Literary Agent

The hard work does not end once a manuscript is written, getting a book published takes commitment, persistence and determination. Being represented by a literary agent might be the path you want to take, but finding the right agent can take time.

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There are number of paths you could follow, and Jane Friedman’s infographic: 4 Key Book Publishing Paths, outlines these.
Some publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts, but usually their slush pile is massive and you can get a quicker response, and avoid getting stuck in the slush pile, by using a literary agent.
You find a literary agent in much the same way that you find a publisher. If you are interested in finding a publisher, you should read my previous post Finding a Publisher.

  • Write your book: Sound obvious? If you are a first time novelist, this point is vital. Why? Because you have no track record and no proof that you actually have the skill and dedication to write a book. This means that if you are just pitching an idea, you won’t have much credibility.
  • Polish your sample pages: Have you ever spent hours cleaning your house to sit down and notice you missed a spot? There is no room for error at this stage – go back and have another go at it, get someone else to read over it, hire a proofreader to pick up issues you just don’t see, or hire an editor to really whip it into shape.
  • Know your audience: Editors will ask you what genre your book is and you need to have a clear idea. You should also have a good understanding of who your audience is – that is: who is likely to read your book. You need to be able to indicate both of these things concisely. Saying your book is historical romantic fiction with elements of crime and humour that will be read by anyone interested, will just not cut it! Be specific and be succinct.
  • Research the market: What books, comparable to yours, are currently being sold? Visit bookstores and libraries, and search eBook stores looking for books akin to yours – start with your genre and audience, e.g.: children’s fantasy fiction (or whatever it might be). Take note of the title, author, publisher and editor of each book. Read the Author Acknowledgement page and see if they thanked their agent – jot this name down too. It is also a good idea to read some of books to develop a good understanding of your genre and how your book differs from what is on the market. What does your book offer that these do not? Where does your book fit in the current market?
  • Research agents: You want to find the right agent for your book. There is no point wasting your time or the agent’s time by sending them a genre in which they have no interest. You should have already started gathering a list of potential agents when you were researching the market (above point). Add to this list by now researching literary agencies and agents. You also need to research them because they probably don’t advertise (good agents don’t really need to). You can conduct an Internet search, check out resources at your local library, investigate what information is held at your closest writers’ centre or find services that have searchable databases of publishers and literary agents; e.g.: Duotrope, The Australian Writer’s Market, Writers and Artists are services that work on a subscription basis. Once you have completed your ‘potential agents’ list, visit the website of each agent. Look at the list of books they have agented that have gone on to publication. Also see if they are listed with an association such as the Australian Literary Agents’ Association. It is important to note here that many agencies want you to contact one agent within their agency. This means that, not only do you need to research the agency, but you also need to assess which agent is best for your submission. This can be very time consuming, but is worth getting right.
  • Create a list: Take note books in each agents’ booklist that are comparable to yours, if they accept simultaneous submissions, what their submission guidelines are, the name and title of the person to whom you send your manuscript.
  • Get connected: Attend conferences and writers’ festivals – many have ‘meet the agent’ events. These can provide the perfect opportunity to get actual feedback from an agent regarding your submission rather than a stock letter response. Join your local writers’ centre and attend industry events – meet people in the industry and get as much information as you can. Seek referrals from anyone you might know who can help you on your path.
  • Prepare your manuscript: As a general rule, your manuscript should be formatted as follows: double-spaced, numbered pages, readable font (such as courier or times new Roman), reasonable font size (10-12 pt.). Remember to follow the submission guidelines set out by the individual agents and agencies – they often ask for slightly different things and so you need to read these carefully and follow them to the letter. You should have a synopsis and query letter written at this point – your query letter will go out to the agency(s) you are targeting and many (though not all) agents request a synopsis. You can get this done while you are in the final stages of redrafting your manuscript. This will also help you understand your genre and audience. For more information on how to write a synopsis and query letter, read my previous blogs How to Write a Synopsis and How to Write a Query Letter.
  • Submit your manuscript: Make sure you include everything the agent has asked for in their submission guidelines, always address your package to the right person (include their name and title), and, if you are submitting a hardcopy, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
  • Wait for feedback: Many agencies will send you some form of confirmation of receipt of your manuscript, but not all, so don’t panic if this is not forthcoming. Some agencies will respond to you quickly (often those who are not interested in your manuscript, let’s face it, they have a very good idea of what they are looking for, and if your work does not fit, they will not waste your time.) It can take months to hear back from some agents to respond, so be prepared. Often their timeframe is indicated on the agency website – take note of this on your list of agents. Usually you can submit your manuscript to several agents simultaneously, however, make note of any who state that they do not accept simultaneous submissions.
  • Don’t give up: Most authors receive MULTIPLE rejections. It can be all too easy to feel disappointed when these come in, but they are all part of the process. Don’t become disheartened, persistence and a positive outlook are the keys! Caitlan LaRue’s blog: Why Finding an Agent or Publisher is Like Dating: A Scary Analogy, is definitely worth a read! If one agent within an agency rejects your manuscript, sometimes there is more than one agent dealing with the same genre, so chances are you can then send it on to another agent within that agency. Don’t let rejections discourage you, just bundle another submission package together and send it out to another agency/agent. I create a first, second and third (or however many you need) round of submissions and just keep rolling them out. Most agents will send you some kind of form letter response – DO NOT expect individual feedback, if this is what you are looking for then perhaps it is worth seeking a manuscript assessment instead.
  • Maintain your perspective: When an agent expresses an interest in your manuscript, avoid jumping up and signing with them immediately. Take time to consider what’s on offer. Ask questions. Make sure you are clear about the agreement you are entering into and that you are comfortable with everything. Legitimate agents will not ask for your money, rather they take a commission from your advance and a percentage of sales from your book, so if they require payment of any kind for anything (editing fees, admin fees, etc.) then it is best to walk away.

Note: If you are planning on self-publishing, or looking at niche publication or small presses, you will not need an agent, you can submit to them yourself – just look on their websites for submission guidelines.

Writing and Editing Services:

A manuscript assessment is when you get a detailed appraisal or critique of your book in a comprehensive report covering what works and what does not, as well as suggestions on how you might move forward to further develop your manuscript. A Worded Life: Writing and Eding Services offer manuscript assessment services and can also help you to develop your submission package. Contact A Worded Life for your quote today.

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