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About Writing Right: The Blog


So, you've written a book that's a bit offbeat, let's say a fantasy based upon Celtic and Irish folklore. That means it just about but not quite fits into a specific genre, and now you wonder how to find an agent willing to 1.) read it, and 2.) represent it. Is that your problem, Bunky? If so, it's not necessarily as large a problem as you may think.


Okay, I assume you've researched literary agents and what they're looking for in submissions until your eyes turned to glass and fell out of your skull. Lo and behold, not one of them appears to be searching for your exact book. Well, that's actually the good news. Agents (and publishers, by the way) are always looking for good genre fiction that appeals to their existing readers or marketplace and yet that has an exciting new wrinkle to get them salivating. A detective book about the search for a serial killer is pretty generic (spelled "ho-hum"). A detective book about the search for a serial killer who just happens to be the detective, himself, is a stunner. See my point? Both are genre detective stories. Because one is more offbeat than the other isn't a bad thing; it's just the opposite.


So, how do you go about finding just the right agent? Here's how I suggest you proceed.


First, find a group of agents who are seeking the general genre of material into which your book fits. In this case, that would include such categories as fantasy (first and foremost because it's the widest group of this list), folklore, and Celtic/Irish fiction. Your book may also fit into some sub-categories, such as Romance or Mystery. If you can't find a ton of literary agents who fit into at least one of those categories, you're searching too hard. By that I mean you're narrowing your search down to the smallest possible group of agents while ignoring the wider assembly of them.


Even though literary agents don't specify "Celtic and Irish folklore," most likely because it's a splinter or minority group within the larger group of fantasy fiction, that doesn't mean they won't be turned on to your book, assuming it's really well written and professionally presented. Which brings up a question:


Is your book really well written and professionally presented? If not, you need to polish it until it is or hire someone to do it for you. If you're not sure, you can assume it's not, because once a professional-caliber writer puts his or her imprimatur on a book (that is, once he finishes it), he knows it's ready for the Big Time.


Next, follow your agent's submission requirements to the letter. Does she want a pitch letter, a brief bio, and two sample chapters submitted by e-mail? If so, provide them. Do not under any circumstances send the complete book with the hope that she'll be hooked and want to read it cover-to-cover. And don't send anything else or fail to send everything she asked for. That's the surest way of convincing an agent you can't follow instructions and won't likely appeal to or work well with conventional publishers. And no agent needs a rogue author in her stable.


If, after doing all of the above, you still can't find an agent, and if your book is really ready for the Bigs, drop me a line via my Website, and I'll send you contact information for my literary agent. If it's worth representing, she'll know it and tell you so. If not, she'll tell you why and recommend whatever steps are necessary to get it ready for the Show.


Fair enough? Until later ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack

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