Write Stuff – Help and Resources for Writers – Approaching Agents

Following a recent discussion with friends on where to find advice about approaching literary agents, I’ve realised just how many excellent resources there are.
Here’s a round-up of some places to go for inside information:
Help from agents themselves
Carole Blake’s book From Pitch to Publication provides a comprehensive and very readable explanation of everything that goes into pitching and selling a book. The advice takes you from the point where you try to win an agent over to the time when it’s your end reader you want to convince.
Wade and Doherty provide writing advice for would-be clients on their website.
Caroline Sheldon helpfully lists her twelve pet submission hates.
And Andrew Lownie shares fifteen no-nonsense tips to follow when seeking representation. 
Publications and networking for writers
For help with Andrew Lownie’s tip number 5, you can visit Writers and Artists Online, the site associated with the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Here you can look up agents you are interested in and find out exactly how each likes to receive submissions. Obviously checking on individual websites is the surest way of getting up-to-date instructions, but one or two don’t have an on-line presence, so the WAYB site is still a useful resource. A copy of the directory itself is also invaluable for initial browsing.
The Bookseller is good for general industry news including agent moves.
And for networking, I would really recommend Twitter. Generally, agents hate being pitched to there, but reading their tweets can give a hint as to what they’re after and any pet hates they have. And of course, it’s a sociable place where you can join in conversations casually and build relationships (so long as you’re not too pushy!)
The benefits of surfing
Googling an agent’s name sometimes produces links to interviews, either with the agent or one of their authors, giving further useful background information.
Getting published without an agent – update 2021
Generally speaking, if you’re hoping to see your work in bookshops/supermarkets, you need an agent – they act as gatekeepers for the editors who publish those books. Beyond that, I’ve heard many authors say a good agent is worth their weight in gold, so you might want one in any case.
However, these days there are a number of publishers whose primary focus is ebooks, and they will often accept unagented submissions. My own publisher, Bookouture, is a case in point and a brilliant organisation to work with. All my books are available as paperbacks, via print-on-demand, but the focus is on selling digital books.
If you do decide to work direct with a publisher, it’s a good idea to join an organisation such as The Society of Authors. They have a team of legal advisers who will review your contract and alert you to any aspects they think you should query, as well as explaining unfamiliar terms. (You can join the SoA as soon as you have a contract. They will vet it for you before you sign. They are UK-based, so if you’re in another territory, you might want to check for a local equivalent.)

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