How to Find a Literary Agent


This is a topic that is widely discussed amongst writers and novelists-in-the-making.  It’s a topic that very relevant now because of the precarious relationship between traditional publishing and e-publishing.  Many still feel that traditional publishing is still the way to go because you still will have the veneer of success stamped on you because a traditional publisher accepted and published your work.  This is the epitome of the author having arrived.
However, with so many success stories of independent writers who are making a name for themselves and selling their books through their own marketing efforts (John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Richard Phillips to name a few…), you wonder if it is possible for the average writer.
John Locke has a book that describes how he sold one million books in 5 months.  It gives step-by-step details – but do you have the time, patience and tech/software savvy to handle all of the simple steps and the ongoing promotions and marketing required?
Well, that’s something only you can answer.  However, even if you don’t self-publish, creating a brand and a platform in social media is becoming increasingly more important even when in contract with a traditional publisher.  Publishers want to know that you can engage a decent amount of readers and are not clueless in today’s new publishing arena.
So, if you think your manuscript is polished with tight grammar, spelling and punctuation let’s move on with acquiring a literary agent!
Step #1: Make sure the literary agent you are submitting to is not the first person to read your completed novel.  Have a dry run editor and/or beta readers who provide feedback on your work.  And then, make sure you listen to this feedback and get some other opinions to ensure that you know from a few readers what are the high points and low points of your story.
Step #2: Once your manuscript has gone through the beta readers and/or editor and gets a green light go ahead and begin making the edits/changes suggested from the feedback.  Re-read, or have others re-read again to ensure that you’ve fixed the items that needed clarifying, expansion, contracting – or whatever was needed.
Step #3: Begin creating your query letter which will be your book’s introduction to the literary agent(s) of your choice.  The query begins with an introduction detailing why you chose the agent to pitch your book to and to show that you know something of that agent.  Research and read as much as you can about the agent and incorporate what you’ve learned in that first paragraph.
The second paragraph is your book’s synopsis.  Tell what your novel’s about in 250 – 400 words – less if possible!  Give them sizzle and pizzazz.  Make the agent want to read what you’ve written.  You can compare your book with a similar set of books so they get the idea quickly.  Give them a titillating blurb that will make them want to ask for more pages of your book.  You must also tell them where your book will go on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar store, or where it will be cataloged in an online bookstore.  Is it a psychological thriller?  Is it a historical romance?  Is it a Christian Western romance?  Let them know!  How many readers are in this market?  If you know, you can share that!
The third paragraph is your bio – why are you the right person to write this particular book?  Who the heck are you???  Let them know of your quirky personality through eclectic language that is uniquely you.  This is the time to showcase your ability as a writer!  If you’re having trouble writing about you, pretend you’re writing about someone else!  Be as objective as possible but funny as all get out if that’s who you are!
Step #4: Get another pair of eyes on your query to ensure you didn’t omit something important!  When trying to condense we sometimes overlook extremely important pieces.  While you’re at it, have them check for typos and any other glaring mistakes.
Step #5: SPELL THE AGENT’S NAME RIGHT!  Yeah, I know this is silly but it is extremely important.  If you read the blogs and follow agents’ social media accounts, you will see that simple things like not spelling their name right labels that author as ‘sloppy’ or worse – lazy.
Step #6: Send out that query according to the specifications of the agent’s blog or post.  If they ask for a query with 5 pages of your book – give them what they ask for!  Do not give them more or less.  If they ask that you paste it in the body of the email – DO THAT!  If you send an attachment, in most cases, they will not open it and your query will be discarded without being read.  Following instructions at the outset (and throughout the process) is important.
Step #7: Repeat steps 3-7 until you acquire an agent!
There’s no magic bullet or pill that will find you an agent in 10 days.  The average amount of queries one needs to send out before beginning to even expect to get an agent’s interest is 100 queries.  I recently corresponded with one writer who sent out over 200 queries and had 3 agents request to see the full manuscript.  As you can see, the percentages are not in the writer’s favor but if this is the road you want to pursue be persistent.
To help your chances, you should attend literary events in your area to get up close and personal to a living breathing literary agent.  Know that the agents will be inundated with hopeful authors such as yourself throughout the literary event.  However, having met an agent face-to-face, you can make an impression that can make the request of seeing your manuscript come much more quickly than if you had simply sent your query via snail mail or email.
To help you find agents, please check out these links:
About this Guest Poster:
Rochelle Campbell is a Brooklyn-based writer who has written two full-length novels and over 25 short stories.  Chambray Curtains Blowing inthe Wind was published in 2009 by Bartleby-Snopes Literary Magazine.  You can buy her short story collection, Leaping Out on Faith, on Amazon for 99-cents (http://www.amazon.com/Leaping-Out-On-Faith-ebook/dp/B007RGBQNA).  She is also on a quest to acquire a literary agent.
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