We’re not going to sugar-coat it for you: getting a literary agent is hard. Just because you have a good book, doesn’t mean agents will be fighting to represent you. In fact, just because you have a good book doesn’t mean you’ll get represented at all. The industry is extremely competitive and you have to be equally as competitive to succeed- regardless of the quality of your work. You need to not only know how to push for yourself but also know what is going to be expected of you and rise to the challenge. To help, we’ve outlined the general steps you’ll need to take when attempting to find a literary agent:
Finish your book first
We cannot stress this enough- do not start applying to agents before you have your book finished. Agents want a finished product, they don’t want a half-baked book- no matter how good yours is. Agents will typically allow submissions from one person only one time so there’s no quicker way to cut your options in half than by submitting when you have absolutely no chance of being accepted.
Write a Synopsis & Query Letter
Literary agents will typically ask for a few things initially: a synopsis of your book and a query letter. Your synopsis should be roughly a page long and it should focus on charting our the main plot of the book. This isn’t your chance to show off your writing prowess or pitch your book to the agent (that’s what the query letter is for). The synopsis is just to chart out the action of the story so the agent knows where the story is headed before they request it. If there’s a big plot twist or genre shift in the middle of your book, the agent will want to know about it before they read.
The query letter is one of the most important parts of obtaining a literary agent. Agents don’t initially ask to read your full manuscript, they’ll mainly look toward your Query letter as a way to gauge their interest in your work. This letter should be an approximately 300-word pitch to get an agent interested in your work. Every writer and agent has different advice on how to format your letter, so do your research and figure out what’s right for your book. This is the first thing an agent will look at, so don’t be afraid to enlist an editor or query expert for help if you need it.
Review your first three chapters
The last thing that agents will ask for is a small sample of your book. Every agent has different requirements, but they’ll typically ask for anything between one to three chapters of your manuscript. If your query letter has them intrigued, they’ll go on to check out this sample. From that point, they’ll decide whether they want to read your full manuscript. Make sure you comb through the first three chapters and edit them to perfection. Make sure they’re exciting, full of action and that they’re not bogged down with a lot of exposition.
Once you have your book summary, query letter, and first three chapters ready to go- start to query literary agents. You’ll need to do some research to find agents that are right for your book. Make sure you’re only applying to agents that specialize in the specific genre and subject matter that your book consists of. You’ll be wasting your time querying an agent who specifies in horror books if yours is a romance. It doesn’t matter how good yours is- they’re not going to take it. Some good websites to get you started are Publisher’s Marketplace and Agent Query.
Follow Directions & Stay Organized
One of the biggest no-no’s of applying to agents is failing to follow directions. Each agent will have different specifications on what they want to see when you initially submit. Some will want a synopsis, others won’t. Some will want only your first chapter, others may want your first three. Make sure you’re looking at all of the information and following directions. Agents won’t even look at your submission if you didn’t submit properly.
In addition, because you’ll likely have to submit to dozens or even hundreds of agents- it’s best to stay as organized as possible. We recommend keeping a spreadsheet of agents submitted to, their credentials, their contact info, and whether they’ve responded. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of submitting to the same people over and over again. Not only will that waste your time, but if the agent was considering you and you submit three separate times they’ll likely turn you down, thinking you’re difficult to work with. Think about it: if you gave someone your number and they immediately left you three separate voicemails, would you call them back?