Tips to Finding a Literary Agent

Tips to Finding a Literary Agent

Whoever knocks persistently, ends by entering. :Ali (A.D. 600?-661), Maxims of Ali


Tips to Finding a Literary Agent

Finding an agent is only one step (after writing a great book) in the challenging process of building a career as an author. My experience taught me that the industry adage No agent is better than the wrong agent is completely and unequivocally true. I was completely green when I started taking my writing career seriously. I’d written a book that I thought was pretty good, with characters that I loved, but I was afraid to send it out to agents.

 

An Anecdote

One day, after my hard-written book had been sitting untouched in my computer for untold months, I had the good fortune to come into contact with a semi-retired literary agent who agreed to read my book. I jumped at the chance to get some authentic feedback. Several months, and a few revisions later, Agent X agreed to take me on as a client. Needless to say, I was thrilled!

 

A Year Later

But a year later, after three rejections from different imprints of the same publisher, I was not so thrilled. The process of submissions and rejections was disheartening and I hadn’t yet developed the thick skin required of an author. The bottom line was that this agent and I did not see my book the same way. When the last of the three rejections came, I asked what was next, thinking she’d branch out to different publishers and begin marketing my book from a different angle. Instead she told me that she didn’t have the energy to submit elsewhere.

I was crushed. I had to start over. I contemplated giving up my dream right then and there.

 

No Quitting!

But I didn’t, and perseverance and commitment led me to my dream agent.

I made myself look at the situation with a ‘glass half full’ philosophy. I evaluated my relationship with Agent X and realized that I’d learned a ton from her and I’d grown as a writer and a person in the year she’d been representing me. The most important things I’d learned?

She encouraged me to join Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, Sacramento Valley Rose, two amazingly supporting writing organizations.

She encouraged me to find a critique group. I did. We’re called the Scarlets and they have become an integral part of my writing life. And they’re great friends, too.

 

Understanding What You Want

The process of working with an agent helped me to define what I want to accomplish as a writer and set goals for myself. I believe these are keys to success–for anyone in any field.

Once Agent X and I had amicably parted ways, I regrouped and began a search for a new agent. I spent hours on Agentquery.com, identifying agents who were looking for the type of book I’d written, who were taking on new clients, who accepted email queries, and who had a proven track record of sales. I drafted a query letter and submitted.

 

Snail Mail

After what felt like a thousand trips to the post office to mail off partial and full manuscripts from the requests I received, three agents were interested in my work and contacted me. Now that was thrilling! Ultimately I had to decide what direction to take my book and who I wanted to work with as the agents each saw my book a little differently. I made my decision (one of the toughest I’ve ever made), and have actually changed agents twice since that decision.  Initially, I listened to other people rather than my gut. Instead of going with a good agent from a boutique firm, I went with a high-powered agent in a huge firm. In the end, it just wasn’t right for me. Lesson learned.

I ended up parting ways with her and signing with the person who had been her assistant and was now going out on her own. That was a great decision.

I recently (2022) said goodbye to the agent I had for nearly 20 years. It felt like the end of an era, but the direction of our careers diverged. With her help, I landed someone amazing and now feel very invigorated. Everything feels fresh and new again.

 

Having Someone Who Believes In You

Having someone who believes in you and your writing is huge. And it’s not something to be taken lightly. Finding any agent is hard work. Finding the right agent can seem nearly impossible. But doing your research, targeting agents that represent what you write, and believing in yourself, your talent, and your goals can and will result in your success.

 


5 Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

  1. Believe in yourself. 
  2. Learn how to write a Killer Query letter
  3. Do your research. Learn what literary agents are looking for what you write. Check out HERE and HERE.
  4. Be patient. Everything in the publishing world is a long game.
  5. Trust your instinct. I didn’t, and while it worked out okay in the end, I often wonder how things would be different had I gone with my gut.

 

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