Writing 101: Getting an Agent

So, you want to get a literary agent. You've written you book, and it's good. Good? It's great! Agents ought to fall over themselves for it. ...If only you knew how to get to the agents. I can tell you how to do it, but I can't promise you'll be happy with the results.

How to Get an Agent

First, don't bother querying any agents until your book is done, done, done. I'm talking it had better be edited and polished to the nines, or you're only doing yourself a huge disservice. Once it is, I want you to put together a list. Do whatever you can to make sure it's a big list

  • The List
Let me preface this by saying that this is going to take some time. You increase your chances if you take the time to follow these steps, and even then your chances are slim. That's the nature of the business. Go to Agent Query first. This is a reputable site that contains listings of literary agents. Use the search feature to seek agents who accept your genre. Select other criteria as desired. It goes without saying that if you can't pigeonhole your genre, don't bother doing this. If you want to get yourself an agent, you have to got to sell it. You can't sell it if you can't define it. Again, this is just the way the business works. 

Get out your Writer's Market next. If you don't have one, get one. It's really one of the best tools for writers, and I'm pretty sure it's now available in an e-version so that might be the best way to go. Either way, you have to go through the agent listings (and the book has many; it is quite thick). Copy the relevant information for all the potential agents you find. They will be listed by genre and a good deal of additional information will be offered, so this will take some time. Put the list together and save it. You will need it again. Take care not to get repeats; you will find many of the same agents in the Writer's Market and on Agent Query. 

  • The Letter
You've got a nice juicy list of agents -- great! Now, you have to write a great pitch letter, also known as the query. First rule: five paragraphs, no more, and make them short and sweet. Agents receive hundreds of letters every day and they will definitely skip yours if you decide to wax poetic for 9 meaty paragraphs. 

Get right to the point, but let your natural voice shine through. The first line of the letter should be your hook. Ask a question, make a strong statement, say something crazy. The name of this game is to write whatever it takes to get their attention, though I do suggest you relate it in some way to your book. For example, if I wanted to pitch a book based off of this blog, my letter might begin with something provocative like What do most authors get wrong when they're writing books? Then I'll go on to answer that question by pushing my agenda.

The opening paragraph is your hook and your brief intro -- sort of a hey look at this! It's my book and my name is Jade, only much more professional. The second paragraph goes into more detail. Answer basic technical questions by telling them the length of the book, how many chapters, and the basic plot. Again, get right to the point. You don't have to be flowery, just compelling. Show that you have a good understanding of your own material by describing it in a succinct, interesting way. 

The two following paragraphs should go on to explain the book in more detail, and detail your own qualifications and your target audience. Tell them who this book appeals to, and why. Tell them why you're the best to write it, and anything else you can toss in there. Have you self-published already? Do you have a big blog following or lots of fans on Twitter? As the saying goes, if you've got it, flaunt it. Don't pull your punches in this letter. 

In the closing and final paragraph, quickly sum it up. State that you're seeking representation for this project and thank them for their time and consideration. Always include your contact information at the bottom. Do not send anything else. Send only the query until and unless you are instructed to do otherwise. 

And All the Rest

Fifty percent of the time, you will hear nothing back from any agent either way. Of those who do respond to you, most are likely to be rejections. However, if you have written a strong enough query letter you will get at least one response. Write a brilliant query and you may get more. Read the email they send you more than once and follow all instructions to the letter. Good luck! 

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  1. Hi Jade,
    Thanks for this really helpful post. I've shared it on the Rethink Press Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/RethinkPress. Please come and like us there for daily links, tips and quotes, and so we can share more of your posts.
    Lucy McCarraher

  2. Looks like a nice page! Thanks for sharing. Glad you liked the post.