Are you an aspiring author looking for the perfect literary agent to represent your work? Sure, finding the right agent for your manuscript can be pretty daunting, but with the right approach, you can make the process a lot smoother.
Finding the ideal literary agent requires research, self-awareness, and a willingness to reach out to potential matches. You need to be able to evaluate your goals, identify potential agents, and make a great impression when approaching them.
Follow our tips, and we’ll ensure you’re on the right path to finding the perfect literary agent for your book.
What does a literary agent do?
Literary agents represent a writer’s business interests, acting as intermediaries between authors and publishers/producers.
A great literary agent markets your work to the right people, using their inside understanding of the publishing world to ensure your manuscript turns up on the right desks.
Literary agents represent writers in the following ways:
- Seeking out and negotiating book contracts.
- Submitting manuscripts to professionals who might publish or produce the work.
- Protects and maintains your interests.
Do I need a literary agent?
Not all writers need an agent. You might be doing very well as a self-published author, successfully reaching out to your audience through platforms such as Amazon.
But most writers would benefit from an agent if they’re ready to progress their careers.
Is your work ready to hit professional desks? Because your literary agent could send your latest work to a major house publisher.
Do you believe it’s ready for critical eyes?
How to get a literary agent
There are many agents out there – but most specialize in certain types of work. If you’ve written a children’s book, ensure your targetted agent works with that genre.
So, there’s no point sending your manuscript to every single agent in the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook. Do some research, and find the right literary agent with experience in your preferred genre.
Find a literary agent that accepts manuscripts from new writers, and send them a query letter (a condensed version of your book proposal).
Your one-page query letter should include:
- A brief summary of who you are as a writer
- A brief outline of your novel
- The target audience
Not that the word “brief” appears in that list. Don’t be tempted to go into the minutiae.
Try self-publishing your book
Self-publishing could attract a literary agency, especially if you develop a following.
Having an existing fanbase demonstrates that you have commercial potential, which could be beneficial when seeking representation.
Getting a literary agent: a step-by-step guide
Follow these six steps when seeking out an appropriate literary agent:
- Prepare your manuscript for professional consumption
- Research appropriate literary agents and build a shortlist
- Send a personalized query to each agent
- Send batches of query letters
- Follow up
- Bide your time – don’t always go for the first offer
Prepare your manuscript: how do I know if my book is good enough to publish?
Literary agents don’t expect your manuscript to be publication-ready – part of their role is to help you refine the work in line with the proposed publishers.
You’ll never land a book deal with a handwritten manuscript. So, although you don’t need to format your words on the page to LOOK like a book, it should be easy for the agent to read.
Avoid small, unusual fonts. You don’t need a front cover image – sometimes, these can be a little off-putting to an agent.
Let the writing speak for itself. Get your manuscript into a “finished for you” state.
Never send your first draft – the art of writing is in the rewriting. Some literary agents recommend that your manuscript should be the third draft. Share your work with friends you can rely on for honest feedback, or join a writers’ group for feedback.
You don’t need to have worked with a professional editor, but make sure your potential agent isn’t the first human being to have set eyes on your manuscript! See if they publish submission guidelines on their website – it’s the best way to find a literary agent.
Research literary agents and build a shortlist
If you’re happy with your manuscript, it’s time to research agents. Do you want to approach agents with relationships with a particular traditional publishing house, or are you more interested in independent publishers?
Check out their websites, familiarize yourself with agency guidelines, and do further research on more than one agent.
Seek out your dream agent with experience in your niche. Recognize your genre – historical fiction, science fiction, literary fiction, or commercial fiction?
Create a spreadsheet of suitable agents and identify their relationships with specific publishing houses. Do they accept submissions from new writers? List contact details so you can follow up on your query letter.
Great ways of identifying literary agents are:
- The Writer’s and Artists Yearbook
- Googling your favorite writers and finding out their agent’s name
- This list of more than 600 literary agents
- Publishers MarketplaceAgent Query
Before you finalize your agent search shortlist, find out if your favored agents are open to queries and if your work complements the other writers they represent.
Avoid sending a query letter to multiple agents at the same agency.
And, finally, make sure they have a good track record!
Personalize your query letter
Avoid sending out a blanket query letter – rejection letters are sure to follow.
Follow these tips when your query agents:
- Grab their attention
- Briefly synopsize your book. Think about what would make you read your book.
- Demonstrate there’s a market for your book within their agency – suggest other writers’ work they represent which fits your niche.
- Tailor your query letter to each agent.
Send query letter batches
Don’t send all your query letters in one go; wait to see if you get feedback first. This will give you a chance to refine your future queries.
Once you’ve sent your query letter and followed the submission guidelines, three things are likely to happen:
- Brace yourself for the rejection letters. Not that we want to be negative; just prepare yourself because all writers get rejected at first.
- You’ll receive a partial or full manuscript request.
- You might never hear from them.
Are all rejections bad?
There are two types of rejection letters:
The boilerplate, stock “thanks but no thanks.”
The personalized response (no, but your submission WAS interesting!).
The personalized responses are valuable because if you intrigue a good agent, they’ll let you know what they liked about your submission and any weaknesses they identified.
Try not to take rejections personally – they’re par for the course.
Don’t give up!
Follow up on your query letter
Most agents publish submission guidelines that confirm how long you should wait for a response.
Nonetheless, if you haven’t heard from them within six weeks, drop your potential agent a polite email to prompt a response.
Keep the follow-up brief, polite, and respectful.
Don’t always take the first offer
You get a response and several full manuscript requests. Then, a couple of weeks later, you get an offer.
While it can be tempting to bite the offering agent’s hand off, that’s not how you find a literary agent.
Talk to the interested agent and find out their plans for how they develop your career and first book.
Don’t rush into a contract. You could always use the interested agent’s book deals offer to entice your dream agent!
Wait for the offers, and then choose the prestigious agent who could best support your writing life.
Do authors pay literary agents?
Reputable literary agents don’t charge an upfront fee. They earn money when you do – they work on a commission basis.
Be very wary of literary agencies that offer their services for a fee.
Do literary agents edit manuscripts?
An agent needs to love your book proposal and manuscript, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ask for edits or edit it themselves. Expect, at the very least, some savvy editorial feedback.
A good literary agent will do quite a bit of editing – remember, they know how to get your book into shape to be most appealing for a book contract.
The publishing industry works on good relationships between great writers and agents, so finding the right agent may take more than a year. Be persistent.
Sure, not all writers need a literary agent, but literary representation helps get your work into the right hands. And the right submissions will get you the best deal.
Harry Wallett is the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing. Combining his entrepreneurial background with a love of great stories, Harry founded Relay in 2013 as a fresh way to create books and for writers to earn a living from their work. Since then, Relay has sold 3+ million copies and worked with 100s of writers on bestselling titles such as Defending Innocence, The Alveria Dragon Akademy Series and Rancher’s Family Christmas. Harry oversees the creative direction of the company, and works to develop a supportive collaborative environment for the Relay team to thrive within in order to fulfill our mission to create unputdownable books.
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