How do I find an agent? In the last month I’ve had two people ask me that question. I think they wanted a short, easy answer (the secret). They looked disappointed when I start talking about going on-line and finding which agents represented the type of book they’ve written; checking Writers Beware for any warnings; writing and sending out query letters according to each agent’s specifications; sending out more queries; keeping track of responses; talking to interested agent(s) to make sure it’s a fit (of personalities and expectations); and on and on.
Sometimes finding an agent (especially the “right” agent) is pure luck. Sometimes it’s tenacity.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Make sure your book is finished (before you start looking for an agent) and is the best you can make it.
Agents no longer have time to hold your hand while you learn to write a book. They’ll help you perfect it, but you need to have a sellable product before they’re going to take the time to work with you.
2. Be prepared to make revisions
If you don’t want anyone touching what you’ve written (agent or editor), then self-publish. An agent’s reputation rests on what she/he sends to publishers. They want to send out the best version of your work. Sometimes (often) that means they’ll ask you to make revisions. If you’re not willing to make any changes, you’re going to have a problem. (Either you’ll need to find another agent, one more in tune with your vision, or self-publish.)
3. Consider if you really need an agent.
Does your story have wide appeal? Traditional publishers (The Big 5) are corporations. They want books that will make money, the more the better. If an agent doesn’t think your story will have wide appeal, the agent may not be interested in representing your book. (There are always exceptions.) But even if one of the big 5 wouldn’t be interested, a smaller press might publish it, and most smaller publishers don’t require an agent.
4. Look for agents who represent the type of story you’ve written
- Sometimes writers thank their agent on the acknowledgement page, so check published books of the type you’ve written for agent names.
- Google for: literary agents + your genre.
- Check out:
5. Write a really good query letter
- Make it personal: Write the letter or email using the agent’s name (correctly spelled) not To Whom It May Concern; mention if you met him/her or how you came up with the her/his name, and why you feel the she/he would be the best person to represent your work.
- Make it one-page
- In a paragraph or two, indicate the major characters and the conflict that must be resolved in the story.Use a hook (a question that begs an answer or a situation that is different)
- This is your first impression, so no spelling or grammar errors. Give a sense of the book’s tone (somber/humorous), and of your writing.
- Don’t apologize if you’re not published, but if you do belong to writers’ groups or have had relevant material published include this information at the end.
- Make sure the agent knows how to contact you: email/phone
6. Once you have a list of potential agents, make sure you check out each agent’s website and follow those individual guidelines.
No generic query letters and submissions.
Don’t try to be cute or different. Agents get hundreds of query letters during the year. They’re looking for stories they can sell/writers they can work with. At this stage, they want to know if you can follow directions.
7. Send out around 5 queries a week.
- Don’t send just one and wait
- Keep track of: to whom you sent a query (and any other materials, such as chapters), when you sent it, and the reaction.
- If you’re asked for a full, keep track of those dates and responses.
- If asked for the full manuscript, limit how long the agent can have an exclusive
- If more than one agent asks for the full ms, let them know if it’s being considered by another agent.
One reason to do 5 at a time is if you keep getting rejections, you may want to rework your query letter along the way. Sometimes a different slant is all it takes to create interest.
The other questions I’m often asked is: How many agents you should query? (I think the subtext is: Before you give up.)
The answer is: as many as it takes (to find one that says yes or you do give up).
I know of writers who have queried as many as a hundred agents and publishers before they found the right one. Keep looking, but while you’re looking, write something new. Sometimes book 1 doesn’t get published until you’ve published books 2 and 3…and sometimes book 1 ends up pushed under the bed. (My first book will never see daylight again, but I learned a lot from it.)