Securing a literary agent is a pivotal step in a writer's journey to publication. These industry gatekeepers can be your biggest advocates, leveraging their connections and expertise to turn your manuscript into a published masterpiece.
But how do you catch the eye of a literary agent in a sea of talented authors?
In this guide, we break down the essential steps to finding and securing a literary agent, from crafting the perfect query letter to presenting a polished, market-ready manuscript. Whether you're a seasoned author or just starting out, we're here to help you navigate this crucial stage in your writing career.
Join us as we demystify the process and set you on the path to publishing success.
DO NOT Finish The Entire Book: Before you approach agents, DO NOT ensure your manuscript is complete. People like Gillian McAllister from Writers & Artists state that, "You will annoy everybody you query if your novel isn’t finished." But Jojo Moyes is a great example of not doing that. In the early stages of her writing career, Moyes penned three manuscripts, all of which were initially rejected. She then submitted only the first three chapters of her fourth book and six publishers entered a bidding war for the rights, marking a significant turning point in her writing career. For more on author success stories read this article (or listening to it might be even more enjoyable).
There are entire economies of Kickstarter and indiegogo that are built around crowdfunding, or investing in something before it's finished. You’re just selling an idea at the end of the day. This idea is applicable even way outside of the literary and consumer goods industry. Take the wildly successful golf course Bandon Dunes. The creator only made a single golf hole, then had amazing pictures taken to sell the idea. This amazing sales material pushed the course construction forward.
Make sure your manuscript or partial manuscript is the best version it can be. Edit, revise, and get feedback. Send the book to people on Upwork for feedback. Find people on GoodReads that have written comments on similar books and ask them to read yours (or pay them to). Lastly, ask a person that you trust to give your real feedback. Probably not your mom…
If you are looking for a gift for a writer or book lover, click here for 15 of our favorites :)
Identify Suitable Agents: Look for agents who represent your genre. This is key to Veronica Roth & Marissa Meyer’s success. They need a track record of success and work for a large house or have their own shop. Here are 5 of the best agents in the world to follow and give you an idea of how a successful agent represents themself online:
Here is a list of 45 literary agents to follow on Twitter.
Use Online Resources: Websites like PublishersMarketplace.com can help you research agents and their track records.
Consider the Agent's Track Record: Look at their sales history and the publishers they've worked with.
Assess Communication: A good agent communicates clearly and professionally.
Gauge Enthusiasm: The agent should be genuinely excited about your work.
Follow Agents on Social Media: Some agents share what they're looking for on platforms like Twitter & LinkedIn.
Attend Conferences and Workshops: This can be a chance to meet agents and pitch your book in person.
Write a Synopsis: This should be a concise summary of your story, including the ending.
Prepare Sample Chapters: Typically, agents want to see the first three chapters or the first 50 pages. As discussed, sometimes this is all you need.
Craft a Query Letter: This is a one-page pitch letter that briefly describes your work. Personalize it for each agent. Here is an example:
[City, State ZIP Code]
[City, State ZIP Code]
Dear [Agent's Name],
I am seeking representation for my [genre] novel, [Title], complete at [word count] words. Given your interest in [mention any relevant genres, themes, or specific books the agent has represented], I believe my work would be a good fit for your list.
[Title of Book] is a [one- or two-sentence pitch that encapsulates the essence of your book].
[One or two paragraphs summarizing your book. This should be engaging and provide a sense of the story, main characters, and conflict without giving everything away.]
[One paragraph about why your book is unique and how it fits into the market. Mention any comparable titles or how it might appeal to a specific audience.]
I am a [brief description of your background, any writing credentials, awards, or relevant life details that pertain to the book or your career as a writer].
[If you have any professional relationships with other authors, industry professionals, or have any other relevant connections, mention them here.]
Thank you for considering my submission. Per your guidelines, I have included [whatever the agent's submission guidelines require, such as the first 50 pages, a synopsis, etc.]. I am open to sending the full manuscript upon request.
I look forward to the possibility of working with you.
You might also enjoy our article about how to get your book into Costco. It has an example letter similar to this as well. Click Here to read it :)
Check Agent's Website & Send What's Requested: Each agent will have specific guidelines on how they want to receive submissions. Only send the materials the agent asks for. This often includes a query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters. Show that you can follow instructions.
If you haven't written on a lap desk for the couch or a lap tray for your bed with a reading pillow you are totally missing out on luxurious comfort. Check the articles linked before to see our favorite tools for writing away from your desk.
Stay Patient: It can take weeks or even months to hear back from an agent.
Handle Rejections Gracefully: Not every agent will be interested, and that's okay. Learn from any feedback you receive.
Use a Spreadsheet: Keep track of which agents you've queried, when you sent your query, and any responses you receive.
For optimal writing space professionalism, we recommend a desk mat.
If an agent offers representation, ask about their vision for your book, their communication style, and their contract terms.
Here are some of the most important questions you might consider:
What is your vision for my book? Do you suggest any major revisions?
You can expect the agent to have a clear vision for your book's market potential. They might suggest revisions to enhance its marketability. Be prepared to discuss your own vision and be open to their expert advice.
How do you usually communicate with your clients (email, phone, etc.)? What is your response time?
It's standard for agents to prefer email for non-urgent communications, responding within a couple of days. Clarify their preferred communication channels and response times to establish a smooth working relationship.
What are the terms of your contract? Can you explain your commission structure?
Agents usually work on a commission basis, often charging a 15% commission on domestic sales. Understand the terms clearly and don't hesitate to ask questions to fully grasp what the contract entails.
How do you plan to help develop my career as an author? What other books have you represented that are similar to mine?
A good agent will have plans to nurture your career in the long term, leveraging their industry connections for your benefit. Discuss how they envision your growth in the industry.
What is your strategy for submitting my book to publishers? Do you have specific publishers in mind for my book?
Agents should have a well-thought-out strategy for pitching your book to publishers, utilizing their network to secure the best deal for you. Feel free to ask about their strategy and the publishers they have in mind.
What happens if we decide to part ways? Is there a termination clause in the contract?
Contracts often have a termination clause allowing either party to end the agreement with notice. Ensure you understand the exit terms, including any obligations that remain post-termination.
What is your approach to the editorial process? Will you be providing editorial guidance?
Agents often assist in refining your manuscript before submission to publishers. Discuss the level of editorial guidance you can expect to receive to ensure your work is presented in the best light.
How involved will you be in the marketing and promotion of my book? Can you give examples of how you have marketed similar books?
While publishers mainly handle marketing and sales, agents can advocate for the best marketing plans and secure promotional opportunities. Ask about how they plan to support the marketing of your book."
How do you handle subsidiary rights? Can you explain how royalties will be managed?
Agents negotiate to retain as many subsidiary rights as possible and manage royalties transparently. Ensure you discuss how rights and royalties will be handled to maintain a transparent relationship.
Can you provide references from other authors you have worked with?
Feel confident asking for references from other authors the agent has worked with. It's a standard practice and helps in building trust and understanding the agent's working style.
Once you have an agent, work on building a strong, collaborative relationship. They will be a key partner in your publishing journey.
For this we recommend the book How To Win Friends & Influence People.
Securing a literary agent is a significant milestone on the road to becoming a published author. It is a journey that requires preparation, research, and a deep understanding of both your work and the market. Remember that the right agent can be a powerful advocate for you and your manuscript, helping to navigate the complex landscape of the publishing world. As you step into this pivotal phase, arm yourself with knowledge and approach potential agents with a well-polished manuscript and clear communication. Your dream of seeing your name printed on a book cover is just within reach. Here's to finding the right literary agent and stepping confidently onto the path of publishing success.
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