
After the contract was signed, we then set about editing and revising the manuscript, before trying to sell it - a process that was a lot more problematic, and which I shall describe in my next post!