Like most working authors, I frequently get to talk to people who are in the process of trying to break into publishing. And, frequently, they want to know if I have any advice on finding literary agents. To this I have two answers.
SHORT ANSWER: 1. Write a great book. 2. Follow the submission protocols of agents who represent similar books. 3. Wait. 4. Get an agent.
But the short answer is awfully short, I know. It’s TRUE, mind you. But lacking some details that people just starting out might benefit from hearing, so now I’m going to share with you the LONG answer that I shared with a friend just this afternoon.
(Modified for blog purposes.)
As frequent blog readers already know, I do not recommend being in this business without an agent. Getting an agent is actually a surprisingly straightforward process once you have the right book (note that this is the hard part) and have researched who will be the best fit.
You don’t need to know someone. You don’t need an introduction. Agents are very, very used to finding talent via the submission protocols outlined on their websites. In fact, agents relish submissions because that IS where they find their clients—they find them there all the time.
Since submissions and queries are so important, many new writers can be surprised to hear that a lot of agents don’t make the first pass through the inbox themselves. For example, my agent, Kristin Nelson, has a great assistant who looks through the submissions first and pulls out the ones that Kristin will be most interested in.
I know some new writers are stunned that agents aren’t reading every submission themselves, but rest assured that the assistants who read the queries are very highly trained and prepped on how to do so. Their job is to wade through the thousands of queries they receive and remove the obvious “no-s” –books that are in genres the agent doesn’t represent, queries full of typos and obvious grammatical mistakes, etc.
So one of the first “tips” to finding an agent is “don’t be an obvious no”. Proofread your materials. Make sure they’re as strong as they can be. And, of course, query the right agents for your book.
To find the “right agents” I recommend starting with sites like agentquery.com where you can search for a few books like yours and find out what agents represent those novels.
Also, if you’re serious about your research, it would probably be worth it to pay $20 to get a one month subscription to PublishersMarketplace.com. There, you can search their deal database and find out who is selling stuff like yours. This is especially important because it doesn’t help much to know who sold a big book five years ago. You want someone who is selling stuff NOW.
Go to the websites for every agent you’re interested in and look at their complete client list–read a few books from it (if you haven’t already). Study the agent’s blog (if he or she has one). Read and re-read and re-re-read their submission procedures. In short, do your homework.
The next step is to get your query materials in perfect shape. You’ll probably need an assortment of things. Some agents will require a one page synopsis, some will need a sample chapter (and the whole book should be as perfect as possible at this point, so this is the easy one). Almost all agents will require a query letter of some kind, so start working on one of those too. (And Kristin has some great examples here.)
It’s important to note, I think, that the term “dream agent” is really a fickle one. There are a lot of factors that will make an agent dreamy. Some people want an agent with the biggest possible agency and a history of doing the biggest possible deals. Some writers are better served by smaller agencies where you get more individual attention.
It really varies immensely, and I highly recommend you think a lot about they TYPE of agent you want–someone who is hands-on? Someone who is growing their business? Someone who is established? Someone who represents the big megastars of our industry? Or someone who is in a position to find the NEXT stars?
This isn’t an easy process–not at all. But do you want to know a secret? Nothing in this business is. And if you’ve already written a great, killer, marketable book then this SHOULD be easy in comparison!
So, in conclusion, pick an assortment of agents who are currently selling books comparable to yours, research their query preferences, send them EXACTLY what they ask for. Wait. Repeat.
And that’s really all there is to it.