Thursday, April 10, 2008
We're going back to basics today. Way back two years ago (!!) I wrote a post on how to find an agent, only I've never really been happy with that post and had always meant to replace it with a better one. Well, two years later, here we are.
So here goes. I give you........... How to Find A Literary Agent
Welcome to publishing, the land of books, writing, and agonizingly long waits. Pour yourself a drink. You're going to need it.
Step 1. If you are trying to find an agent and you are not a) a celebrity or b) a deity, you will need to have a finished and polished manuscript if you are writing a novel or memoir, and a finished and polished proposal and sample pages if you are working on a nonfiction project. Did I mention the finished and polished part? Well, you missed a spot. Go back and polish some more.
(Also, you might check out my guide to writing a novel while you're at it: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:
Apple iBooks (coming soon!)
Step 2. Ok, so you've finished and polished your manuscript so much it's shining like the top of the Chrysler Building. Now it's time to find an agent, right? Nuh uh. Time to learn about the publishing business.
Many aspiring authors feel that all they have to do is write a good book, sit back, and let the God of easy money and literary groupies take care of the rest. Not so! Before you embark on your quest for a literary agent, you should devote many, many hours to familiarizing yourself with the business, literary agents, editors, and anything else you can possibly do to discern how this unique industry operates. Luckily there is more information out there on the Internet than ever before.
Now, hopefully you took care of all this research as you were procrastinating while working on your manuscript. But honestly, in today's publishing clime it's just not enough to have written a good book. Treat this business seriously, because it is a business. Explore the links on the left side of this page, read blogs, talk to booksellers, attend conferences, get to know authors. If you do this BEFORE you try to find an agent your odds of success will increase dramatically, because you will ooze professionalism and knowledge, qualities that bode well for future successful writers.
Step 3. Finding that agent. There are many ways of going about this, and, believe it or not, none of them involve telling an agent they're a cutiepatootie. First off, we'll address referrals.
Referrals are a great way to find an agent, and for many of your more experienced/legendary agents they're darn near essential. And it's easy to see why -- you're coming in with an endorsement from someone the agent respects, you've got their attention, and you're more likely to get a thorough look.
How do you get a referral? It's kind of tricky. If you don't have preexisting personal connections, the best way to do this, especially if you live in a big city, is to get involved with local writers communities, fraternize with writers, and put yourself in a position where your work will be seen by other established writers. Genuinely (and not selfishly) invest in those writers and you may find that they will invest in you -- trust me, they remember what it was like to be an aspiring writer. If you don't live in a city, get your stories published in journals, become involved with writers' blogs and online writer's communities, and really invest in authors until you are virtual friends.
Now, notice that I didn't suggest the "e-mail random writers and ask for referrals out of the blue" approach, which has about a zero chance of success. These things have to evolve organically.
Step 4. No referrals? Time to write a query letter.
A query letter is a short letter that describes your work. Please consult this comprehensive post on how to write a query letter, and there are examples of good queries here and here and here. You should adapt and personalize your basic letter depending on which agent you're submitting to in order to demonstrate your aforementioned professionalism and knowledge. Which leads us to...
Step 5. Now you need to figure out who to submit to.
There are various resources on the Internet you can use (again, check out the links on the left side of the page and the how to write a query post) to narrow down the search. You should try to target agents who represent your genre, but avoid agents who previously represented something extremely/eerily similar to yours. Another way to target agents and get personalization fodder is to check the acknowledgments in your favorite books in your genre and see who represented those writers.
Before you submit, Google the agent and the agency to try and find their submission guidelines. If you find it, go precisely by what they ask for. If you do not find any information online, the default procedure is to print out your personalized query letter, send it in the mail to the agent, and be sure and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
And yes, the trees weep.
Step 6. Query widely. Don't blanket the town with your query unless you want to end up on Gawker, but agents assume you are going out there trying to find an agent. Also, you should limit your query to one agent per agency. After you've heard back, it's usually ok to re-query another agent at the agency if their submission guidelines don't suggest otherwise, but wait a couple of months.
Step 7. You wait. You want a request for a partial or full manuscript, and then you wait some more. You wait until you think you are physically going to die and/or commit a drastic crime. And then you get "the call!"
Now, chances are at this point you are going to be in a psychological state where you are ready to sign over a body part just to get an agent, and you will be predisposed to say "Yes, for crap's sake, yes!!". But take a step back, take your time, make sure you're very comfortable with the agent before you enter into one of the most important business relationships you will have in your life. You and your agent are going to have to seriously trust one another, so ask questions, don't be shy, and make sure you're ready.
That's it! You've done it! Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Oh. Wait. Yes, it was.
Please continue adding thoughts in the comments section, and if I missed something I'll update this post as needed.
Art: Portrait of Father by Bruno Liljefors