If you’re planning on making it as a writer, being represented by a literary agent is an enormous advantage. But what if you don’t know where to start? It’s not like writers automatically know how to find a literary agent. Don’t worry. We’re about to explain exactly how to find a literary agent.
First, however, we’ll tell you why you need one.
Publishers don’t usually accept unsolicited manuscripts, which means you can’t just send your novel—or even a query letter—to a publisher for consideration (even though we’re sure your book is a staggering work of genius). That means you need an agent to represent you.
In the simplest terms, having “representation” means your agent will sell your book for you. For the work your agent puts into finding a publisher and negotiating on your behalf, she receives a percentage of whatever you’re paid—typically 15 percent on domestic sales. Agents cultivate relationships with publishers, and they know which editors like what kinds of book, which means your work is going to end up on the right desk. And that raises your chances of getting published.
So how does a writer find a literary agent? First, we’ll outline the basic steps, and then we’ll get into some more nitty-gritty detail.
Your first step is to finish your book—which means both getting all the way through to “The End” and then editing it and proofreading it until you’re certain it meets a professional standard. Make sure your first several chapters are extremely strong as they will need to “hook” your agent (and anyone else who picks up your book).
Once you’re certain your manuscript is polished, you can start getting your submission package together and looking for the right agent to send it to. Here’s how to do that, step by step.
The synopsis is an important aspect of your pitch letter. A synopsis doesn’t include every detail of your settings, characters, or themes. It doesn’t need to explain the tone of the book or the beautiful symbolism you included. All a synopsis does is describe the main story arc. You should only include subplots if they play a critical role or are necessary in order to understand the main plot. Otherwise, leave them out. Don’t let your synopsis run longer than one page.
When emailing literary agents, you’ll also need to include a query letter. This is a simple, straightforward, personalized letter that tells an agent why you want to work with him, what your book is about, and who you are.
Begin with a short paragraph on why you want to work with this particular agent. Maybe she represents an author you love, or you met her at a conference and bonded over your shared love of hummus. Next, include a very short elevator pitch for your book. This should only be a couple of sentences, like a logline that gives the gist of your story in a short, impactful way.
Finally, close with just a few words about yourself. Don’t include your past work unless it is impressive or relevant or both.
Once you’ve written your synopsis and query letter, send them (plus whatever portion of your book the agency guidelines request) to everyone on the list of possible agents you researched. Remember that your book should be polished, and those first chapters should be completely irresistible!
It’s very important to write and send each query individually so that it can be personalized to the particular agent. Also remember that rejection is a part of the process. Don’t get discouraged—the next query might be the one that works. Keep at it, and eventually an agent will express interest. From there, you’ll be well on your way to getting published!