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How to Get a Literary Agent

Updated on February 10, 2013

If you have a completed novel and are interested in getting it published, then the first step is to secure a literary agent. Most publishing houses will not accept any unsolicited manuscripts (especially if you are an unpublished author), so, tempting as it may seem to skip the “middle man,” do not think of sending your work directly to a publisher. A literary agent will be the key to getting your work in the hands of a publisher.

Getting a literary agent is easier said than done, but with a lot of hard work and little bit of luck, you can secure the right literary agent for you.

Step One: Finish Your Manuscript

The first step is to complete your manuscript; do not begin the process of querying until you have done so. If an agent likes your proposal, he/she will request to read the manuscript in its entirety, and if it is not finished, you will ruin your chances with that agent and tarnished your reputation.

Step Two: Research Agents

After completion of your manuscript, you should research agents to find a hardy list that fit your particular needs as an author. Some things you should consider: What genres does the agent represent? Does s/he work with previously unpublished authors? How many clients does this agent currently represent and what degree of personal attention will s/he be able to provide you? Does this agent accept multiple submissions (that is, will you be allowed to submit to other agencies at the same time)? Does s/he accept electronic submissions? Where is this agency based?

Twitter is a great way to get to know potential agents better. Also, take time to research interviews that they have given (check out Guide to Literary Agents for this ); agents will often be very explicit with what they want from potential clients.

Step Three: Write your Query Letter

After you have completed your agent research, it’s time to write your query letter. A query letter is generally three paragraphs and it’s used to introduce you and your novel in a very concise (yet interesting) manner. Keep in mind that this will be an agent’s first impression of you and your project, so the query letter needs to be perfect!

The first paragraph should provide a brief introduction to/market analysis of your novel. Consider incuding the following: How many words is it? What is the genre? What makes it different from others novels that are similar? What is the target audience? Be sure to also provide some personalized information for this agent that explains why your project is the right fit for them. This paragraph should be 3-5 sentences.

Your second paragraph will likely be the most difficult. It will be a one paragraph synopsis of your manuscript. This should read like the back of book; it should not reveal the end, but rather, include the major conflicts, characters, and the setting. Most importantly, it should reflect the tone of your manuscript and leave the agent wanting to hear more. Begin with a “hook” that is exciting and unexpected and consider an ending with a line that highlights a major theme.

In the final paragraph of the query letter, you will write a bit about yourself. You will explain your education, personal accomplishments (as it pertains to your ability to pen a successful novel), and publishing credits if you have them. Include also, anything that makes you particularly memorable or relates to your ability to market this project.

Step Four: Submit the Query Letter

After you’ve completed your query letter (and you’ve ensured that it is perfect!), you may begin to contact agents. Be aware that you will need to tweak this letter for each particular agent (paragraph 1—the personalization aspect).

Also, be sure to pay attention to what each agent asks for in their submission guidelines. Some request that you send just a query while others ask for a query plus the first five chapters of your manuscript, for example.

Remember that It can be weeks before you hear back from an agent and definitely expect rejection along the way. In the meantime, polish up your manuscript and query letter, continue researching agents and the novels they represent, and educate yourself on the publishing business.


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    • iheartkafka profile image

      iheartkafka 5 years ago

      Hi, aisha91. In addition to the academic writing I've published in various collegiate journals (I'm a university professor), I've written several short stories and works of poetry that were published waaaay back when I was in undergrad. This hub, however, is based on my personal experience. I have a completed manuscript (a novel) that I am in the process of attempting to publish. It's a long hard road, especially in this market! Thanks for reading!

    • aisha91 profile image

      Rasna Aisha 5 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I just wonder if you are a published author? :)

      Nah, thanks for giving the great hub, at least I know now where to turn in the future. Useful and bookmarked.