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How to Find a Literary Agent
Finding an agent is one of the most difficult steps on the road to publication. Its importance cannot be overstated: a good agent will provide feedback on your manuscript, get it across the desks of prospective editors, and make sure you get the best deal possible.
1.Finish your novel
As a published author, you’re not ready to start hunting for an agent until your novel is finished and polished. Join a local critique group to get feedback on your manuscript. If you can’t find a face-to-face group, consider joining an online critique group. There are many that suit different writing styles. If that’s not an option, pay a freelance editor to offer commentary.
Whatever you do: don’t ask until the manuscript is complete and perfect.
2. Build your platform and/or your authority
Nonfiction writers should provide credentials in the same area as the book they are proposing. This could be a degree (the higher the better), working as a spokesperson for the topic, working in the field, and/or speaking with people at seminars or conventions on the topic.
For science fiction writers, building a platform can be a chicken-or-the-egg problem. It’s hard to build a following without a book to promote, and it’s hard to publish a book without those supporters, but there are ways to do it. Christina Katz’s book Meet Before the Book Deal is a great resource.
Some activities that fiction writers can try include teaching (or tutoring) literature or creative writing, blogging, attending prestigious writing camps, or winning awards for their writing.
3. Learn about business
Ideally, you should study the publishing business while you write your novel and build your reputation. Attend major writing conferences and talk to agents and authors (this is not the time to tell an agent you have a book they should read). Read author and agent blogs. Visit their websites and the websites of the publishers.
You want to know as much as possible about the business. When an agent knocks, you want to seem smart, intelligent and knowledgeable.
4. Publish short prose or articles
There’s been a long-running debate about whether publishing short fiction can build you enough credibility to get an agent interested. Some editors say that writing short fiction doesn’t prepare you for writing a novel. Others disagree. They say publication titles (in reputable media) show that you are serious about the publication. Also: the process can make your skin tougher to deflect and provide some editing experience.
Publishing articles related to the nonfiction book you’re proposing—again, in reputable media such as trade magazines or newspapers—almost always builds credibility. Publishing proves that other editors believe in your credentials.
5. Research of promising agents
Like doctors, agents specialize. You’ll want to find one that represents the type of work you’re writing. AgentQuery.com and the Authors’ Agents Association (aaronline.org) are two websites you can research to find agents.
Once you’ve shortlisted agents, visit their websites and blogs to find specific books they represent. Have you read any of them? Are they similar to yours? Would you like to read these books? (If not, consider whether this is the right agent for you.)
After researching, if you still want to ask this agent, find the requirements to submit to him. Some accept email. Some will not. Some will want a query letter and synopsis. Others will only want a letter of inquiry.
6. Write a query letter (and possibly an outline)
A query letter is similar to an audition. This is your introduction to the selected agent on one page. It should only contain a few short paragraphs: the type of book you are trying to sell, along with the word count; short, convincing content of the book; and your credentials: why this agent should represent you.
A synopsis is a three- to five-page summary of your book. It should be written as carefully as your novel, in one voice, and contain all plot points and spoilers.
Have them both peer-reviewed by the same people who critiqued your original manuscript. Letter without errors? Does the content of the novel match the tonality? Pay as much attention to these two points as you do to your novel. If the synopsis is poorly written, agents will not ask to see the full manuscript.
7. Send your requests
Send your targeted query package (cover letter, synopsis, and everything the agent asks for in their instructions) to your three to five “top picks” agents. It is considered unprofessional to “spamm” a large number of agents at once.
If all reject you, send to your second choice agents.
8. Be prepared.
A completed, polished manuscript will come in handy here. An agent who likes your query will ask you for a partial – so many pages or chapters – or a full manuscript. Since yours is ready, you’ll be able to send in an instant: the exact time frame to prove (again) that you’re a professional, ready to publish.
In a nutshell, finding an agent is as easy as (or as hard as) writing well, making a good first impression, and being professional. There’s no set method to getting an agent, but following these steps can increase your chances as an author.
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