Words for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?

Question: If I do decide to go the agent route, at what point would it be recommended to start looking? Total manuscript completion? 


Basically, yeah, wait until the book is written, polished, and has been through beta readers or critique groups. You only get one chance to impress an agent. Always, always, always ensure that what you’re sending them is the very best version of it. Also, waiting until the manuscript is totally complete also means that a) you’ve proven to yourself and to the agent that you can finish what you start and b) you won’t get caught with your pants down if they respond right away asking for the full, after you’ve sent a partial.

But more than just a totally spit-shined MS, also ensure you write a complete pitch package before you start to query. Why? Because agents invariably ask for come combination of these documents as well as the query letter and MS, and it makes sense to just sit down and do it all together once instead of scrambling to create new docs with each submission.

Pitch Package:

  • Elevator Pitch: One or two sentences to hook ’em. Imagine you have the length of one elevator ride to intrigue a publisher/agent/producer. What would you say? (Example: A girl vigilante and her mystical, semi-sentient rocketpack are shot down behind enemy lines, and now have to rely on the help of an underground rebellion to not only get home, but end a decades-long war. The only question is whether the rebellion can be trusted, or if they’re planning to turn her in for the bounty.) This is the only part of the pitch doc I recommend memorizing, because you may have the opportunity to pitch someone in person at an event, and you want to have a slick response to: “So what are you working on now?”
  • Back Cover Copy/One Paragraph Pitch: Basically, write the stuff that goes on the back of the book. Try to keep it to about 100-200 words. You will use this in your query letter, as well as turn it over to marketing when it’s time to design your cover.
  • 5 Page Synopsis: Write out the entire plot of your novel, beat-by-beat, pointing out cause and effect and character growth, INCLUDING the ending (surprise your readers, not your agent.)
  • 3 Page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 3 pager.
  • 1 page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 1 pager. (Why? Because these are the industry standards, and these get asked for a lot).
  • If the book is first of a series, DO NOT WRITE THE SERIES. Write the back cover copy/pitch paragraph & a 1 page synopsis, and included it in the package as well. (Why not write the whole series? What if the publisher only wants the first book? You’ve wasted your effort. Or what if your editor asks you what book #2 is about and the two of you come up with a MUCH BETTER idea? Wasted effort.)

Once you’ve done all that, then you can craft your Query Letter, and begin to submit to agents. (I made an Excel with each agent I wanted to submit to and their individual submission requirements.)

Best of luck!

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWords for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?
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Words for Writers: What are the advantages to having an agent?

Question: Was just wondering, is it better to have an agent? Or would submitting directly to publisher’s on your own be better? I’m not yet at the submission stage but I started to wonder, would it be recommended to get an agent, or go it alone?


It really depends on what kind of career you’re looking to have. Some people are after the big J.K. Rowling kind of thing, and some people are looking for something small and local.

Agents are required for the first, and not so much for the second.

Having an agent means you have access to the Big 5 Publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillion, Random Penguin House, Simon & Schuster) through the best channels. You MAY be able to submit to those houses via the slush pile with no agent, but doing so through an agent is best. Agents know the editors, and talk to them frequently. The Big 5 are are big companies and things can get lost in the shuffle, so it’s always better to have an agent who will and CAN follow up for you.

But if you’re looking to submit to ChiZine, or REUTS Publications, or any of the good mid-list publishing houses, or any of the great quirky small presses, you don’t need an agent for that. I signed my first book to a small press without an agent. I signed my fantasy series to a mid-list publishing house with one. She’s working on getting my next book into the Big 5 now that I have a proven track record and an established readership.

Advantages to Having an Agent

  • Built-in beta reader
  • Access to the large publishing houses that you couldn’t otherwise submit to
  • It’s nice to have someone as excited about you finishing a manuscript as you are!
  • Advocates for you and is in your corner if there are contracting disputes, legal battles, or just plain issues like the publisher not delivering something on time
  • Already knows the industry and can guide you through the hurtles, roadbumps, or emotional breakdowns
  • Can help shape and craft your career, listen to your ideas and suggest which one to do next, etc.
  • Is there to help you navigate adaptation rights, such as audio books and TV
  • Probably has a big mailing list and social media following so there’s extra eyes on your work right away
  • Can handle any pitches or proposals that come your way and make sure that any partnerships are legal and protect you and your work
  • Marketing support – your agent/agency will have connections with review publications, bloggers, etc. and will know which avenues of promotion are worth pursuing before you spend the money on them. Sometimes, they know before you do which new website or app is going to be the next cool place.
  • Your publishing sibs (authors with the same agent/agency as you) are a supportive and connected network that are usually happy to push and blurb one another’s books, answer questions for each other, and generally celebrate when one of you finds success. (And their awards and bestseller hits reflect well on you because you share the same agent/agency)

Advantages to Going It Alone

  • Keep all your royalties for yourself
  • Can craft your career however you like, which means you don’t have to write something saleable if you just want to write something fun and nichey
  • Can do business directly with the publisher with no middle man (though I’ve found I still can contact the publisher/my editor/marketing team no probs with my agent; she’s happy to let me be as Type A as I need to be)
  • More control of your marketing, and your brand.
  • Less pressure for deadlines or to churn out the “next thing”
  • The publishing industry is a hot mess right now. Nobody is willing to take any risks at the top tier levels, the editors are looking for the Next Big Thing, but don’t trust what the readers are telling them they want, and basically most of New York is flooded with professional cowardice. They only want The Next Big Debut Author (aka Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give) or the next big hit from an author with a string of hits. Smaller presses have less pressure to sell hits, can take the weird, and the wonderful, and the small, and interesting. (That is not to say your small press book can’t hit big, it just will need a lot of flogging to review publications, award competitions, etc.)
  • It takes so much tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime to go the traditional route. Books may take yeeeeeeeeeears to get signed because everyone is waiting on the next person down the chain to read it, or pitch it, or put together the contracts. UHG. A book I wrote in 2012 is coming out September 2019. With no agent and a direct line to the publisher, you can speed the process.
  • You can be more creative with your marketing.

However, you do have to look at the disadvantages too. Going back to my example of signing my first book sans agent – I got screwed and didn’t know it. It was the first contract I’d ever signed. Eventually my agent got me out of that legal tangle (and the book is being republished with a new house and a new cover), but she wasn’t obliged to because she hadn’t brokered that deal.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a best-selling author contact me for advice about how to deal with their agents because the agent has gotten lazy with her A-list clients, stopped advocating for them, stopped pushing, and generally relegated them to the back burner.

Again, it all depends on you, what you write, what kind of career you want, and how much work you want to do or how involved you want to be.

Remember, there’s also nothing saying you have to pick one or the other and that’s it. You can start with an agent and decide it’s not for you and let them go. (Remember, they work for you, not the other way around). You can publish small first, like I did, and then seek an agent for your second or third book.

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWords for Writers: What are the advantages to having an agent?
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Another Lovely Blog Hop

So there is a literary ponzi scheme going around. I thought I dodged it, but alas, Kris Ramsey pinned it on me! So, here are my answers. Enjoy!

1 – If you could time travel and steal somebody else’s novel/short story/film for yourself, what would it be?

Oh dear. I never like these kinds of questions, because if I’d written someone elses’ book, then it wouldn’t be the same, would it? I like the book I like because I like the way it was written, as much as I like the plot and the characters and the worlds.

Having said that, I would choose Anne Marie McDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Goodmorning Juliet) because there is some high-level meta-storytelling skillz going on there and that play is the absolute bomb. It’s what made me fall in love with Mary Sues and meta-narratives.

2 – What writing sin do you actively have to struggle against in your own work?

Uhg, Boring Sentences and Trying Too Hard phrasing. It is a constant struggle to try to find the balance between:

“No,” he said.


“No,” he wailed, clutching at the soft vee of his chest hair and throwing his perfectly chisled chin back to howl his grief through the word, like a majestic lone wolf in the freezing subarctic wild.

No really. It is.

3 – Pick three writers, past or present, that you would want to have dinner with. Why those writers?

Jane Austen, because she was a witty, clever woman and we could giggle over the fact that people still think that she was writing just love stories. (Satires. SATIRES.)

Mary Shelly, because she was fascinating, feminist, and sometimes so miserable. I would like to make her smile and laugh, if only for one night. (Also, Polidori, Byron and Shelly in one room? Please. That is one lovely helping of Romantic Poets.)

I would like to have dinner with a writer in the future who claims my own work as an inspiration to them. I want to know why it is important to them, what it meant to them to read it, what it helped them believe or accomplish. I want to create work that stays with people, lives in their hearts and in their minds, and I want to learn how to do it better. I want to change the world for the good with my books, and I want to figure out how to achieve that.

4 – You have forty-two words, write a story. 
It wasn’t that it wasn’t dark and stormy, or no hay-wagons, or that someone had let Netherfield Park. It was that her story had started and she hadn’t noticed. There was a perfect opening sentence somewhere back there and she’d missed it.


In revenge, I tag Ruthanne Reid, Laurie McLean, and Elize Morgan.

You have one week to answer the questions above and choose three people to keep this going. You can ask different questions, but I liked the questions I was asked, so I’m sticking with them.

JM FreyAnother Lovely Blog Hop
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Words for Wri… Actors. Words for ACTORS.

Another LIP-FLAP Friday  question and answer has produced another great blog post that I thought I should share here. This one is about VOICE ACTING.

kwramsey asked: How does one get started as a voice actor?


I will give you my answer, but I thought, since I have the privilege of calling Alyson Court (Big Comfy Couch, Beetlejuice, Resident Evil, X-Men, etc.) an occasional hang-out buddy, I thought I’d ask if she had any advice.

Here’s what Alyson had to say:


Thanks to modern technology (in the form of one’s own laptop recording device and access to millions of examples of different character voices on line), anyone can easily acquire the tools they need to start honing their skills. Record yourself and listen back. Get to know how your own voice changes depending on volume, emotion, etc, and work to control and stretch your range. You don’t have to be able to do everything but the voices that you choose to specialize in should be polished and you should be able to do them with ease and control. The only way to get good at anything is to practice practice and… what’s that? Oh, yeah, PRACTICE.

All of this can be done for free. No point shelling out hundreds of dollars on a demo if you don’t have anything good to record. Get the voices down and then make a demo and yeah it costs a bit but it’s totally worth getting your first demo done professionally- you’ll learn lots at the recording session.

Then, once you have a decent demo, start shopping it around to talent agencies.

JM: And how did you get into voice acting, Alyson?

I went to a school for the arts starting in grade 4. They used to get calls from producers so I started going to auditions. Got an agent a couple months later and the rest is history! But being one of the first Nelvana kids is probably the source of my voice career- right time, right place.

Nelvana needed kids voices and there wasn’t an established kids voice pool yet- Nelvana basically created it in Canada. So most of us truly owe our starts to Nelvana.

JM: Thanks Alyson!

You can find and follow Alyson Court on Twitter and take a look at her impressive voice acting history at IMDB.


JM Frey adds:

I became a voice actor because one of the vocal coaches I was working with in university mentioned that I had a good radio voice and I should consider it. (She worked on Sailor Moon, so I took her word as gospel).

So, I did some auditions for a local commercial-creation start up and amassed a nice little demo. Like Alyson says, I learned a lot about my voice and the art of learning to speak with a mic on the fly, while in the booth. It’s not something you can really learn without actually speaking into a mic and hearing what you sound like, what the mic does to your voice, how to inflect and breathe and not pop your consents. And how to change your voice for every character – you may think you sound different each time, but listening back, you might find it’s not all that different at all. All of that requires practice with an actual mic. I practice with a crappy mic I picked up at the dollar store, so it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg for a practice mic.

As for the art of creating voices, one of the best workshops I ever did was with Roland Parliament , and it was a free one hour session at a FanExpo. He said: “Look at the character and think of what they’d sound like. Where and when are they from? Look at their teeth, their mouths, envision how that would feel to speak around. Don’t just do a funny voice – do the character’s voice.” It is advice that I use every single time, and it’s a beautiful starting point at which to marry technique with creativity and acting.

If there’s no character image, then I make up a little story in my head about who this person is and what they look like, even if I’m doing a commercial for, say, Fabricland. (The masters have been burned. You will never hear me singing that jingle again.)

Of all the sorts of acting I get to do, I love voice acting the most. Unfortunately I also find it the most competitive and difficult to get into. I’ve never had any luck landing an agent. Pounding the pavement is thankless and unless you have a thick skin, it can be a bit heartbreatking. I’ve taken a break from it for a while, until I have enough samples to build up a new demo.

Luckily, I seem to get a few opportunities a year through friends-of-friends or people who have heard me and call me up for a gig, or people who have me recommended to them.

I would still very much like to get an agent and try to do voice acting on a more full-time basis, but before I can do that I need to build a new demo reel and start pounding the pavement again. If there are any director/producer/agents out there reading this… hey! I’m available!

You can also look into other options, like VOX or the Audible program ACX for exposure and income. But you’ll need a really good home set up to participate in these services – a great mic, a very quiet space with zero ambient noise, an editing program, and patience. All of that can be had for relatively cheap, but have to be willing to put in some money and time.

Generally speaking, there are no shortcuts into voice acting. Either you work your way in via an agent, by doing your own productions like Welcome to Night Vale, through some of the other freelance voice acting sites, or through opportunities to be recommended to people like me.

Best of luck!

JM FreyWords for Wri… Actors. Words for ACTORS.
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