Last night, at ten in the evening, I received a celebratory text from a client saying she’d just hit SEND on her full manuscript requested by a literary agent. Together, we had begun her agent search a few months ago and after a few queries and getting no response she finally had someone interested in her project. There was much to celebrate.
What exactly is involved in the agent search and what do you need to have prepared ahead of time to find an agent? First, let’s explore if you need an agent at all.
When You Need an Agent
Most large publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors and therefore an agent becomes the gatekeeper and the one to vet the projects before presenting them to the publishers. You can certainly shop around to smaller and mid-sized publishers and see if they accept direct submissions, keeping in mind that smaller publishers also have smaller marketing budgets and distribution channels. Literary agents are only required for traditional publishing, you will not need an agent if you are planning to self-publish your book.
What You Need
For fiction, you need a completed manuscript and a synopsis. Some agents and publishers would also like to see a business and marketing plan as well. For non-fiction, you need a book proposal, which includes an overview of the book, about the author, a marketing plan, comparable books that have done well in the market, chapters breakdown, and the first 25 pages of the book. You do not need the completed manuscript with a non-fiction proposal. The agent will then take the book proposal or synopsis and sell it to a publishing house.
What Else You Need
You need a kick-ass query letter that will immediately grab the agent’s attention. They read hundreds of submissions a week and you must stand out from the slush pile. The query letter should be personalized to the specific agent you approach—they are humans with feelings and don’t like to only be seen as a means to an end. Do your homework on the agent and make sure they actually represent the genre of book you write… don’t send an erotic romance novel to someone who only represents University textbooks.
Where to Find Them
Besides this list of places to search for an agent who represents your specific genre, I strongly suggest you have a look at the acknowledgments of your favorite books in the same genre you are writing and see who their agent was. Chances are they might be looking for another strong voice. Here are some other places to find agents:
- Query Tracker – http://querytracker.net/
- Agent Query – http://agentquery.com/
- Publishers Marketplace – http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
- Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. (AAR) – online, http://aaronline.org/Find
- Writer’s Market – http://writersmarket.com
What if you don’t hear back?
Be patient and read this post I wrote about the waiting game. Traditional publishing is a very long game. I tend to give each agent two weeks to respond to my query letter and if I hear nothing back I assume they are not interested, that is unless the agent specifically asks for exclusivity for a month on their contact page. My client who had her full manuscript requested was warned in the request email that it would take over a month before the agent could start reading it, which means don’t call her on day 31 to see if she likes it. Oh, and one more thing, agents talk to each other about potential books and they keep databases of who queries them, so do not keep submitting the same project to the same agent hoping you’ll get a yes, and don’t use the spray and pray method of hitting up anyone who can fog a mirror all in one day. That can guarantee that you won’t hear back.
What happens when you do get a response
There are three types of responses besides not ever hearing back from them again. A form rejection letter, and receiving them is as cold as it sounds, but consider how many an agent must send out in a week. A rejection with feedback on how to improve or who would be more receptive to your query means you should take this advice as gold because it is! These agents have their fingers on the pulse of the industry. An offer to work together, after which you better pop that bubbly and celebrate.
I have been actively querying and pitching to agents face-to-face for various projects from romance novels to non-fiction self-development books for over ten years. I have learned quite a bit on this journey and I am happy to have found the perfect agent for my memoir. If you are considering traditional publishing and need help with your book proposal and query letter do not hesitate to reach out, because I would be happy to help.
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