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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 Tess’s agent called to tell her she’d gotten an offer for $100,000. She’d never been offered that kind of money before and was thrilled, but the agent stunned her when she told her, "We’re turning it down." The agent was confident they could get a better deal. Tess wasn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Gerritsen’s 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 are.

* 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 good number.

* 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 material.

* 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 revisions.

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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