How To Land a Literary Agent to Represent You and Your Novel

Common questions most published authors get are, "How did you do it? Where did you start? How did you get your agent?" 

There are a ton of avenues for publishing once you've completed your novel. For me, I knew I wanted to go the traditional publishing route by finding an agent and having him/her pitch my manuscript to a publishing house. I didn't have enough experience in publishing to even attempt to know where to start with editing, publishing, and marketing my novel on my own. I needed a team of experts helping me. (That's not to say you can't have a team of experts helping you self-publish. I just knew I wanted to start my author journey with traditional publishing.)  Keep in mind that just because you land an agent doesn't automatically mean you'll get published, either. But it does increases your chances a lot. 

Agents are a great direct connection to the publishing world. They know what editors want and keep track of trends. 

There are lots of great ways to meet an agent and pitch to them. 

Some common methods are: 

  • Write a query letter
  • Pitch an agent at a conference
  • Enter a writing contest 
  • Be referred by another author

Pitching to agents can feel like a full-time job sometimes because of the time it takes to write and rewrite your query letter, make a list of which agents fit into your genre/interests, keep track of who you've sent letters to or spoken with, and who requested a partial or full of your MS.

Here are some steps to follow in your attempt at finding your perfect literary agent: 

Step 1:

Write your query letter

Make sure it's succinct, shows off your voice, and has a killer hook. Share it with your network of writer friends, your family, your mom--whoever.  Show it to SOMEONE so they can read it for typos, grammar, and also to see if it entices them to want to read your novel. If they aren't dying to check out your novel, then you still have some work to do.  It needs to draw them in and make them salivate to read more.

Step 2: Check out online resources like Query Tracker to help you find agents that represent the genre in which your write. 

Step 3: Make a list of all the agents, their contact information, authors they rep that are similar to your style, and how to contact them. I chose agents who ONLY accepted email queries.  Much faster to send and get a response back. Plus, in this digital age, I wanted someone up with the modern times.

Step 4: Prioritize your list of agents from OH MY GOSH YES! to THEY WOULD BE GOOD to THEY SEEM DECENT.

Step 5: Start testing the waters and send your query letter out. I chose 5 agents from each of my priority lists to start.  I gauged how well my query letter was based on the reaction I received back from them. If I received very few requests for a partial or full the first time I sent the letter out, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board. If I received some interest, I sent my letter out to 5 more agents on each priority list to test again. By the end of my list, I had a great response rate for partials or fulls.

Step 6: Keep track of the comments you're getting back, requests for partials or fulls, and rejections. It's not cool to resend your query to an agent if they've already responded once. Also, keep track when you sent your MS to agents so you can follow up.  Agents are busy, so don't send your MS out today and then expect a response back by next weekend. They need at least 4 weeks, some might ask for even longer. Once a reasonable amount of time has passed and you haven't heard anything, it's okay to follow up. Check out the agent's website to see if they list their anticipated response times. Most do.

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Step 7: If you get serious interest in your MS (and/or an agent would like to represent you), it's common courtesy to reach out to the agents who currently have your partial or full, and let them know so they can decide if they would like to have a chance to read it. Most will move your MS up in the queue and get to it quicker.  But DO NOT tell them you have interest or an offer from another agent if you really don't. That's definitely a NO-NO.

Step 8: Don't simply sign with an agent just because they offered representation. Make sure you and said agent are a great fit. Make sure you feel confident that they understand your desires for this business. Make sure they are the best-suited person to rep you and speak for you. 

Step 9: Ask questions to the prospective agent.

There are questions you can ask the offering agent(s) to help you decide if they are your best candidate: 

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  • What does the agent like best about your project?
  • Does the agent feel the project is ready for submission to publishers or will he/she require revisions?
  • If revisions are needed, are they small things or does he/she want a major plot or character development change?
  • Which publishing houses does the agent believe would be a good fit for your book? 
  • How many editors does he/she plan to pitch in the first round of submissions? (six or more at one time is average)
  • What is their communication strategy like? How often will he/she update you regarding the status of your submissions?
  • Is the agent interested in only this project? Or are they interested in your future books too?
  • Does the agency handle the sale of subsidiary rights (foreign, film, audio, translation)? 
  • What is their success rate? What projects have they successfully sold recently?
  • Can they offer referrals of current or previous clients that you can reach out to?

Step 10: Read and review the agent and author contract to make sure you can comply and agree with everything. There are standards of commission that agents earn, so check what the standard is in your market/genre. Most are 20% from what your publisher pays you.

Step 11: Once you've made your selection, be sure to reach out to the other agents you've queried and let them know that your project is no longer available for consideration. This is a SMALL industry. Don't be inconsiderate. 

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Step 12: Don't stop writing. Submitting your MS to publishers TAKES TIME.  Don't sit around waiting for word back. Keep your brain active and start working on another novel. It'll help you to pass the time quicker, plus it gives you a leg up if/when publishers want to see more work from you.

Step 13: Use your agent as a resource.  They are the expert when it comes to dealing with publishing houses. That's what you're paying him/her for. Get them involved in any hairy situation.

Step 14: Congratulations on your accomplishment!! Be proud of your hard work and that others are appreciating it.  Keep learning, keep honing your craft, and keep writing.

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*If you'd like to check out my publishing journey, from writing and sending out my query letter, to getting an agent, and releasing my first published novel. You can read that here