Friday, March 23, 2012

Secrets to Hooking an Agent

by Gina Welborn

Every so often, here at Inkwell, we share tips and advice for writers because, let's face it, some of our readers are writers. Recently in one of my writing groups, someone was bemoaning the lack of responses s/he was getting from agent queries.
So I thought it would be fitting to share the Secrets Published Authors Know About How to Hook an Agent. These are not copyrighted so feel free to share.
1) Join writing groups
Now I don't necessarily think a writer  would have to join Romance Writers of America (RWA) because American Christian Fiction Authors (ACFW) provides what RWA does, just on a more Christian-writing-industry focus. Depending on what genre you write, if you aren't a member of, say, ACFW-romance, then join. Find out if ACFW has a chapter in your area. A specialized group like that is smaller and will be able to give you more specific help. However, have you looked into all the "helps" ACFW provides? Online workshops? Website? Blog posts? etc?
(I know you're thinking "how does this relate to hooking an agent"? Be patient.)
2) Join critique group(s)
One of the many things RWA does well is have very strong chapters. Faith, Hope & Love is the inspirational chapter. We have a data base for members looking to find critique partners. We also have a Finish the Book e-mail list for member who need challenge and encouragment to finish her manuscript. I took this piece advice to heart and joined Charlotte Dillon's Romance Writer's Community that has an online crit group. It's not a Christian one, but even the ladies who were writing steamy stuff were able to help me learn craft. I'm not advising joining RWC as a necessity. Nor am I advocationg RWA as the answer to everything. ACFW is an EXCELLENT organization that has a lot of resources that you're probably not taking advantage of.
Just saying if you're not in a crit group, get in one. If you're in one, join a second one. 
 (I know you're still thinking "how does this relate to hooking an agent"? Be patient.)
3) Enter writing contests
The experience gained through entering writing contests helps you learn how to write better, accept "unbiased" criticism, and grow a thicker skin. If your manuscript can't final in a contest, then the odds are it's not written well enough to hook an agent. Yes, rare cases occur where authors hook agents or sell to editors without ever entering a contests. But that's not common practice. ACFW's Genesis is a fabulous contest, but if it's the only contest you're entering, then you're not getting the maximum benefit from the contest experience. (Keep reading, please. Secrets have layers.)
4) Judge writing contests
Oh, I know writers will say "I'm not qualified." Whatever. Listen, every contest judge began with one entry--began NOT being qualified. Because, as someone who has coordinated numerous contests numerous times, that an author is published does not automatically make her qualified to judge contest entries. Judging well takes practice. Just like writing well takes practice. Judge because it teaches you to recognize GMC, characterization, weak/strong dialogue, etc.
Very few writers are gifted writers. Most of us are learned writers.
5) Stop revising and revising the same manuscript
I know you utterly love your characters and story. But if you really love it, let it go. Putting it down doesn't mean you can never go back to it. Your mind needs a holiday from that manuscript. Write something new. Write something outside your comfort zone. Write, write, write, and don't worry if you're breaking any writing rule. One of my writing friends attended a screenwriters workshop. The instructor said each one of us has ten bad manuscripts in us. So write the ten bad ones so you can get to that eleventh good one. Please!!!
6) Invest in studying the craft of writing

Many authors have websites and blogs that contain writing tips. Kaye Dacus and Camy Tang are two that immediately spring to mind, but there are MANY others. Other authors have writing groups where they mentor authors in craft. Organizations like RWA and ACFW, and their chapters, provide conferences with workshops. What was the last craft of writing book you read (and finished)? Read, read, and read some more different craft of writing books because while reading published fiction is great, it doesn't teach you how to write.
For minimual cost, buy one or more of these:
For no cost at all, read one or all of these:
The sad truth is many writers who receive rejections from agents are writers whose craft isn't strong enough to be published. So why waste your time, emotions, and finances, trying to hook an agent? Finishing a manuscript doesn't mean you're ready for an agent.
If agents are rejecting you or you're just not getting any response from them:
1) your writing needs work
2) your queries and proposals need work to better convey your story
3) your manuscript isn't marketable
Odds are, the real reason for the rejections is #1. Sorry.
REMEMBER: Very few writers are gifted writers. Most of us are learned writers. So learn to write well. Because writing well is the real secret to hooking an agent.
Years—okay, eons—ago, Gina Welborn worked in news radio scripting copy until she realized how depressing human tragedy was, so she took up writing romances and now only thinks “It is time for a dead body?” when she’s at a lull in her newest manuscript. This Oklahoma-raised gal now lives in Richmond, Virginia with her youth-pastor husband, their five Okie-Hokie children, and a Sharpador Retriever who doesn’t retrieve much of anything (but he can sit really well). Her first novella, “Sugarplum Hearts,” part of the HIGHLAND CROSSINGS anthology, is out now. 2012. Her second novella, “All Ye Faithful,” in A CASCADES CHRISTMAS release later in 2012 but is available for pre-order now at AmazonParable, and Barnes and Noble.


  1. Quite literally, I got my agent from joining ACFW and then a critique group--she was in the critique group, loved my work and...voila!

    I'd like to add one more here: Study the agents you are targeting, read their blog if they have one, look up authors they represent, learn what sorts of books the publish and to which publishers they tend to sell.

    It may not be your work, but what the agent represents.

  2. Excellent information, Gina. I'm saving this post specifically in my "writing hints and helps" folder!

  3. Oh, good points, Gina.

    When I think of the partials I sent out at the beginning compared to the way I write after studying the craft for several years, I'm amazed that some of the editors and agents asked to see more.

    However, your points not only lead to better writing, they lead to networking.

    I met Valerie Comer at my first ACFW conference in 2008. Last year, my craft had improved to a level where Val offered me a chance to work on an anthology that included the multi-published Tricia Goyer. It was through that contact with Tricia that I became known to her agent, Janet Grant, who introduced me to Mary Keeley of the Books & Such Agency.

    I'm indebted to everyone in that networking chain for my present agented status.

    Great post, Gina. I like remembering who I need to thank for getting Phase 2 of my career going.

  4. Thank you for this post! I've begun to study the craft of writing (a friend of mine saw "Plot & Structure" by James Scott Bell at my house and said: "If you can read something so dry as that, you must really want to write bad!" On the contrary, the book is fabulous and I love learning the craft), I have also started blogging and following writing blogs, but I still need to join ACFW (waiting for a little extra money flow) and I am on the look out for a critique partner. My goal is to have my manuscript ready for the Genesis competition for 2013. I think I am heading in the right direction and reading your post has confirmed it.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog posts in the future!

  5. Laurie, that's a great point about studying the blogs of the agents you're targeting.

  6. Anita, when I look at the inital submission I sent to my agent, I'm stunned that she signed me. I had no idea how to put together a professional proposal. Yet I'm so thankful authors can search the web and find lots of great advice on putting together proposals.

  7. Gabrielle, thanks for joining us today.

    Yay on reading the Bell book! Not all craft of writing books are alike so I say if one doesn't interest a write, then that writer shouldn't give up on writing books as a whole. Keep looking. So it's great to hear how you found one initially to connect with. :-)

    Yay on having the goal of entering Genesis and finding crit partners. While paying dues is an annoyance, the $40 or 50 it is to join ACFW is a worthwhile investement if only for the connections you make. I believe God had critique partners already prepared for you. It's merely a matter of walking the path where you're going to meet them.

  8. Great post, Gina. I'm so glad you chose this subject. I don't have an agent, and I've only queried two agents in the past. I don't know why, but there's something much more intimidating to me about querying agents that querying editors.

  9. Gabrielle I think we have a list of our favorite writing books somewhere here. If I wasn't on this toy computer, id find it and show you the link. Every book can be helpful in some way. And...yet I know I cant always absorb something at the time and will have to go back to it a year later. We are always growing and learning.

    Gina suggested Word Painting (book) -it really helped me. Thanks for stopping by.

    Great post Gina. I am doing all I can to improve my writing and sign with an agent. Patience helps.


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