Steps to Getting a Literary Agent

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You've finished your novel or crafted a professional book proposal, and you've decided you need a literary agent. Now you're thinking, what's next? 

How to Get A Literary Agent

It may seem like a daunting task, but the good news is that agents need writers—it's how they make their living. The bad news is that they get hundreds, perhaps thousands, of e-mails every day from writers just like you. Here's what you can do to stand out from the crowd.

Go Through Your Network

Ask anyone you know in book publishing if they know an agent, or know someone who knows an agent. If you don't know anyone in book publishing, get to know somebody in book publishing.

Do you know anyone in publishing who might know an agent? Do your friends or relatives know someone? How about your friends-of-friends or your alumni association? Don't be afraid to ask for a referral and have your query letter handy for forwarding.

Many agents speak at writer's programs, book festivals and conferences, like Romance Writers of America's annual conference. Look for writer's events in your community. You can inquire at your local colleges, libraries, civic centers, etc. Build your skills while making connections and listen when an agent tells you how he or she likes to be approached (e.g., e-mail versus snail mail)—the question will inevitably come up and if it doesn't, ask.

Gather Agent Names From Publications or Websites

Another approach is to scour the web and other venues to see who you can go to, including the following:

  • AAR - Association of Author's Representatives. There's a list of member agents, with varying amounts of information about them.
  • Publishersmarketplace.com. Go to the site and type in "agents." You'll get a list of pages containing lots of information about agents' clients, deals, etc.
  • Literary Market Place. A comprehensive industry reference book, updated every year, usually found in, or accessed from, your local public library.
  • Writers Market. Also updated every year, this is targeted toward writers and widely available from booksellers.
  • Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. This is an annual publication targeted at writers, published by the owner of the Jeff Herman Agency.
  • Go old school. This tried-and-true method is still around because it works. Find the books that are similar to yours in genre and audience, and then look at the acknowledgments—authors often thank their agents.

Target Those Likely to Respond to You

Many agents stick to a few areas of specialization, whether it's women's fiction, memoirs, cookbooks, self-help, or sports. This enables them to know all facets of the particular marketplace. Discover who might be more inclined to want to represent you, consider doing the following:

  • Many agency websites list their roster of clients and books so you can see where your book might fit in. Some websites include bios of the agents, their particular interests, if they're open to inquiries, and how they'd like to be approached.
  • Dig deeper into the agents you found on the Publishersmarketplace.com site. These pages have information about agents' clients, some of the deals they've made, and a whole lot more.
  • Mediabistro.com has a "Pitching an Agent" section that gives detailed and specific information about what selected agencies are looking for. It also has a list of who to pitch at the company and exactly how they want to be approached. You can see if a particular agent is covered and get a small snippet of the interview without being a paid AvantGuild member.

    Make Yourself Known to Your Target Literary Agents

    Many literary agents are on social media. Being active and using best practices) on social media helps grease the wheels with agents with whom you don't have a personal connection. 

    Agents are more likely to respond if you've met them or if you've been referred, or if you've been actively retweeting their authors. They'll recognize your name when you contact them.

    Write a Succinct, Professional Query Letter

    If you have a name to drop at the top of your query letter, go ahead and use it. If you've been retweeting their authors, you may have some sort of social media connection to which you can refer. You need to become a person on paper—someone recognizable.

    And, of course, being professional is just as important if you were referred—you owe it to the person who referred you, especially if you ever want to use the contact again.

    What to Include in Your Letter

    Make sure you proofread your query letter before you send it and include the following elements:

    • Your connection to the agent in one sentence. For example, you met them/heard them speak at the [name] seminar. Or, you were referred by [name of person]. Or, you know they represent [your kind] of book.
    • State what kind of book it is. How-to? Self-help? Business? Novel? And be specific, what genre of novel?
    • A three- or four-sentence summary of the book. Don't relate the whole plot. The more enticing you can make those few sentences, the better. Think: what would a book jacket say?
    • Brief background about why you wrote the book, and any positive feedback you've already gotten on your proposal or novel from established sources.
    • Your credentials. What qualifies you to write that non-fiction book? Where has your work been published before? What's your platform?