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Literary Agents: Finding One That's Right for You

Updated on November 15, 2015
Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie is a published author. She is an award-winning poet & has completed two full novels and an anthology. And she is terrified of sharks!

NEEDED: One good agent who can edit my novel and farm it out to a well-known publisher.

If only locating a professional agent were as easy as placing an ad in the local paper. The truth is, finding a credible agent that is willing to work with you can be as challenging as locating that special publisher for your work, yet can be every bit as important. Up to 80% of publishing houses prefer to receive queries from credited agents as opposed to receiving them directly from the writers themselves. The publishers that accept manuscripts directly from writers have often solicited from those writers directly because they have seen their work published in journals or because they are aware that the writer is the winner of a prestigious award or contest.

If you are already overwhelmed by the prospect of locating your own publisher, I’m sure it seems extremely daunting to back up and think about first identifying an agent, but once you’ve secured an agent, they can do the rest of the leg work, so your primary task will be to write, which is what you love to do. That being said, finding an agent can be tough. It requires a tremendous amount of leg work and there will be a lot of rejection. It will seem, at times, as if the agents are as elusive as the inspiration to write, but as with anything in life, tenacity pays off. Using your super-sleuthing powers will help you to sniff out the undercover agent and you’ll soon be on your way to a career as a published author.

There are a few ways in which you may identify agents of interest; the first is based on referral. If you belong to a writing group, start by asking around. What agents represent the writers in your group? If you are enrolled in an MFA program, what resources do your professors or others in your writing community have to offer? Do you know any published authors? What agents did they use and how did they identify them? You may also scan the shelves at a local library or bookseller for published works in your chosen genre. Many authors will credit or acknowledge their agent. Make a note of which agents represent authors whose works are similar to your own.

You may also consider purchasing a book that includes a list of agents, such asGuide to Literary Agents , check the resources pages of journals such as Writer’s Digest or online newsletters such as for advertisements from agents looking for new talent. The Publisher’s Marketplace newsletter may also be of great value. Agents are often listed along with the book deals that they’ve negotiated.

Often, agents are present at writers’ conferences. Approach agents during networking opportunities. Stop by agents’ booths during resource fairs. Attend sessions led by agents and take notes. Collect business cards and network with other writers who have worked with agents. They will have valuable insight to offer.

The process of securing an agent is similar to locating a publisher, in that many agents also want to receive a query letter and a few pages or chapters of your manuscript. Each agent will have his or her own preferred method of contact and list of criteria. Be sure that once you have identified possible agents, you research them well and are aware of their preferences. Like most publishers, if you do not follow the agent’s requirements for querying, your work will most likely be ignored and your proposal rejected.

Agents, like publishers, have their preferred genres; some represent fiction writers, others prefer non-fiction or biographies. Some agents are only interested in children’s literature, historical or romance novels. Some will only represent poets and others, only short story writers interested in anthology publications. Familiarize yourself with each agent’s work before submitting so that you neither waste your time nor the agent’s.

© 2011 Jaynie2000


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