Many novelists will eventually arrive at the same place: they have a fantastic book, which possibly took hundreds of hours to complete. They endured the daily struggle of writing, had friends and family members read their masterpiece, and want to finally become published…
The answer might just be a literary agent!
A good agent can provide invaluable help by suggesting professional editors to review your work. They can direct your future plans to prepare you for a literary career. And, of course, they may have personal connections to publishers interested in your genre of writing!
Finding an agent takes courage…but if you’ve made it this far, you’re ready.
How to find a literary agent for your novel
The Traditional Process, Bare Bones
First off: we have the traditional path to finding an agent. Here are the three very basic steps:
1. Find agents and create a list. Your writing will define what you search for. If your novel is a fantasy romance targeted at Young Adults, you can narrow down your search (and trust us, narrowing is good).
2. Research and organize the options! Many resources will tell you a lot about agencies; however, once you have a solid list in place, visit their websites. Everything from the design to the agent descriptions will let you know if the business works for you!
3. Send query letters. Lots of query letters. And make sure they’re all personally addressed to individual agents! Again, if you’re not sure which agent to contact, or how to reach them, the website probably has the answer. Let it be your guide.
So, if you’ve written your query letter well, selected the right agents, and have a product that’s right for the current market…you still may hear “no” multiple times before someone takes a bite! Don’t worry: have your manuscript ready, keep writing on other projects, and wait to see what happens. If an agent asks to see your work, they’ll have instructions on how to move forward. Congratulations!
In the meantime, let’s go back through the process in more depth:
Intro to Writer’s Market
Guess what? There is a time-tested and professionally-trusted list of current agents who are accepting new material! It’s called “Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published” and it truly lives up to the name.
If you’re not sure what literary agents are around, start here!
At this moment, Writer’s Market 2019 can be found on Amazon.com. The section on Literary Agents provides a large list of professionals, from A to Z, alongside a good deal of info: contact info, member agents, what they represent, how to contact them, and the representation terms (to name the most important points).
Use the guide however you like! Our method went something like this:
Go through the agents alphabetically. Before reading an agency’s name, check what they represent to make sure it includes your genre – in our case, this had to be “Young Adult” at the very least, with bonuses for “Fantasy”, “Action”, and “Adventure.”
Once you confirm an agency represents the right genre, check if Writer’s Market mentions the specific agents interested in those fields.
At this point, categorize the agency/agent as “Definitely,” “Yes,” or “Sure, why not?” If you’re wondering, we reserved the latter section for agencies without much info. But as long as they had Young Adult listed, who knows if it’s a gem in disguise?
Find More Info
You have the list, you’re pretty sure you know which agencies are good. Visit the website and make sure it’s true!
Surprise, surprise: one of your top picks may have a sketchy website. On the other hand, the agency with a brief description may have a minimalist website used by super-agents who prefer to rely on their contacts and industry knowledge. You never know!
At this stage of the game, you have three goals only:
1. Finalize your agency list. You now see the online faces of the agencies, so decide what’s what! And don’t fret too much: you’ll probably query most of them anyway, the order simply dictates which come first.
2. Check submission policies. Different agencies will ask for specific things. One representative might want a logline, a one or two-sentence description of the entire story. Others may ask for a two-page treatment, your biography, and the first three chapters!
(Alright, we admit: that note may belong in the “Forming Query Letters” category below. But then again… if a good agency makes you jump through a thousand crazy hoops to submit, you may want to factor that in!)
3. Choose specific agents, figure out how to contact them. This will make your life easier in the long run!
Forming/Sending Query Letters
There are many good resources for writing a great query letter, such as the explanation from NY Book Editors, titled, “How to Write a Darn Good Query Letter.”
The simple version goes like this: put your best foot forward in a one-page letter that conveys your novel’s plot and purpose. The soul, abbreviated.
For time reasons, we’d like to share a few technical details that may influence the art of querying: the online form, letters, and emails. These are three large categories of querying we’ve encountered!
Online forms are easy! And weird.
The gist is: many agencies now ask that querying authors complete pre-set forms. The process feels like an Indeed.com or Brassring job application: just fill out the sections and hit “send!”
While it may feel a tad impersonal, don’t miss the blessing in disguise! Online forms tell you exactly what the agency wants, but you can still make every part of the submission shine.
If the idea of a form doesn’t sit well with you, no worries! Table the agency at the moment, and come back later.
If, on the other hand, you crave a simple formula, you might even be tempted to submit when first visiting the website. Convenience isn’t always a bad thing if appreciated and used properly!
The rare, ancient ancestor of modern queries!
Perhaps in the interest of saving copious amounts of paper (and time opening letters), you won’t get the chance to send letters too often. Good news? Agencies that want physical submissions might be dedicated businesses looking for similarly dedicated writers, who are willing to put in the effort of constructing a real package. Might be.
Emails take up a huge portion of query letters now, thanks to their speed and environmental sustainability. How does this affect you?
First, when sending emails, most agencies will not open attachments. Those that do will probably ask for them specifically, such as a Microsoft Word document for chapters. If this isn’t the case, we recommend putting everything into the email.
(But what if they ask for the first three chapters? Yep, even then! Attachments have long been used to spread viruses, businesses have to be wary.)
Second, don’t fall into the trap of sending one email to multiple agents. We’ve said it multiple times but it bears repeating: every query letter should be personally addressed to the agent you wish to query unless their information is unavailable (some agencies operate this way).
Silence of the Literary Agents
Yay! The query letters are out. What happens now?
First off, wait! We’ve had agencies respond days, months, and even a year later. No lie. There’s no telling if they’ll respond in time. On that note-
Be very careful about checking in with agencies! Some will state a response time, such as “three weeks,” and advise you check in after that. Others say nothing, and it may be best to wait in those situations.
Finally, if you’re hearing “no” across the board, we have a few suggestions:
1. Don’t get discouraged! Denial happens to most successful writers, often hundreds of times.
If you’re like us, however, you may not be discouraged by the rejection as much as the wait. In that case, keep yourself moving. Keep writing, work, spend time with family, enjoy life. Emphasis on “keep writing.”
2. Never assume the reason. The agent you contacted may: not be perfect for selling your book, have a lot on their plate, or even decided on quitting the business to become a Twitch streamer. Who the heck knows?
Admittedly, your novel could need work. It may not be timely. It may be targeted at a niche genre, or a saturated genre.
The very best response for a true writer? Keep writing. Build experience, develop new projects, or perfect old ones.
A bit of personal advice: we found the writing and querying process to be an empowering experience even when a book doesn’t touch base with agents. You still feel the pride and accomplishment of displaying your work boldly, and the experience makes you sure of success in the future. Best of luck!