If you’re a writer, then there’s a good chance your goal is to become a published author. You could try to submit an unsolicited manuscript to certain publishers, but that may produce zero results. That’s why when you’ve written a book, you’ll want to know how to get a literary agent to represent you and your work to publishers. By being agented, you open up many more doors for your work.
The first step you must take is to understand the relationship which must exist between the literary agent and you. No one can “find” an agent for you. There is a research process that must be conducted and you are really the only person who can do that. Then you must go on the following journey to discover if finding a literary agent to represent your work is something that is even necessary.
Step #1: Know Your Potential
Although every writer would like to be published by one of the major publishers in the world today, not every book is suitable for that level of exposure. Some books are better with mid-size publishers. Others are best suited for boutique or even on-demand publishing.
Just like every book may not be suitable for certain publishers, your work may not be suitable for certain literary agents either. You must be honest with yourself and determine what the commercial potential for your manuscript happens to be. If you don’t think you’ll be able to sell 20,000 copies of your book, then a large publisher is not likely to want your work. That, in turn, dictates your search for a literary agent.
If you’re not sure about the potential for your work, then look for what is known as a “manuscript wish list” that is offered by some publishers and literary agents. This will let you know if your work fits in with the trends that the industry are finding to be potentially strong for sales right now.
Step #2: Do You Even Need an Agent?
A literary agent is an expert in the publishing industry. They know what will sell and they know how to present that work to a publisher. Their inside contacts within the industry unlock a lot of doors for writers. Your rights are protected, your royalties are properly paid, and they’ll even run interference for you if there’s an issue with the publisher about your work.
If your goal is to be published by a major literary publisher, then you almost always need an agent. If your work is more suitable for a boutique press or you don’t believe your project is going to provide you with an advance, then a literary agent may not be interested in your work and you’ll be forced to go it alone even if that’s not what you want to do.
Step #3: Begin the Research Process
One of the best places to begin the research process for a literary agent is to visit Publisher’s Marketplace. There are a number of agents who have member pages on that site and you can search publishing deals pretty easily to see what is selling right now and what is not. Compare your work to that information and you’ll know if there is a chance to gain the representation you want.
There are other sites that can help you to research literary agents as well. Agent Query, Query Tracker, and Writer’s Market will give you access to 400-1,000 literary agent listings each, although there may be a subscription fee involved.
You’ll want to pinpoint the agents who are currently looking for work that matches with what you’ve written. Follow all of their instructions to submit your work and you’ll be able to start introducing yourself to the publishing world.
Something important to consider. A literary agent should not be charging you for the submission process. They should also not be charging you to submit your work to publishing houses or require you to pay certain fees. If an agent requires these payments, then you should look elsewhere for the representation that you want.
Step #4: Know What You’ll Need To Send
If you are an unproven writer or your work hasn’t been published yet in any format, then a literary agent will likely want to see your full manuscript. This means you’ll need to have it completely polished up before you submit it. Sending your manuscript through the line editing and copyediting processes will be to your benefit. You may wish to even have someone professionally edit your work before submitting it to make sure it meets industry standards.
If you’re submitting non-fiction for consideration, you’ll also be required to submit an outline of the marketability of your ideas. You’ll want to discuss the various platforms where you can generate sales and prepare a full proposal that includes how you plan to get the book to sell under the current market conditions. For non-fiction publishing, the business component of a submission is often more important than the work itself.
You may also be asked by a literary agent to submit specific documents in addition to your manuscript and your business plan. This may include a query letter, a novel synopsis, and sample chapters. When sending sample chapters, always start from the beginning. Make sure you send exactly what the literary agent wants.
Step #5: Choose Your Agent
The best way to determine if your agent is good at what they do is to look at their track record of sales. Their client list and recent sales to publishers will give you an idea as to whether or not your work will be adequately represented. Although you may find it easier to be accepted by a literary agent who isn’t making many sales, don’t be arrogant enough to think your work will change that trend. An agent who can’t sell work is an agent who probably won’t be selling yours either.
That doesn’t mean a new agent isn’t a good idea. Look at their background in the publishing industry to see if you and that new agent might be a good fit. Former editors, working at a good literary agency, or having publishing experience are good signs to consider.
Then make your submission happen. If you don’t get a response, then you’ve been rejected. Move onto the next agent. Otherwise follow-up with whatever the agent wants from you.
Step #6: Keep Your Expectations in Check
Let’s say you do get represented by a literary agent. You can lose the representation pretty quickly if you don’t keep your expectations in check. Many writers today who are trying to get published seem to expect daily contact with their agent. Remember that an agent works for free until you get published. Their time is going to be spent mostly with their clients that can get them paid first. You’re not going to get instant responses. Be kind, be considerate, and in time your work will find a good publishing home.
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