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Writers Should Start Out by Doing Their Homework

March 13, 1994|DENNIS McLELLAN

Del Mar literary agent Sandra Dijkstra receives about 300 submissions a week from writers around the country. Dijkstra, whose clients include Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, offers these suggestions to fledgling writers seeking an agent:

* Do your homework: Be familiar with the books in the field that you're writing about and know what your book adds to the field. What's distinctive about it?

Writers "have to be aware of what else is out there and have some sense of what their book is going to be compared to," she says. "That's really helpful. When we do a book proposal, we always include a profile of the author and (information about) the competition."

* Look in the acknowledgments of similar books "and see what agents are representing those books and figure out how to approach an agent. Writers really should not be approaching an agent by telephone because they're too busy."

Besides, she says, "it's a print business. We need to see how they write. The cover letter is going to be the gateway to their imagination."

* It helps if a writer comes recommended by a published author or by someone who has credentials in the business. "We always pay a little more attention when something is recommended," she says.

"But mostly," Dijkstra says, "my advice is they should first of all be readers, because if they don't read, they won't be good writers. The second thing, of course, is to be dedicated to the craft of writing. I think writers should be people who have to write, and spend more time with that than learning the business of publishing."

And, she adds, "don't be afraid to take a chance and let your (literary) voice develop. Writers have to believe in themselves. If they don't believe in themselves, nobody else will."

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