Finding a Literary Agent

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  • F.Y.I.: I recommend hiring a professional editor BEFORE querying literary agents. It’s not required, but unless you’re an experienced writer with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, you’ll end up hiring one anyway if and when you end up self-publishing later on.
  • The Catch-22 of publishing: You need a literary agent to get traditionally published. In order to get a literary agent, you need to have already been traditionally published. If, however, you’re a politician, sports figure, or celebrity with a huge fan base, this does not apply to you!
  • Six worldwide corporations (with multiple imprints) do the majority of publishing. The majority of U.S. publishers are located in New York City, as are the majority of literary agents. For the most part, publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors — that’s what literary agents are for.
  • Self-publishing is growing by leaps and bounds, while traditional publishing is contracting. Traditional publishers need to adapt to this far-reaching trend in order to survive in the long run.

Querying Agents

  • The Query Letter
    • Write it; sleep on it; read it; revise it; repeat it. You only get one shot, so make it as perfect as you can.
    • It should be single-spaced, and it should never be more than one page.
    • The 1st paragraph should be a hook or why you chose a particular agent (e.g., you met him/her at a writer’s conference; he/she represents books in your genre that are similar to yours.) The 2nd paragraph should be the pitch or description of the story. And the 3rd paragraph should be your bio. This formula is not necessarily carved in stone. The most important thing is to not have any grammatical errors, for it to be well written, current, and interesting to read.
    • Always include your contact information.
    • If sending a query by email, paste the text into the body of the email. Never send attachments (for fear of viruses).
    • Address the letter/email to a specific agent at the agency (e.g., Dear Mr. Smith: or Dear Ms. Smith:)
      • Never query multiple agents at the same agency at the same time.
      • Search agents’ bios on agency websites, and choose the agent you think would be most interested in your genre.
    • Agents seek to represent authors whose books satisfy their own personal tastes, not necessarily the agency’s. So if you get a rejection letter from one particular agent at an agency, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another agent at the same agency wouldn’t be interested. Unless otherwise mentioned, once you receive a rejection letter from an agent at an agency, you’re free to go right back to that same agency with a query to a different agent (if you think it’s worth it).
    • Read the submission guidelines on each agency’s website to see how many sample pages to include with your query. If the guidelines call for submitting the first three chapters, then that’s what you send — no more. Never send an entire manuscript unless asked for. Never bind or staple a manuscript or sample pages.
    • Unless an agency’s guidelines state otherwise, you can usually include a separate 1-2 page synopsis, single-spaced.
    • If sending your query by email, make the Subject line specific to the agent you’re sending it to, so the person reading it knows that it’s not spam (e.g., “Sand Dollar query for Jane Doe”).
    • If sending a query by snail mail (U.S. Postal Service), include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
    • It wouldn’t hurt to correctly identify your book’s genreThis may be harder than it sounds because some genres have only subtle differences.
    • Never say that you’ve written a “novel of fiction.” A novel, by definition, IS fiction. If an agent reads this, chances are he or she has already moved on to the next query.
  • Tips
    • Literary agents acquire new authors primarily through referral, NOT through unsolicited queries. They are quick to say No because they don’t want to waste their time with “beginners” who require a lot of editing and who have no built-in audience. However, they will take a look at your query simply because they don’t want to be the dope who passes on the next J. K. Rowling. Since some agents get hundreds of unsolicited query letters every week, they’re forced to make life-and-death decisions in a matter of seconds. Therefore, three red flags and you’re out. So better not use too many adverbs!
    • Don’t be afraid to query lots of agents all at once. It could take 50 queries just to find one agent who might be interested in reading your manuscript. And even then, there’s no guarantee that they’ll want to represent you.
    • Never pay money to a literary agent. Predators & Editors monitors agents who might be unscrupulous. Some agents are members of A.A.R. (Association of Author’s Representatives), which is kind of like the Better Business Bureau for literary agents (a good thing).
    • A great online resource for obtaining agents’ contact information is Agentquery.com. When it comes to printed resources, Literary Marketplace (L.M.P.) is the industry standard. However, since it costs about $350, better find it at a library. Writer’s Market by Brewer (about $20) is a pretty good alternative.
    • At this stage of the game, if you expect to get rejections from every agent you solicit (and rightfully so), then you won’t be disappointed when you get them. Some rejection letters will be generic and sanitized (e.g., a postcard addressed to Dear author), while others might actually mention your name. And if you’re really lucky, they’ll refer to the title of your manuscript and even the names of the main characters in their rejection. Make a note of those agents who show interest and personalization. You can email them again down the road after you’ve gained traction.
    • For a list of literary agencies, click here.

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