If you are an author looking to get published traditionally, you will most likely need a literary agent to represent you.
Why do I need an agent?
1. Because most publishers don’t accept unsolicited proposals or manuscripts. Agents have access. Publishers use agents to help filter out which books / authors have a better chance at succeeding.
2. An agent will usually negotiate a far better publishing agreement than you will on your own (higher advance, better terms, etc.).
3. If there is ever an issue between you and your publisher, your agent can help resolve it… usually faster and better.
But how do I find an agent to represent me?
Here are a few ways…
Start with Other Authors – Do you know someone who is traditionally published? If so, ask them who their literary agent is. Better yet, ask them to make an introduction / recommendation for you. Relationships matter and one of the fastest paths to success is by someone an agent already knows helping you to get your foot in the door.
Do Some Research – Google is your friend. Simply search for literary agents who represent the type of book you are writing. But here’s where many fail. Don’t just go through and email blast every agent you can find. Instead, go to their website, read up on the books and authors they represent, read their “About” page and try to make sure they are a fit for you. Then when you reach out do so in a customized way that lets them know you are a fan of who they are, not just for what you want them to do for you.
Use the Guides – There are several writing and literary agent guides out there such as this “Guide to Literary Agents” book. Just be careful on any guide because information changes and it can go out of date pretty quick. You can usually find everything you need by asking another author, doing general searches on Google or simply looking up “literary agent for ___insert name of book you like in similar genre of yours here___.”
Write a Killer Query Letter & Proposal
Once you have found a few agents that you think are a fit, draft a query letter to send. What is a query letter? Here’s the 411 and how to write one. Also read Rachelle Gardner’s “The Top 10 Query Mistakes” post. Good stuff.
You also will want to make sure that you have a killer book proposal ready so that you can send that once an agent responds favorably. What’s a book proposal and how do you write one that will land a deal? Check out Michael Hyatt’s excellent proposal / query writing guides here. They are some of the best resources with examples that I have seen.
If you need help actually writing or editing your proposal, don’t be afraid to hire an editor or someone experienced in drafting proposals. It doesn’t make you less of a writer to get help, it makes you smart. : ) There are plenty of resources out there such as DraftLab (I have not worked with them directly but have heard good things).
But I Keep Getting Rejected!
Maybe you’ve done all that above but you keep getting those nifty rejection letters in the mail (or email). It’s not easy to get picked but keep in mind that most agents are getting queries and submissions from likely hundreds of authors each week. They simply can’t work with them all so unfortunately they have to decline most. That doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad or that you have no future as an author, it just means that you must have persistence if you really want to go the traditional route. We’ve all heard the stories of authors getting rejected dozens of times only to go on and eventually become bestsellers. I personally know several multiple bestselling authors who were rejected dozens of times at first by agents and then by publishers but they didn’t give up and you shouldn’t either. Expect rejection but keep going.
Remember though, relationships are key. If you can get another author to recommend you to his/her agent or even his/her publisher, you’re chances of success will improve dramatically. I see it every day.
P.S., Don’t forget that self-publishing is a viable option now. You can start your publishing journey self published or if you have gone the traditional route and it’s just not working out for you (after a valiant attempt)… you don’t have to wait to be picked. You can pick yourself and blaze your own trail. I’ll write more about self-publishing in a future post.