How to Land a Literary Agent
You’ve got a manuscript (or book idea), now you need someone to represent you. But how, exactly, does one find a literary agent?
By Jessica Ferri
If it’s your first rodeo you may have no idea how to go about finding an agent. The answer is, a lotta prep. The more work you put in on your book before approaching an agent, the better. A professional query letter and tight proposal goes a long way in showing agents how serious you are. Here’s how to prepare yourself before you begin your quest to land a literary agent.
Write… a lot
Fiction writers: Agents and editors alike usually want to see the finished novel, collection of short fiction, or novella. Some agents may be OK with a few chapters or short stories, especially if they’ve been published in a well-known magazine or literary journal, but don’t bet on it.
Nonfiction writers: You’ll need to write a proposal, specifically outlining your book. (Look online for samples of these.) The nonfiction proposal is quite detailed, so you can’t wing it. It usually involves a few sample chapters that would comprise about one-third of a finished book. Editors want to see the same proposal, so you won’t need to complete the book until it’s bought. But, once you find an agent, he or she will most likely work with you on honing the proposal so it’s at its best when submitted for consideration.
The more work you do on your book before submitting it to agents, the more likely you are to snag representation.
Ask former teachers, colleagues, and trusted friends to read your proposal or work of fiction. When you’re at the stage of looking for representation, your work should be as close to editorial consideration as possible. As all writers know, working on something for a lengthy amount of time can cause you to lose sight of your original passion and intentions for the project. Giving a trusted friend or advisor your material to read is a good time to take a break and step away from your book for a while. Then, with (hopefully) helpful notes, you can return with a fresh outlook.
Do. Your. Research.
This is the most essential and important piece of advice for writers seeking representation. Research. If you want to find the perfect fit, make a list of books or writers that you love, and then a second, more specific list of books that are similar to your project. Cross reference those two lists and look to see who represents those books. Once you have that list, do more research. Find out what kind of other books those agents represent, how many clients they have, what size agency they work for, and whether they accept unsolicited work. Then you have your list of names. When you write your query letter, be sure to mention the books or clients that made you think your work would be a good fit and why. This shows the agent that you’ve done your homework, and that goes a long way.
Read more: Literary Agents: Do Writers Really Need Them?
Do What’s Best for Your Book
The fact of the matter is there are great agents out there that have long lists of famous and successful clients, but those agents may not be the best ones for your book. As Anna Sproul-Latimer of the Ross Yoon Agency explains, “As an agent specializing in adult nonfiction, I’m looking above all for standout voices: authors made unforgettable by their talent, expertise, or platform. Ideally, they are so enthusiastic and compelling in pursuit of their work that (inter)national audiences are already paying attention.”
Oftentimes there will be a second tier or more junior agent at the same place who’s worked under the wing of these more senior agents. Those junior agents are looking for a project to make their name. It could be yours. Emerging agents are a great way to ensure that you get a lot of personal attention for your project. More senior agents with big name clients just don’t have the time. You want an agent who is passionate about your project and who has the energy and time to devote to selling your book.