I totally get it.  We all want to have our dream agent who finds our perfect publisher so that we get amazing book sales and, of course, the film rights secured by Steve McQueen.

3270954980I’ve been there – grasping for something concrete, something affirming, something that sells all this time and thinking and emotional carving is worth it.  Every writer I know wants that.

And almost every writer I know wants it too soon, say, before we have the book written.

The truth is that – unless you have had a successful publication already – it’s best to write the book before even beginning to think about getting an agent.  We all want to skip the hardest step – the writing – to get to the stuff we so much want – the publishing.

But we have to do the writing first, for a variety of reasons.

1. The market is very tight. Because the publishing market is flooded and because the market prefers well-known authors who they can definitely sell, I recommend – as do many other agents and publishers – that you write the whole book first -in every genre – before you try to sell it.  That way, you have a full sample to send if they want to see more.

2. The book will help you know how to sell it.  It’s hard to be convincing about an idea that you might be able to complete. But when your book is written, you can see the themes, explore the language, pick up on what will be most compelling for readers. Then, you can use that information to help an agent know your book is worth-while and engaging.

3. The writing is what matters. Perhaps the most important reason to write without worrying about an agent is that it’s the writing that will feed you, not the book publication or even the sales (although those things are awesome.)  It’s the practice of sitting down on the page – a practice of hope, as Shawn Smucker calls it – that will give you life and energy.  Yes, we all want to publish.  Yes, we all want that now.  But we can’t control that.  What we can control is putting our asses in the chair and getting to work, all the while hoping that the publication will come. . . that perpetual hope.

So yes, you’ll want to research how to write a great query letter, and yes, you’ll want to study agents’ lists of publications to see who’s a good fit.  But do that later.  Now, write . . . because it’s the only thing that will keep you going when the glamor of the publication and the sales wears off.  Believe me, I speak from experience.

What makes you want to find an agent? Are you at a place where you need one? Or are you looking for the rewards before the work?