Acquiring a literary agent is always portrayed as a near impossible feat. Granted, while it isn’t a walk in the park, if you have your ducks in a row, it is very possible for you to land a great literary agent for your next book. Having recently signed with an NYC-based rock star of an agent, I was able to get firsthand experience of the query trenches and want to share what I’ve learned with you. If you want to write a book and traditionally publish, below are five ways on how to get a literary agent.
5 Ways How to Get a Literary Agent
1. Be Prepared
Prior to seeking an agent, ensure that what you are sending to them in your book proposal is in the best shape possible. For example, if writing nonfiction, include: A compelling overview of the book, a detailed promotional/marketing plan, well-targeted competitive analysis, impressive author bio, succinct outline, and well-selected sample chapters.
If writing fiction, the entire book must be completed prior to reaching out to agents. It is best if the copy has been through multiple rounds of edits. The edits help catch spelling and grammatical errors and clarify the storyline to catch any plot holes.
2. The Importance of Research
Literary agents work with specific sub-genres and often have unique query requests. Because of this, it’s important to do your research. Look for agents who specialize in the type of book you have written. Just because an agent has represented a particular genre in the past does not mean that they still represent it today.
Great resources for finding out which genres agents represent are Query Tracker and Publishers Marketplace. You may also find Manuscript Wishlist helpful. Use these tools to come up with a list of well-suited agents.
Once you’ve found agents who represent books like yours and are open to queries, check out their agency website to find out what their guidelines are for submitting.
Many are surprised to discover just how much the requests vary from one agent to the next (sometimes even in the same agency). One agent may request your query letter only, while another may want your query and proposal specifying no attachments. Yet another may want your query letter along with the first 15 pages of your manuscript in PDF format. Whatever you do, follow their guidelines exactly. Failure to do so is often met with an instant rejection.
3. Query the Perfect Fit for You and Your Book
A query letter (basically a cold pitch) is your first, and often only chance to grab an agent. Years ago this was a formal letter written and sent via snail mail to agents, with authors introducing themselves and their book idea with the hope that the agent would want to see more.
A query letter is typically a single page letter stating you are seeking representation for your book. Additionally, you’ll want to include your book’s genre and why you believe it’ll be a good fit for them.
You’ll need to provide a brief synopsis of your book and give a bit of information about yourself and why you’re the perfect person to write the book. Most agents will also want to know the word count of your book.
Also, “Dear agent” greetings and querying multiple agents on the same thread are big no-nos. Each query should be addressed to the specific agent and customized to fit their guidelines. “Dear [agent name]” is always a safe bet. Send queries to only a few agents—five at the most—initially to test the strength of your query.
4. When You Get an Offer of Representation…
While some literary agents are quick to fire off standard form rejections, others reject it with an explanation, and many others may ghost you and not respond at all—dealing with all of these possible scenarios requires mental fortitude.
But then there may come the day you get “the call.” The call in which a literary agent shares that they’d like to represent you on your publishing journey.
As exciting as an offer can be, never accept right away. It’s best to extend gratitude for their interest and inform them that there are other agents who are currently considering your work and that you’d like to extend the courtesy of advising them of your offer of rep. This gives the other agents a chance to throw their hat in the ring while also ensuring that you find the very best match for you and your book. Agents are used to this and should be fine with you getting back to them with your final decision within a reasonable time (two weeks would be the absolute max for this.)
5. Accept offer
Finally, give your selected agent a phone call (within the time frame promised) to formally accept their offer of representation. If they have a formal contract (many do), they’ll likely send it your way at this time.
Other Important Must-Knows
Literary agents (and publishing houses) should never ask for money from you. Literary agents do not get paid unless you do. It is standard for them to receive a 15% commission of your book advance and royalties. It is not acceptable for them to request any money upfront, so if they ask, run, they’re likely a scam.
It’s important to know that if you’re writing a nonfiction book, most literary agents are looking for authors with a platform. That is a primed and ready group of people already interested in what it is that you have to say. If this is not you, as you have not started building a social presence, it’s best to begin building an author platform prior to seeking an agent.
Black Enterprise Contributors Network
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