How to Find a Literary Agent
No matter how well a manuscript is written, many publishing houses will not accept a writer’s manuscript unless they have that all-important agent. Here are a few tips to help finding an agent that best suits you.
- Is an agent right for me?
- What are the benefits of having an agent?
- Worth their weight in gold
- Where to find an agent
- Submitting to an agent
- The importance of a query letter
Is an agent right for me?
If you’re writing poetry or short stories; the answer is most likely no. Agents are interested in book-length manuscripts which will earn them more money.
What are the benefits of having an agent?
Good agents not only offer editorial advice, they get you to the right publishing house, negotiate contracts, foreign sales, movie deals, etc. Good agents will also aid in brainstorming when it comes to promoting your book with you and the publisher and seeing that the publisher is holding up their end in advertising your book. Agents handle the business side of the industry while you the writer can focus your time and energy on writing.
Another reason to choose an agent; agents frequent the same places as editors; they have a more one on one relationship with them and know what the editor is looking for.
As for publishers; publishers are more inclined to accept material from an agent, knowing that the agent weeded out manuscripts that are not suitable for them.
An agent works for you, getting the best dollar for your material. Remember, the more money you make, the more an agent makes.
Worth their weight in gold
Most agents make 10% to 15% (the most common being 15%) on domestic sales and 20% on foreign sales. When dealing with publishing, it's usually best to deal with an agent than a lawyer. Agents are specialist in the field, knowing the in and outs of the marketplace and will most likely save you money and heartache in the end. Think of it like getting a doctor; there’s a general practitioner who deals with all ailments and then you have a specialist who deals specifically in one field. You wouldn’t want a GP working on you if you needed a certain kind of surgery; you would want a specialist who’s trained in that area to do the job.
Always consider the clients the agent represents; are the authors well-known? Has the agent sold recently to large publishing houses?
Never pay an agent before he/she sells your book. Never submit to an agent that charges reading fees, this in most cases is a scam and will lead a writer to the path of regret.
There are reputable agents however that do charge for postage and photocopying.
It is wise to look into the agent's member association; one of them is the Association of Authors' Representatives Inc. (AAR). The agent has to subscribe to Canon of Ethics to meet eligibility requirements to become a member.
Where to find an agent
There are numerous ways to find an agent
• You can contact an author; most often they are gracious enough to give the name of their agent.
• For writers living in the U.S. there's the Literary Marketplace which can be found at the local library. In Canada there's The Canadian Writer's Market
• You can join an organization such as RWA
• Historical Novel Society
• The Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators
• And many more; here's a site to other organizations; eBook Crossroads Directory of Writers Associations
• Enter a contest that you know the final judges are a reputable agent
Before submitting to an agent I recommend looking at Predators and Editors to see the standing of the agent you’re interested in.
Submitting to an agent
When submitting to an agency, give them time to respond. This all depends on what you submitted; for example if it's a query letter, sample chapters or if it's the whole manuscript. Also it depends on how you sent it, whether it's snail mail or e-mail. Unfortunately, there’s no set time for agencies to respond, each has their own time limit. Some can respond within 24 hours of an e-mail while others can take up to 2 to 3 months. If you’re concerned that your material hasn’t reached them, a simple e-mail or postcard of inquiry in most cases is acceptable. Always be gracious and thank them for their time. Remember agents receive hundreds of proposals each week; they’re juggling writers, publishers, contracts etc. Don’t get on their bad side by e-mailing them multiple times on whether they read your work and definitely refrain from calling them.
The importance of a query letter
This is your one true pitch in capturing an agent's eye.
Number one; make certain you spell the agent's name correctly; if you don't, this is one sure way of shooting yourself in the foot.
The first paragraph should have the name of your manuscript; the genre, time period it’s set in and the word count; you should also mention if your work is completed.
The second paragraph is where you give a brief description of your story. Think of it like the blurp on the back of a novel. Try to keep it within 100 words. Remember you're trying to sell your manuscript to the agent--it has to outshine the other proposals that may be on their desk.
In the closing of the query mention your qualifications; are you familiar with the field you're writing in; have you published before, belong to any organizations, won any awards or finalized in any contests, are you a freelance writer, Blogger, avid reader...
Finally, at the end of your query mention if your manuscript has been sent out to other agents or editors; this is a professional courtesy. Like a resume, give the agent your contact information.
If you send your proposal through snail mail always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for their reply. If you live outside of the country, the easiest way to get a reply is to include your e-mail for their response.
Always thank them for their time and consideration.
As for you the writer, instead of feeling restless while you wait for their reply you can put that energy into starting on your next project.