About Literary Agents


Please realize that finding good representation requires a major effort on your part, professional and courteous conduct, and a top-quality product. About using the term "product" to describe your work: do remember that your book is your product; not your baby. You'll probably have to give it a nose job and whack off at least one of its arms before it reaches publication, so start thinking of it as your product now. The surgery hurts a lot less that way.

Don't query any agent before you've completed your manuscript - no reputable agent is interested in an unfinished first novel. The exception to this would be if you have a hot topical idea and impeccable access to an otherwise inaccessible subject, and time is of the essence. Think celebrity tell-all (non-fiction) in this category. Otherwise, finish the book. I can think of no instance where fiction would be better served by that sort of hurry-up high-pressure sales pitch. Even if you've published a few short stories in professional publications, you'll be better served to have a completed novel in hand when you start querying. That way if you generate interest, you can immediately ship the whole thing off to the interested agent.

The majority of queries any agent receives - probably around 99% - are rejected because they lack whatever spark that agent is looking for. This doesn't mean they're hopeless - what is wrong for one agent might be right for another. Remember that the agent you want will love the genre you work in and know the publishers and editors who publish it, and will love the work you do. Make sure the work you send out is your best, that it is professionally formatted, free of errors, and entirely yours. (Which means don't query about anything to which you do not own clear copyright. Books that contain star Trek and star Wars and Dragonlance characters are examples of this). Also, don't query every agent in Writer's Market regarding your novel. Read their descriptions of what they're looking for and believe them - an agent who doesn't like science fiction won't like your science fiction, and won't appreciate having his time wasted by yet another beginner who has proved by querying him that he is a beginner, and worse yet, can't follow instructions.

When contacting any agent, have a career plan in mind. Know what the next book you want to write is, and have an idea about the next three or four. Know what you want to accomplish in five years, and in ten. The odds are that your first published book isn't going to set the world on fire, but if you have a plan to offer that shows you know how to build on what you're doing already, (instead of coming to the table with one book and no idea of what you'll do for an encore) you'll have a better chance of finding representation.

specifics about my agent

Lots of people have asked. Here's the information on my agent.

He is Russell Galen, one of the founders of Scovil, Chichak, Galen, and one of the best agents in the business. I recommend him and the agency wholeheartedly. About what he is willing to represent, he says, "There really are no limits on what we handle. SF and fantasy is the largest fraction of what we do but it's still a fraction, maybe 40%. I sell at least 25 nonfiction books a year and currently have a nonfiction bestseller in ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster). I do not like to be thought of as a SF/fantasy specialist but as a generalist with a special love for and expertise in SF and fantasy." He does not represent poetry or short fiction. He prefers to receive queries from writers who have previously published fiction (either short stories or novels), but is open to queries from unpublished writers, with a couple of caveats. He says, "...we do take on things out of the slush, though of course very rarely. We found Terry Goodkind that way and he's now #15 on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list."

However, the agency is large and successful, and not actively lobbying for new clients. If you have something really special to present, SCG will be interested, but the agency is in a position where it can afford to be choosy about which clients it takes on, and it is. Also, don't query unless you do so by following the guidelines below.

If you would like to query him (or the agency) regarding representation of your own work, send a single-page query letter that includes your previous publications, if any, along with a brief description of your completed book, including its genre, word count, and subject matter. You may also include a single-page, single-spaced synopsis of the book. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Do not send the manuscript itself unless requested, and if requested, remember to enclose a manuscript envelope or box with return postage sufficient to cover the cost of returning your manuscript. Unsolicited manuscripts are returned unopened. Query first.

You can mention that you saw the recommendation for Mr. Galen and SCG on my writing page; please do not say that I recommended your work or that we are close personal friends. The agency checks, and you will damage your credibility and ruin your chances.

If your work shows merit but does not strike his fancy, he may recommend you to one of the other agents in the agency.

You may contact him at the following address:

Russell Galen

Scovil, Chichak, Galen Literary Agency 381 Park Avenue South, Suite 1020 New York, NY 10016

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