Do’s & Don’ts of Finding a Literary Agent

Many aspiring writers think the hard part of authoring a book is coming up with a good plot, rich characters, time to write, and the painstaking editing process. That stuff is all challenging, for sure. However, do not underestimate the work you’ll need to do to find a literary agent.

You hear of writers who complain about getting “hundreds” of rejections. Sometimes that number is “thousands.” I challenge you to consider the possibility that those writers are falling into a sticky trap. They’re thinking if they throw enough at the wall, something will stick. But what good is it to send your YA fantasy idea to an agent who only works with children’s books? Of course, sometimes you can do everything right, but still get rejected. Let’s look at a few reasons why that is the case.

I’m going to talk a lot about what we sometimes do wrong when shopping for an agent, and also how to stay busy while we wait. However, let’s start with why you came here: What are the things we need to do to find a good literary agent to represent our book?

4 Critical Steps to Finding a Literary Agent

1. Research agents, and make a list of the ones that best fit your needs. You can use Query Tracker to find which agents represent your genre, as well as how to contact them, and if they’re even open to new submissions.

2. Perfect your query letter. Check out Writers Digest for a 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Query Letter. Your query is your introduction to your ideal agent! Do NOT neglect to take it very, very seriously. 

3. Have a killer synopsis at the ready, because some agents request this to accompany the query. I thought I understood how to write a synopsis, but after watching this video, How to Write a Synopsis for Your Novel by Nicola at Harper Collins Australia, I found myself wishing I had known these tips before querying.

4. Don’t jump at the first offer. While you don’t want to be too quick to say no, and run the risk of never landing something better, you also don’t want to sign anything before understanding what the agent is willing to do for you. Is he excited about your book? What is his vision? Are you comfortable talking with him? Does he seem to respect your time, your vision, and you as an individual? Make sure you’re 100% comfortable before signing.

Here are some reasons a good story can get rejected by a literary agent

  • The agent is closed to new submissions
  • She is not looking for your type of story. You can find what your favorite agent is looking for here
  • She already represents too many similar authors
  • Your genre is oversaturated or out of fashion (for now)
  • Your social media platforms are nonexistent, inappropriate, or anonymous (no branding with personal pictures, your name, etc.)
  • She just didn’t connect with your story (which doesn’t mean it’s bad, only that she personally didn’t connect with it)
  • Your story is well-written, but improperly formatted (margins, spacing)
  • Your word count is wrong for your genre (click here to see typical word counts by genre )
  • Your query letter needs work. Let Nathan Bransford show you how to write a kick-ass query letter here

So, what happens when you’ve done all the items above, and ironed out all the kinks but you still aren’t hearing back about your query?

3 Things You Can Do to Say Busy While Waiting to Connect with Your Literary Agent

1. Start Your Next Project

2. Offer to be a Beta reader for another writer

3. Further your writing education with YouTube videos, author interviews, books, courses, or asking published authors questions related to the craft of writing and/or publication

Should You Reach Out to Your Agent if You Haven’t Heard Back?

According to New York Book Editors, you should tread very lightly when it comes to emailing agents to check the status of your query. Here are 9 Don’ts When Querying Agents.

It’s important to understand that while your book is your baby, professional literary agents are incredibly busy, and receive hundreds of unsolicited queries each month! Plus, some queries are referrals which are often bumped up the priority list. That means, it’s going to take a little while for the agent to even get to your query, let alone give it a respectable once-over.

Patience is key, and I know firsthand how hard it is to ride out the wait. It’s one of those things you just have to do. Like the old saying goes, the only way out is through.

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