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Why Literary Agents are Still Important and How to Attract One

Updated on June 11, 2014

Yes, Agents Are Still Important

I know what you are thinking. In this world of instant gratification and in particularly ebooks, why in the world would an author want an agent? What could an agent possibly provide us when, with the click of a mouse, we can publish our own literary works? Why pay an agent fee of 15% when there is no fee involved with self-publishing?

Here is one answer, and it is a valid one: if all you want is to self-publish, then you do not need an agent. Read no further.

But what about those authors who would like to see their books picked up by a major publishing firm? Do they need an agent?

Maybe yes….maybe no!

If you are a writer with your mind set on being published in the traditional way by a publishing firm, then you may or may not need an agent. If, when you read the submission guidelines of a publishing firm, you see the words “only accept agented submissions,” then you will need an agent. If no such phrase appears in the submission guidelines, then that means the publishing firm will accept queries from writers who are not represented by an agent.

The most important step in getting an agent is to write well
The most important step in getting an agent is to write well | Source

What an Agent Can Do for You

The main duties of an agent are:

  • To find a publisher for your book
  • To help you negotiate a book contract
  • To help you market your subsidiary rights
  • To serve as an escrow account for your funds
  • To coordinate marketing activities related to your book

Understand that professional agents serve as representatives in a complicated and competitive industry. They have contacts within major publishing firms. They have a solid, working relationship with publishers, editors, and book outlets. They understand the business, and they are there to be your guide through the twists and turns of it all.

Be prepared to market your own book
Be prepared to market your own book | Source

What an Agent Expects from You

There are a few things your agent will expect from you. Those include:

  • Quality writing
  • A commitment from you to continue beyond the one book
  • A commitment from you to help in the marketing of your book
  • An online presence by the author
  • A fee (usually 15% of all sales)

Understand that an agent only makes money if the writer is successful. An agent’s fees come from sales, so he/she must pick writers wisely and then work hard to ensure success. Otherwise, the agent does not get paid.

How to Attract an Agent

First you have to find the right agent for you. There are several publications that can help you in your search. The Literary Marketplace…..Literary Agents of North America….Writer’s Market….Guide to Literary Agents….all are excellent publications. You can also go online and Google for answers. Try the AAR for a list of agents online. If all else fails, ask another writer for recommendations.

Once you have found a list of agents, you then need to pick and choose according to which agents are right for you. Research the agent’s websites and determine:

  • What types of books does that agent represent
  • If that agent is accepting new clients
  • If that agent handles new, unproven writers
  • What type of client the agent is looking for
  • What clients the agent currently represents
  • What the agent wants you to send to them

The process then moves on to the all-important query letter, a letter that can make or break any writer.

Every query letter should contain these basics:

  • The book must fit the agent. If the agent only represents science fiction, do not send a romance
  • Be concise in your letter. Fast and succinct is appreciated; wordy and ambiguous is not.
  • One page is great; two pages at the most.
  • Put your professional face on and sound confident.
  • Skip witty and down-home humor. The query letter is not the place for humor.
  • Don’t bother telling the agent he/she will love your book. That’s up to them to decide.
  • Proofread your letter. There is nothing worse than grammatical errors when touting your ability.

Your Query Letter Should Include the Following:

Remember, you need to include all of these points in one page or two at the most, so this is no time to be wordy.

  • What is your book about?
  • Why you think your book will be popular in the marketplace
  • Is your work similar to other authors? If so, name them.
  • What is interesting and unique about your story?
  • Do you have name-recognition?
  • What are your qualifications as a writer?

If you have included all of those points in your query letter, you at least increase your chances of it being noticeable.

Here is the harsh reality when querying agents or publishers: they receive one hell of a lot of queries during a month…literally thousands. Of those thousands, they might request a synopsis and sample pages from twenty or twenty-five, and of those twenty-five they might offer representation to one.

How’s that for a reality check?

What Happens After the Query Letter Has Been Sent?

Well, you wait!

Most agents, if they are in the business to make money, will read every query letter they receive. They may not read the whole letter, because a writer only has about ten seconds to interest the agent in the book, but the agents I have been in contact with read every query they receive. If the agent is any good, they will respond back to you within three or four weeks.

Then what?

Well, if you don’t hear back from the agent, scratch them off your list. If they are not professional enough to at least respond with a form letter, then you don’t need them.

If they do respond, they will either tell you that your work does not fit their needs, or they will ask for a synopsis and some sample chapters, usually the first three chapters. To learn how to write a synopsis, do some further research. If you have made it this far in the process, you don’t want to bury your chances by sending a poor synopsis, so learn how to write one well before you send it.

Once you have sent the synopsis, you wait some more, but the wait will not be as long this time because you made it to an important stage in the process, and the agent has shown interest in your work.

There are no guarantees, so keep writing
There are no guarantees, so keep writing | Source

Rejection Is a Way of Life

So get used to it! I have never met a writer who has not been rejected in some way, shape or form. It is part of the business. If you are rejected, but you receive an email from the agent saying they really liked your work, then bookmark that agent and return to them the next time. Above all else, do not get discouraged. Some of the best contemporary authors received hundreds of rejections before they finally found success. Just ask J.K. Rowlings or Stephen King if you don’t believe me.

And Then, Keep Writing

Getting published the traditional way is a numbers game. It is a crapshoot of mammoth proportions.

But someone has to be published, right? There will always be hard copy books in bookstores, so why not include your book on those shelves?

If you have a passion for writing, and a dream of being published the traditional way, then don’t give up! Keep trying until you find an agent willing to take you under their wing. Who knows when the magic will light up your life?

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, I think it's like any other business...there are good and there are bad. How a novice writer determines between the two is crucial. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      I would imagine a good literary agent would be quite important and I don't think I would mind paying them their fee. Kind of like the cut that HubPages takes. I know that for me, I never would have started online writing without this site. Sometimes it's worth it to pay an expert for some help. The key is getting a good agent. I bet there are some pretty bad ones out there.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Brian. I appreciate you visiting twice today.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good information and advice about literary agents.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      your waiter is here to serve you, Deb. LOL Thank you always.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      As always, Billy, information is the dessert that I wait for. Thanks again.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey, Frank, you are very welcome. Thank you.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      thank you for this valuable useful information :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pamela. I am grateful for your well-wishes.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad this helped, Vellur. Thank you.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

      This is an excellent hub for explaining in easy to understand steps the way to possibly get published. Congrats on the publishing of your new book. I wish you great success. Awesome hub - up and shared

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      Getting a book published is tough but you have made it easier by explaining the complicated process. Informative and useful hub, thank you for sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, it is not easy to do at all, and many writers fail to get published because of that letter. Your points are all valid and very important, and I thank you for sharing them. Have a wonderful weekend and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, there is no doubt that we are selling ourselves....in a very real sense, we are the business we are promoting, and the book is the product we produce. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate it, DDE...thank you!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I meant to add that writing the letter is analogous to writing the beginning of a story. You want to pull the reader in with the first sentence; then two; then three, and so on. Then the next paragraph has to follow suit. Not easy to do, I have found, my friend. That is why I found this hub so useful! :-)

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Excellent words of advice, Bill. I especially liked the query letter, which I found difficult to write. We have to endeavor to make ourselves "stand out" from the crowd so to speak. I interpreted this as selling myself, which I have always found challenging.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Sound advice here and you know exactly how to keep a reader's eyes on reading your interesting hubs.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, it is daunting. I waiting for years before attempting a novel. It all just seemed too overwhelming to me. It wasn't until I developed some character I really liked, and allowed them to tell the story, that my first novel flowed easily.

      There is still time for you my friend.

      Thank you!

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      There is much here of which I knew nothing, so now I'm far better informed. Thank you for that. It's filed for future use. I have drafts of stories/books but none properly worked upon. I enjoy the short articles and the short stories but I need to try something 'big'. With your help from articles like this, I'll stand a better chance!

      Great one, bill. Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Always my pleasure, vkwok...thank you!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      This is stuff that I'll keep in mind. Thanks for sharing more great tips, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Flourish, and the book is out today....www.williamdhollandauthor.com

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Wonderful suggestions. Thanks for the advice, as always. We can't wait for that book, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Will, that is high praise from a writer I respect. Thank you very much my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is my pleasure, Faith. Thank you so much, and have a marvelous Thursday.

      blessings always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      nighthag, it was my pleasure. Thank you for joining me from Australia.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      travmaj, things have definitely gotten more difficult in the publishing business. Still, I hold out hope. Thank you for the visit and your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Dianna. Thank you!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      This is the best article I've seen on the topic, bar none. Thank you, Bill!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Another useful hub here, dear Bill! Thank you for simplifying the process for all of us and sharing your insight into the world of publishing.

      Peace and blessings always

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 3 years ago from Australia

      an interesting read that full of information that so many writers need, thank you it is often hard to know which is the right way to go with publishing and this does help

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      A kind of vicious circle, publishers want manuscripts from agents only, agents seem to have full books or rarely accept new authors, if a publisher has to choose between an unsolicited manuscripts or one submitted by an agent, guess which one they take. Huh!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Thank you for the information. Book publishing has so many options, you make it easier to decide.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's the teacher in me, John. I could teach World War 2 in a 45 minute class period. LOL Thank you, sir!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Such clear and concise advice Bill. What sometimes takes a whole book for others to explain, you seem to do easily in one hub. Thanks. Voted up.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, Liz, I wish you well. I know you are a very good writer, so first of all....write! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Exactly, Nellieanna....I love the smell when I walk into a bookstore. Heaven!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      So nice to know I'm not alone, Nellieanna.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Bill, I may do it in the future, as there's no harm in trying (except a little bit of a bruised ego). Right now, I'm getting some ducks in a row and then perhaps I'll go for it again! :)

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      ps - I'm also a life-time book lover. I love their entire experience - their feel, their look, even their smell!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      Nor do I own a Kindle or expect to need one, Bill! :-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, I don't own a Kindle and never will. I curl up each night with a book in my hands to relax, and that's how they will find me when I die. LOL Thank you dear friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Marlene, your book is a specialty item in a specialty niche, and I think there is a market for it. Please try to get an agent...I think you might be surprised.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for your thoughts, Liz. You know, you can still get published the traditional way even though you have self-published...and you write in a niche that I think is very marketable and would appeal to some agents. Good luck and thank you again.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, I love hearing from the voice of experience. Thanks for sharing that and I agree 100%

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      For the life of me i can't understand why anyone likes ebooks. I read so much on the computer. I want a book i can hold in my hands, read when i want to, then pick it back up when i feel the urge. I agree with all your readers, excellent tips Bill. I know this is off topic...

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 3 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I would love to find an agent for my book. The best advice about agents I have ever read, "Well, if you don’t hear back from the agent, scratch them off your list." It makes sense not to chase them down to get a response. I mean, why would I want to work with someone like that? Excellent advice, Bill - all good things to note.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Very informative. I sent out about ten letters to agents and in the interim, read "how to get published books" many of which stated that rejection is the name of the game. After ten rejections, I had a pep talk with myself and decided that for now, I wanted to self-publish and threw myself into it one-hundred percent. I may seek an agent one day, as I'm not against it, but for now I do love he self-publishing route. It's hard work, but well worth it. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nellieanna, I don't own a Kindle and doubt I'll ever read an ebook, and your last question is an excellent one for sure. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ginger, it is my pleasure. If this helps you then I am a happy writer. Good luck to you my friend.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I can tell anyone who reads down this far that everything you said is true and accurate. I sent out query letters for two years before I decided to self-publish. There are many good examples of query letters on the internet and anyone who is trying to find an agent should look at those. Even if you keep getting rejection notices, you should have your synopsis and sample chapters ready to send so as soon as an agent ask for them, you can send them out immediately.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      V-E-R-Y valuable, Bill. I've no interest in e-publishing, per se. This excellent overview of what is involved in traditional publishing is something for me to save and study - for the time I am ready to take the steps. Thank you.

      (By the way, if one's work wouldn't attract a literary agent who gets paid to read it, why would one expect it to attract a reading audience, who must pay to read it? )

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

      Congratulations! Once again you have managed to get me excited about being published someday. Thanks for making us feel like we can actually do that! I appreciate your example and encouragement more than you know. Ginger

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good luck, Ruchira, and I agree with you completely. Thank you so much.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 3 years ago from United States

      Once again some good pointers, Bill.

      I gotta think on these terms cause self publicizing is hard...lol

      Wishing you the best in your upcoming venture :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rachael, I wouldn't be surprised at all. I've seen the same thing often on HP and I really don't understand it.

      As for those how-to books, I can't read them. My attention span is horrible when I have to process that much information. That's why I write these condensed articles. Thank you for confirming that they are helpful.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, it's always about having the funds, isn't it? This is a tough business, but I am determined.

      Thank you dear friend, and blessings always.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

      All those how-to writer books scare me to death, especially if they are 300 plus pages or are so vague that I still have no idea what I'm doing when I'm done reading.

      I look to writers like yourself whose hub are practically tutorials. Your hubs streamline the process for many of us who never have had a book published so we can get an idea of what to expect. The agent process is further down the line for me at this point, but it is GTK info to file away. (GTK - Good T0 Know)

      Thank you for writing good articles for non-published writers in plain language and for answering questions in your comments. You'd be surprised how many hubbers don't even acknowledge comments and you do so on every one. Voted up and shared.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

      This was filled with useful information. And I really enjoyed the way you encourage those to not give up on being published. My aspirations to be a publisher started because of the fact 'I don't take no for an answer". :-)

      Now, it is just a matter of building clients and pulling the funds together.

      There are so many on here that I would publish in a New York minute!

      Awesome job as always! Thanks Bill! Blessings to you

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Melissa, you can indeed, and I'm doing that right now. Go ahead and self-publish and then look for an agent or a traditional publisher. Nothing wrong with that at all.

      Good to see you again. Enjoy that summer weather.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, it can be an intimidating process, but the way I look at it, someone has to be published, so why not me? Thank you as always for being here.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Great info Bill. I still get confused with the self-publishing vs getting an agent. Can you self-publish and continue to search for an agent for that same book? As always, I appreciate all your advice!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      The publishers who ask for submissions by agents only usually scare me off. I haven't gotten there yet, but this is good information to keep. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine. You do the same.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      thanks Sha!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Such great information, as always Bill and totally pinned for if and when I do need. Have a wonderful Wednesday now!! :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      You already have, my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is indeed, breakfastpop. Thank you again. :)

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      Dear billy,

      It's a very good thing!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      No doubt about all that you said, Sha. Now all we have to do is write something that would actually interest an agent. Sigh! :) Thanks hon.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      This is great, Bill. I'm saving this for when I get to that point. I like the idea of having an agent to lead the way through the process. I think having an agent would be worth spending the money. It would save stumbling around on your own and would provide some (emotional) security in having a partner who is in the know and on your side.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      breakfastpop, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. LOL Just kidding. I appreciate the kind words my friend.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      This is very helpful and important information. I have so many books in my library that explain the publishing process and the role of an agent, but not one of these books explains it the way you do. Voted up, very useful, quite interesting and totally awesome.