20 Things I Learnt From An Agent

I don’t know about you, but to me, agents are scary lol.

So i was thrilled when i learnt that our June speaker for the writing class (The Write Place) was Agent Jacqueline Burns who looked nothing like Medusa lol. I was relieved to find she was lovely lol. I know I know, they’re normal people too πŸ˜‰

Soooo, it’ll be no surprise to you that I ended up with 8 pages of notes!!!! 8 pages! I’ve spent the week, going through them, trying to assemble them into something that makes sense, and here’s the result….20 things I learnt from listening to Jacqueline.

1. Get someone to interview you about your book. If they’re asking too many questions, could it be that actually, it’s not working in places? Ask them if there’s anything they want to know more about.

2. Give your book to friends (preferably NON writers) for feedback. Rather than just asking friends and family to read your book, give them each a specific job. Ask 1 to look at the dialogue, another to look at description, 1 to check that your characters are coming across a certain way etc etc.

3. Concept is EVERYTHING! Ok, Romeo & Juliet is a great concept, it’s a love story, but, it’s dramatic. Setting can be your concept, think Hogwarts or The Pyramids. From what I could gather, concept is like your unique selling point. Think Alice Sebolds The Lovely Bones, the whole story told by a dead girl. Experiment, develop a selling point, something that makes your novel stand out from the rest. Concept is the core meaning of your book.

4. Write with an outline. If you don’t, the first draft will be written with your heart, the 2nd with your head. You’ll quite possibly struggle later when it comes to editing.

5. Think about what the strength of your novel is. Is it dialogue? Description? Your characters? If you don’t have a strength, develop one.

6. Reduce your synopsis down to one sentence. Agents sell to publishers. They need your book to have a snappy punch line. Something that will grab them, and the publishers.

7. Question yourself, re-examine everything. Redraft, redraft, redraft and don’t send your MS out to a publisher until, in your mind, it’s as best as it can be. Agents can tell if they receive a first draft and first drafts go immediately to the slush pile.

8. Most first novels have at least 1 extract in them that shouldn’t be there. Most first time novelist’s just throw everything they want to include in their book down on the page. Often there are parts that really, bear no relevance, and are usually based on the writers personal experience. Most agents would rather receive something that is only 70,000 words than 100,000 that includes lots of scenes that don’t belong there.

9. READ! It’s surprising how many writers don’t actually read. Agents can tell.

10. Record yourself talking about your book. Most writers struggle doing a synopsis, and the novel comes across better when they talk about it. Transcribe your recording and use that as your synopsis. The concept should come across in that.

11. Make the agent care. What’s the character going through? What does he/she want? What happens to them along the way? Make sure it stands out who the reader is rooting for. Readers are selfish, they want the nitty gritty.

12. Carry copies of your synopsis to any literary events. Have copies on you at all times when you attend talks and workshops. You never know when an opportunity could arise.

13. Don’t make recommended changes just because blah blah said so. If an agent tells you to change something then resubmit, only do it if you agree. You could end up changing it, resubbing and the agent still doesn’t like it. Remember agents are fickle, with short memories. They’ll forget you and your novel within a week.

14. Take out meaningless drivel. If someone coughs at the beginning of your novel, you better make sure they’re gunna die by the end. Everything has to have a meaning, a reason to be there.

15. Agents are looking to say no. As harsh as it seems, an agent knows on the first page whether they’re interested in your book. Don’t give them reasons to say no.

16. Make sure your start is great! You need to grab them on the first page, if you don’t, your manuscript is doomed. Don’t forget, Agents receive hundreds of manuscripts per week.

17. Embrace social media. All writers should be building up their online presence before publishing a book, plus, it’s good practice to write Blogs.

18. There’s no minimum word count. But, if your MS is finished at 70,000 words ask yourself why? If its because your writing is tight then great. There is a definite move in publishing towards smaller books. People are busy and don’t want huge tomes.

19. Network! Get in front if agents and publishers as much as you can. Build online relationships by following agents blogs.

20. Ok manuscripts are worse than bad ones. Because at least bad ones stand out lol πŸ˜‰

Well, I found a lot of that very useful. It gave me a lot to think about that’s for sure lol. I know not all of us want to go down the Agent first route, but it seems logical to me. Jacqueline said that if she really likes someone’s novel, their voice, the story, the concept, she is happy to work with them for up to 2 years to get the novel polished and to the point where she is confident she’ll be able to sell it to a publisher.

Personally, I like the idea of having an agent, what do you think?

And if you’re still not convinced that Agents aren’t fire breathing dragons, check out this article by Rachelle Gardner, 13 Things You May Not Know About Agents πŸ™‚

47 thoughts on “20 Things I Learnt From An Agent

  1. *gulp* Number Four: Write with an outline.
    I didn’t, and I’m paying for it now. (Even though I’m learning a lot!)
    This is a great list–one that I’m pasting into my revision file. Thanks!


  2. At the risk of sounding like a parrot, this is a super fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned. Knowing what agents and the publishing world looks for can certainly help the writing process and start things off on the right track.


    • Thanks honey, but, I think we do have to be aware that these are just the views of one agent. I guess if I heard another agent speak they might have a different take on it. I should have said that in my post really lol

      Oh totally, it’s about giving yourself the best possible start, and maximising the chances of getting published πŸ™‚



  3. Hello, not being a writer as such, I found that really interesting, I do wonder sometimes how certain books I’ve traded ended up on the book shelf lol

    Can I put myself forward to read anything, you may need reading, as I’m not a writer πŸ˜€ xx


    • Ha ha ha, and there is the kick in the teeth Sam 😦 Like you, I’ve read some complete utter crap and you think, well how did that get published? It’s so bloody annoying 😦

      Awwww, thanks honey, I may just take you up on that when I’m at the Beta reading stage πŸ™‚



  4. Hmm. Some interesting info. Much of it I have heard before, and some I have heard that conflicts. Every agent is different with different expectations and preferences.

    Personally, one of the tidbits I disagreed with was her advice to give your ms to friends, preferably non-writers. I honestly have a hard time swallowing that because I don’t think many non-writing friends know how to critique a book, not to mention how to be 100% objective. I did the friend thing a long time ago, because I didn’t know any writers. It didn’t turn out well. One friend “lost” the copy I gave her. Another friend never had “time” to finish it. The other was my mother. That one should be self-explanatory.

    But that’s just my personal experience and maybe someone else can honestly rely on non-writing friends to help them get a better grasp on their novel.

    The other tidbit I shook my head over was to write with an outline. Some people simply don’t think like that, so it would be impossible to outline. I don’t think it’s a necessary step, although I can certainly see where it would be helpful. I’m a big picture thinker at first. I need to have a full-blown draft filled with everything that came to my mind written first, in other words, pantsing. Then I put it away for a while, and come back to it for revisions. But that’s because if I outline, I stop myself from exploring all the possibilities and I veer towards predictability.

    Here again, just my personal experience. I’m sure outlining works for some writers really well.

    I think my fav tidbit of hers was Number 20. I really agree with that. Ok manuscripts are also harder to edit because you can’t just dump the draft and completely start over, like you can with a bad ms.

    Thanks for a rocking post!


    • Oh gawd yes! I’m sure another agent would see things entirely differently, and would probably give advice that completely conflicts with Jacqueline’s points πŸ™‚

      I’ve only ever had my work critiqued by other writers, so, for me, it would be very interesting to get the opinion of a non writer. I’d never actually considered the idea before Jacqueline said about it. But let’s face it, it’s the ordinary person on the street who hasn’t a clue about adverbs and whether there’s a semi colon out of place, who will probably read or buy my book πŸ˜‰

      Thanks honey, I appreciate you sharing your experience. It really helps to hear other writers views, especially from those who are further along their journey than I am πŸ™‚



  5. Jacqueline didn’t say a thing about the author having a website or blog as part of networking and platform building. Guess that goes with everyone wanting something different. Only my sister has read my work as a non-writer. But she reads so much and we’ve discussed writing so much that I consider her an informed reader, so I truly value her opinion.


  6. I think she just naturally presumed we would already have FaceBook and Twitter. She didn’t specifically say about websites, but did say that having a Blog was good writing practice πŸ˜‰

    Wow, you’re so lucky! πŸ™‚



  7. Great list Vikki. Funnily enough I’ve been asking trusted work colleagues to read my book this week and it’s been quite interesting hearing their comments. It’s non-fiction as you know but some of your tips still apply such as recording yourself talking about the book (it always worries me that I wouldn’t be able to describe what it’s about). Thanks for the tips. Sandra πŸ™‚


  8. This was super-helpful! Thanks so much for taking the time to compile this from your eight pages of notes! I’m a little intimidated by the whole agent/publishing world…glad you had a positive experience.


  9. Sounds like good advice to me. Even if we don’t want an agent, we need to attract a publisher or competition judge – unless we self publish and even then we’ll need to persuade people to stock it and buy it.


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  11. Wonderful post! Some of these points I have heard (and are good reminders) and many of them I had not heard. I like the idea of recording myself talking about the book. Well, actually, I *don’t* like the idea of recording myself talking about it – which means I probably really should do it!! LOL!


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