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Tess Gerritsen- On Why an Agent is Vital to a Successful Writing Career
by Debbie Haskins
Dr. Tess Gerritsen was practicing medicine in
Honolulu, Hawaii, when she wrote her first book. She attempted to sell it as a
romance mystery, but her manuscript was quickly rejected. When she submitted the
manuscript again, she called it a romantic thriller rather than a mystery. That
was all it took. Within five months she had a contract. This book, A CALL
AFTER MIDNIGHT, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. A
chance dinner conversation about missing Russian orphans being kidnapped and
possibly used as organ donors inspired her first medical thriller,
HARVEST and altered the course of her career.
The opening 150 pages of HARVEST had
been submitted to Simon and Schuster when Tesss agent called to tell her shed
gotten an offer for $100,000. Shed never been offered that kind of money before
and was thrilled, but the agent stunned her when she told her, "Were turning it
down." The agent was confident they could get a better deal. Tess wasnt so sure
and was nervous about losing the contract by demanding more money. Still, she
agreed to let the agent do her job; then she sweated it out and waited. A week
later, when the agent called back, she told Tess to sit down. She had been
offered $1,000,000 for a two-book deal. "That," she said, "is the power of
having an agent."
Since HARVEST, Tess has written and
sold the medical thrillers, LIFE SUPPORT, BLOODSRREAM, GRAVITY, THE SURGEON,
THE APRENTICE, THE SINNER and BODY DOUBLE. Now retired from
medicine, she is a fulltime writer.
When asked what advice she would give writers
trying to get their first book published, Tess simply said, "Find an agent." She
went on to explain that writers may get published in the romance and nonfiction
markets without one, but fiction writers especially need an agent. Agents know
how things work. A good agent doesnt just sell your book. He or she will help
your career every step of the way and make sure your book gets released
properly. With that in mind, here are Tess Gerritsens tips for finding and
working with an agent.
* Never send your material to any agent who
charges money to read your stuff.
* If you are lucky enough to sell your first
book without an agent, be sure to get one for your second book.
* Look in the acknowledgements of current books
that are favorites of yours or are in the genre you write. Authors often mention
their agents here. These are good agents to contact.
* Ask other published writers who their agents
* Attend writers conferences.
* Send a query rather than an entire manuscript
when seeking representation. Keep it short and sweet-- only two pages of 250
words per page. Your query should be a small synopsis that includes the premise
and main conflict. Look at blurbs on the jackets of published books to get an
idea of how to do this. Your query should include what market or genre you want
to sell to.
* Take your letter to your critique group and
get feedback before sending it.
* Query more than one agent at a time. Five is a
* If you are giving an agent an exclusive look
at your manuscript, six weeks is long enough to wait for a reply. At this time
you can notify them that other agents will be considering your
* Find a New York agent. This is where the
publishing business and access to the greatest number of editors is. A
worthwhile agent will place you with an editor you can work with and have an
ongoing relationship with.
* Expect the process of signing all necessary
papers and contracts with a new agent to take about two months.
* The size of the agency does not matter. The
performance of the individual agent is what counts.
* Agents generally get 15%, but a good agent is
well worth it.
* Make sure your agent has a sub-agent in
Hollywood for movie rights.
*If an agent or editor takes the time to give
you specific suggestions, it's a great sign. It means she thinks your work is
worthy of comment. Take those suggestions to heart and make the
Getting an agent could be the key to making your
writing career take off. A good percentage of publishers only consider
manuscripts submitted by agents. So make the effort to get your writing polished
and your queries sent out. Your careful preparation sets the stage for success,
but Tess, claims that luck still has a lot to do with finding your agent. It
often boils down to who you meet or where you happen to be at a particular time.
So get busy, get out there and meet other people in the writing business and
good luck in your search.
© Copyright 2004, Debbie Haskins
Debbie Haskins is a freelance writer living in Ft. Collins, Colorado.
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