Literary Agents and Where to Find Them

If you’re pursuing the traditional route of publishing, then your world will slowly revolve around query letters and literary agents.

Initially, I was going to compare finding an agent to dating, using the timeless analogy that it takes a number of bad dates (rejection letters) to land on the one that’s meant to be. But while you do want to you and your agent to be a good match, it’s a lot more strategic than the dating game. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Do I need an agent?

Simple answer: It depends!

If you want to be published by one of the top publishing houses, then absolutely yes. The larger publishers will not accept unsolicited submission, meaning you will have to have an agent before your work can even end up on a slush pile.

If you’re intrigued by the idea by a small or boutique publisher, then perhaps not. There are a lot of smaller houses that seek unsolicited submissions. But make sure you vet the publisher before signing anything, and if they ask you to pay anything… run!

If you plan on going the indie route, then stop reading this article, there are plenty other resources you can scour for indie authors.

Where do I start?

There are several ways to search for agents.

Here’s a few recommended websites to find agents, whether they are accepting submissions, and what they are looking for:

You can also go to your local bookstore, select a few titles that match your genre, flip to the acknowledgements in the back and jot down the agents. Research those names to see if they are accepting submissions or see if they have a colleague with similar taste.

How many agents should I submit to?

Querying can be a bit of a numbers game. Expect plenty of rejection; it’s going to happen. That being said, don’t shoot off query letters to just any agent open for submissions. The “shotgun” approach doesn’t work. Agents can tell if your submission was copied and pasted with no personalization.

Narrow down your list by only including agents that are looking for books in the genre yours is written. Usually, the agent will have some kind of “manuscript wish list”, either on the official site, twitter, or their company’s website. Spend some time to search for the agents where your book checks multiple boxes on their wish list. 

You want to try to match on more than just genre, but also look for elements of style, tone, and theme. If they mention comparable tiles or authors, that’s a great sign!

Try to keep your agent list to around 50-100 agents top. And consider submitting in batches of 5-10 agents at a time. Personalize those query letters and wait a week or two before sending a new batch.

You may wish to adjust your query approach after a few rejections, especially if an agent had responded with feedback. There might be nothing inherently wrong with your book, it might be publishing gold! But the way you’re trying to sell it might not be working out.

Resending to the same agents

I wouldn’t.

Unless the agent specifically tells you to revise and resubmit, receiving a rejection from them is a thanks, but no thanks for that manuscript. Even if you drastically change your manuscript, don’t re-submit the same story.

However, if you have a completely different manuscript, you could get away with querying the same agent. But always remember to be respectful and professional when submitting. These agents are human beings.

The importance of a right fit

It might be hard to judge by a photo and a few paragraphs of a bio, but trust your gut when you think an agent might be a good match. Querying is embarking on a business relationship. Your agent is going to be your biggest cheerleader working on getting your book published. You want to be compatible with that future cheerleader.

Your agent will also be the biggest advocate for your book and will help you with securing that book contract. You both will invest a great deal of trust and respect, so, like dating, if you have any weird inklings out of the gate––it might not be a match made in heaven.

Best of luck and keep at it!

Rejection is inevitable.

Keep in mind that a rejection is not a reflection of you or your writing. There are a lot of factors that can behind an agent’s decision, and we don’t often get the luxury of learning those factors. It might have to be the right stoke of providence, where you send the right letter to the right agent and things just work.

If I had to pick one final piece of advice to end this article with, it is to keep at it. No two writers have the same path and remember why you started and just keep at it.

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