Literary agents, those elusive, magical creatures that will help you and your book rocket to the NY Times Best Seller List. Because without them, you have virtually no chance in getting a NY Big Boy Publisher, which is your best (but certainly not your only) chance in becoming a best-selling author on a grand scale.
Before you ever contact even ONE Literary Agent, there are three things you absolutely must do.
- Finish & polish your book. This means have more people than just your family members read it, like beta reading groups, writing groups, online critique, writing critique groups, etc. (Sometimes for non-fiction, an agent will only require a book proposal, but this post focuses mostly on fiction writers.) Get it professionally edited.
- Research. And I mean extensive research that will likely take three to six months of your time before you ever send your first query. More on this below.
- Write and revise and revise and revise and revise and revise your query letter based on the information you found in the aforementioned research. Then get it critiqued and revise it again.
I’m not kidding.
Literary agents get between 75 and 500 queries letters every. single. day. Most of them are crap queries from writers who didn’t do the above three things. These are easily deleted by literary agents, but it also puts them in a deletey mood. I can’t begin to imagine how exhausting it is…day after day after mind-numbingly boring day.
Query after query, several of which brag about how wonderful their novel is and how it’s going to make said agent rich.
While preparing to search for an agent, I participated in Nathan Bransford’s Agent for a Day exercise in 2009, and I got slapped with the reality of what a literary agent goes through daily.
On a very, very light day.
I suggest you read this entire exercise from beginning to end. This will put you in your prospective agent’s position. From this perspective you will write a better query letter.
Then I suggest you read his entire blog in full as part of your research.
If you really, really want that NY Big Boy, you will do all these things first.
There are really no shortcuts.
Don’t send a query they can easily delete. Don’t give them a reason to delete it. They don’t need a reason to delete it. They need a reason not to delete it. DO THE RESEARCH.
Before you ever submit a query to an agent, you have to get to know them. Each and every one of them.
Don’t submit a YA story to an agent who says they do not represent children’s books, unless they specify that YA is okay. YA is a fuzzy area–some consider them children’s, some don’t. Know what they accept and what they don’t.
Learn about who they are. Their choice in client leans heavily on those who make a personal connection with the agent in question. It has to do with what they like. What they need. What they choose to represent.
Agents don’t care that “everybody” likes your book. Whether that “everybody” is friends and family or whether you’ve actually tested the market.
Agents don’t want to hear how you are going to make them a lot of money, because they hear that countless times a day. Read the Query Shark blog in full. In Full. And you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Reality Check: New York Publishing is changing so fast at the moment that many agents are finding other jobs. Nathan Bransford, who I mentioned earlier, is not longer an agent. He is now an author. Colleen Lindsay, of the #queryfail fame, left the FinePrint Literary Agency to take a job in business development at Penguin. And as for agents’ slush piles…Rachelle Gardner, of the WordServe Literary agency blogged about her slush pile for 2010. She received over 10,000 queries. How many clients did she find through those cold queries? ZERO. That’s right. Not one query resulted in representation with this agent. She found new clients through conferences, referrals, and even blogging.
My agent? The fabulous Louise Fury found me on Twitter.
The system is in flux. Do your research.
Do you have an agent? How did you find one? Query, Conference, or another way?