Columns > Published on February 2nd, 2012

The Path To Publication Part 2: Preparing For Battle

Background image via pexels, photo courtesy of author

Recap: I'm writing a monthly column about trying to publish my crime/noir/something novel, 'Apophenia'. Part 1 explained a bit about the book and its history, as well as my decision to seek an agent. On to Part 2, and some actual useful information. 

I want to start by saying "thank you." I'm still feeling some trepidation about this column, but the positive comments and encouragement I got last month were fantastic. And now that I got all the lame stuff out of the way--like telling you about myself--we can get down to actual real work: 


So I have a book and I want to get an agent so I can get my book published. Which means I have to get on with the less romantic part of the writing process: The Business Side. Also known as The Boring Side. It's a necessary evil but it does make me a little antsy. Despite being able to write for six or seven hours at a stretch, when it comes to this kind of thing, I have the attention span of a ferret on crack.

But, if you want an agent, it takes a lot of research and reading, because there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. 

Wrong way: Carpet bomb every agent in existence so as many of them as possible get your material. 

Right way: Strategic targeting; look for agents who skew toward your sensibilities, influences and style. 

You would think that querying every agent ever would increase the odds of you getting representation, right? Not really. Querying agents who prefer YA or won't consider genre lit doesn't help me. Which means when I'm looking for an agent, I'm doing more than reading bios on a website; I'm checking for other clients, reading interviews, anything I can get my hands on. Ultimately, I'd rather send 10 good queries than a hundred blind shots from the hip. 

So, how does one find an agent? Or at least, how am I compiling my list?


First, there's Writer's Market, a yearly publication that lists agents and publishers. But that's a little primeval, isn't it? I mean, researching by flipping through the pages of a book? There has to be better way...

Another good source is, an online database that lets you search for agents based on categories or interests. Better, but I want something that's a little more interactive. 

Then there's, recommended to me by the indomitable Richard Thomas. It does more than just help you find agents. It lets you maintain a database, keep track of queries, and read notes left by other users. You can join for free, but for $25 a year you get additional perks.

I've chosen to use QueryTracker. The fee is nominal and the organizational options are rad (I can mark which agents I want to query and which ones don't apply to me, making the process a bit more efficient). 

But this isn't the only way to find agents. Here's another fun method: 

Go to Amazon. Search for an author or book you think is similar to you and your work. Now, go to the section where it says: Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought. That'll bring up a bunch of other similar authors. A little Google-fu and I can figure out who their agents are, and see if I might be a good fit in their client list, if they're accepting submissions, etc.

When it comes to what I want in an agent, I'm looking for someone who is into both genre and literary fiction, with an interest in crime and mystery, as I believe my book is straddling some sort of line around there. I'd like someone who has a good acumen on the digital distribution front, because, yes, it's the future, and also, I have a cool little idea for the eBook version of my novel. I'd prefer to have an agent who works in New York City. (Not that I wouldn't be open to an agent in Wichita or Duluth, it's just that I'm a fan of proximity.) Finally, I want someone who is going to shove me out of my comfort zone, and challenge me to work harder and write better. 

So, that's what I'm looking for. There's a couple of agents I've got my eye on (and one in particular at the top of my list). Fingers crossed!

Further reading: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Agents by Chuck Wendig. 


So, I had planned to give my draft one more run-through to smooth it out before starting the querying process. Instead, I fielded it out to my wife and some friends, to get a little air on it. The edits and suggestions I've gotten back are phenomenal (in that I made some dumb mistakes and now I can fix them). 

I've been really hesitant to show the book to people I know. And on top of that, I didn't like to talk about it while I was in the middle of it (so whenever someone asked me what my book was about, I would tell them it was about a boy wizard in a school for magic, and I would then feign disappointment upon hearing of Harry Potter).

It's funny (to me) that I was more comfortable with the idea of strangers (agents) reading it, and not my friends and family. I don't think I was afraid they wouldn't like it--not everyone is going to like it. My mom is going to smile and nod and tell me I did a very nice job and then call a shrink. I accept that.  

I think the thing that really scared me, and still scares me, is what I'll reveal about myself. Everything is an autobiography, fiction or not. This book is a thing I spent three years writing and now people are going to read it and know all my opinions and thoughts and stuff--things that belonged only to me for such a long time. You keep something locked away for so long, it makes you worried about what'll happen when it's set free.  


So, that's where I am. Building a list of agents and tightening the bolts on my manuscript and standing on the precipice, peering into the abyss, wondering whether I should be afraid of it staring back. I'm still getting that bipolar feeling, where I vacillate between My book is the best thing since books were invented and My book is the worst thing since Kim Kardashian was inventedI'm in a glass case of emotion.

The hard part--and it will remain the hard part throughout this process--is patience and perseverance. And also making it through the next step in one piece. Next month I'll talk about query letters and the horrible experience of writing a synopsis.

The query letter I can live with. It's sort of fun. It has to be brief and snappy and to the point, and I love playing that game where you have to take a thought that's ten words long, and figure out how to say it better in four words. It's the synopsis that makes me want to smash things. 

A synopsis is a rundown of your whole book, and it's supposed to be only a page or two long. An entire book in one or two pages. If I could do that I wouldn't have needed 350 pages (double-spaced). C'mon

I'm not going to post the synopsis here, because I'm hoping y'all will want to read the book at some point and I don't want to spoil it for you. But the query letter, maybe I'll put that out, and just strip out any information specific to agents. 

So, guys and gals, tell me what you want to see next month, or ask me questions if you have them. Oh, and I'm leaving you with another reading assignment: How To Get A Book Deal In 3,285 Days. It's by Matthew McBride, author of the excellent Frank Sinatra in a Blender. If this does not get you revved up, you are in the wrong place. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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