Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, May 29, 2006

How to Find a Literary Agent

UPDATE 8/24/10: This post is very very out of date! Please consult this newer post on How to Find a Literary Agent.

For novelists, the first step to finding a literary agent is writing a book. You should have a finished manuscript -- even if a prospective agent loves your work, they're still going to want you to finish the whole thing before they send your work out to publishers. If your project is nonfiction, you should have a polished book proposal with killer sample chapters ready to go.

When you're finished, it's very important to make sure you absolutely have the best work possible and that you have revised it to death. It's very easy to get caught up in the rush of finishing your first draft, so definitely celebrate that accomplishment, but then get to work on making the manuscript better.

The best way to find an agent is through a referral from an existing agented writer. Mine your personal connections and degrees of separation. Go through your friends and friends of friends to see if anyone knows anyone remotely connected to the publishing industry.

If you don't know anyone, or those friends of friends haven't e-mailed you back, try to make your own connections. Attend a writer's conference or join a group, something, anything to get you one step closer.

If that doesn't work and you've exhausted all of your options, you can try sending agents query letters. It's rare for the query letter route to work -- I've seen thousands and thousands of query letters, and of those I've only taken on two as clients**. But hey, you have a chance, and if you gotta do it you gotta do it.

I'll run down the dos and don'ts of query letter writing in a later post. In the meantime, best of luck on your search for the right agent!

(Please feel free to send questions about book publishing my way -- I'll do my best to answer them.)

**UPDATE 11/13/07: I originally wrote this post a loooooong time ago, and I want everyone to know that I have since taken on several more clients through the query pile. I still feel that referrals are a more advantageous path toward representation, but I don't want to give people the impression that I never take on people from queries. I do!


Margot Finke said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

I have just discovered your blog. Your "Agent Bransford" entry gave me my laugh of the day. If I were an agent, I would snap you up immediately. Thank you.

However, the paragraph below, from your "How to Find a Literary Agent" brought me up short.
"The best way to find an agent is through a referral from an existing agented writer. Mine your personal connections and degrees of separation. Go through your friends and friends of friends to see if anyone knows anyone remotely connected to the publishing industry."

I write YA and midgrade fiction, and in the world of writing for children, giving up the name of your agent is akin to selling your first born for drug money - not talked about, and rarely done.

And you are right, query letters alone (to a publisher or an agent) bring a few kind words, and little else. But what's a writer to do? Conferences come around a couple of times a year in Oregon, and the usual wait time for a yea-or-nay from these editor or agent contacts is one year:often longer.

I have to tell you, should my hunt for representation last longer than I do, I may yet be forced to take my daughter up on her promise to publish my books postumously.

This, after longtime active SCBWI membership, advice and mentoring from a great critique group, many missed meals, and late nights due to reworking, tweaking, and polishing my chapters.

I'm seriously considering becoming a famous pop-star. That way I will have no problem interesting publishers in my writing talent.

Do you have a song I can belt out?

Margot Finke

Anonymous said...

If queries don't work, then I'm frightened. I don't know anyone who knows agents. What's a broke college girl to do if everything she was told about the publishing industry turns out to be false? Well...I'm still writing my book!

Honore said...

Chin up, Anonymous!

I swear I can't tell you how it happened, because I have absolutely NO idea whatsoever, but I aquired an agent whilst in my mid-20s, without any connections, and completely over the transom no less, within about a week of a query and proposal being sent out, and my manuscript was sold to a major publisher about a month after that.

PS: Better not to send proposals right off without querying first -- I don't know what possessed my co-author and I to do so -- it was an awfully stupid thing to do. Still, we heard back almost immediately from the agencies we contacted (all top-tier -- hey, can't hurt to try for the best first), wanting to know more, and we actually had a choice of people to sign with. Still can't get over it, really. But it just goes to show that sometimes miracles do happen! Good luck!

original bran fan said...

I, too, got my agent via a query letter. In fact, I sent 14 queries in two months, and had not one, not two, but THREE agents who wanted the book. And these were top agents with good reputations. It can happen with a query. Absolutely.

Anonymous said...
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samscomps said...

I have quite a few friends who are published writers, but as the first poster commented, giving out a recommendation for your agent is extremely rare. My friends who are writers are aware that I am searching for an agent but they have never offered, and I feel I can't ask them for a recommendatio - it seems to be an unspoken thing. Like actors asking their fellow actors for work I guess...

CindaChima said...

I empathize with everyone in this crazy business. It seems like everyone is looking for someone to cut down on their slush piles. Editors look to agents. Agents look to...agented writers, apparently.
I'm an agented writer, and referring a friend to your agent is kind of like arranging a blind date between two people you know and like. It's kind of awkward if it doesn't work out. And often it doesn't, for whatever reason, even if your friend is talented.
Even worse is the mere acquaintance or stranger who wants a referral. I don't feel comfortable referring unless I've read the work. First I have to find the time to read it, which isn't easy, lately, between the day job, the author promo things and my own writing. I like to help, but frankly that's not job #1, 2 or 3. If I read it and don't like it...awkward again.

It's no wonder writers feel edgy about getting involved in the whole messy referral business, though some of us still do.

CindaChima said...

PS: I got my agent through a query letter with a partial. I had just broken up with an agent who didn't work out. I researched agents who represent the kind of work I write, developed a working list of 25, queried them all, had positive responses from two, and signed with one. Finding the right agent made a huge difference for me. Be persistent. Cinda

invisible said...

To Honore & Original Bran Fan:
I hope you realize how lucky you both are. Those are indeed miracles. I have been querying agents for more than 30 years, constantly studying and working on my craft, and to this day have not interested an agent. I have been working closely with a professional editor for more than seven years and despite her constant encouragement, I still cannot get anyone to read my work. Agents are terrific gatekeepers. I'm sure they realize they're keeping out some good writers with the bad - I just don't think it bothers them that much. And while occasionally someone slips by them, either by accident or by distraction, the fact that it is considered a miracle tells me something is horribly wrong with this profession and that in just a few years, it will definitely be a thing of the past.

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