Here’s the problem. You have a manuscript, but you need a publisher. Most publishers don’t like receiving manuscripts from authors that don’t have an agent. This is called an “unsolicited” submission. Publishers like to let agents sort the best manuscripts out of what comes in the mail or email each week so they can focus on printing the good stuff that can make everyone money.
There are a few writers who can get published without an agent. Some writers might choose self-publishing instead. If you want a chance at the big publishing houses out there, however, you’re 99.9% certain to need a publishing agent. Here’s how you can go about finding one that will want to work with you.
#1. Find a publishing agent that works with your genre. Agents tend to pick and choose specific literary genres that they represent. They do so for a good reason – it’s what their publishing contacts prefer to see for submissions. If you’re writing romance novels and the publishing agent is only accepting horror and science fiction work, then you’re novel is likely to be rejected unless you have cyborgs, demons, and rogue space captains as your characters. Look to see what the publishing agent accepts before you follow the next steps.
#2. Create a query letter. Your query letter should be professional in all aspects. It should be free from errors as much as possible. Offer the agent a short glimpse of what your novel is about, who your main character happens to be, and what the goal of the book happens to be. Include a 1 or 2 sentence bio about yourself as well and who you believe the target market for your novel happens to be.
#3. Submit your manuscript as instructed. This is what trips up a lot of writers when they’re trying to find a publishing agent. There will be specific submission instructions for your manuscript. Some agents only want the first 3 chapters of your book. Others are going to want the entire manuscript to read. Some agents might prefer a certain file type, a specific font, or even specific file formatting. If you don’t follow these requests, you’re almost certain to have your submission rejected. You probably won’t even hear back from the agent.
#4. Give the publishing agent time to review your work. This is another common error that writers, especially new writers, tend to make. They’re anxious to get their work published and this is understandable, but agents also need to work with their writers that are actually making them money already to stay in business. A good rule of thumb is to wait 60-90 days for a response from the agent. If you don’t hear anything, then assume you’ve been rejected. Some publishing agents might also request that you follow-up with them after a certain time if you haven’t heard from them. Always follow these requests to the letter.
#5. Don’t use simple writing. “I have a book that I’ve finished. Would you like to read it?” Uh… no. The goal of contacting a publishing agent is to prove that you have the chops to make it in the industry as a writer. Your query letter should have a similar narrative as your manuscript does. Use language that is clear and precise. Be informative. Make it so the agent can’t bear to not read your submission because you’ve made your query letter so enticing.
#6. Watch out for the traps. Most publishing agents operate in very ethical ways. Some, however, take advantage of the desperation that some writers may have to get their work published. Agents should not be charging you review fees, printing fees to submit work to publishers, or other costs that might be offered to be “paid back” if you get published. These agents cost writers thousands of dollars every year and really have no incentive to get a publisher to print the work because their writers are giving them their paycheck every week.
#7. Try to be exclusive. Publishing agents don’t always like it when you make simultaneous submissions for representation. Although it takes more time to contact one agent at a time, you might find that the responses you receive will be more positive, even if the purpose of contacting you is to offer an apologetic rejection.
Knowing how to find a publishing agent can mean the difference between getting published or getting rejected. Follow these steps, be courteous and professional, and you’ll eventually find the right relationship that can help you become the published author you want to be.