Finding a Literary Agent


So you’ve written a manuscript.  Now the hard work begins: finding someone to publish it.

Sending a manuscript off to a publisher uninvited lands you smack dab in the middle of the slush pile.  Publishers receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each year, and with the rise in agency representation, the quality of these has fallen.  About 95% are rejected straight away, with a slight 5% garnering a bit more attention from editing and marketing staff.  Sadly, only a small portion ever makes it to print.

You can optimise your chances of publication by signing with a literary agent.  While some new writers wail that it is more difficult to get an agent than a publisher, it really is the only way to have your manuscript seriously considered. It is, therefore, a goal worth working towards.

First Steps in Signing with a Literary Agent
Just like you need to stand out to publishers; you need to appeal to the literary agent.  And, just as with publishers, agents don’t want your manuscript uninvited—it just lands you in their slush pile.  To get an invitation, you’ll need to:

  • polish your writer’s CV;
  • build a profile;
  • get a referral from an industry professional; and
  • present yourself and your manuscript in a professional manner.

The Writer’s CV
Your writer’s CV is the agent’s first view of you as a potential client.  It should be divided into the following sections:

  • A short bio
  • Comments from others about your work
  • Awards or achievements
  • Professional associations
  • Publications
  • Education
  • Related work experience

Getting a Referral to an Agent
By joining a local writer’s centre, attending workshops with published writers and professional editors, you can make some important contacts.   Politely ask if you may use their names when sending an inquiry to an agent.  You’ll be surprised just how generous established writers are—after all, they were once in your position.

Presenting Your Work
Each agency has preferred way of being approached.  Investigate this.  Some prefer a call first, others an email or letter.  Many want only your CV, a synopsis, and a sample chapter.  If they like what they see, they’ll request the rest.

The agent will want to know a few things about you:

  • You’ve done your homework and have followed submission guidelines.
  • You’re professional.
  • You can take criticism and respond to suggestions.
  • You’re in it for the long-term.

Chances are an agent will test you a bit, asking for another draft or a new ending or requesting you get rid of a character.  Don’t be touchy—this is a good sign!  How you handle it will determine your level of professionalism.  If you feel that the ending is artistically important or that the character in question is crucial to the plot, go ahead and explain your position, but do it as calmly and as matter-of-factly as possible.  Remember too, that professional input like this usually makes a work better.

It’s a time consuming process, so don’t expect an immediate result.  Nurture the connection.  Produce the next draft (and the next).  Be patient.  Some writers wait months from the initial inquiry to the moment when they finally sign the contract with an agency.

An Agent Will Increase Chances for Success
There is no doubt that having a literary agent dramatically increases the chance of your manuscript being published.  Not only does it give you credibility as a writer, but you’ve got an advocate in the process—someone with connections and know-how and, most importantly, someone who believes in you.  By Adair Jones.

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