How to find a literary agent


16 December 2019
Help to get an agent for your book, with advice from Writers & Artists

Looking for an agent

Most debut writers tend to see the agent-author relationship as one where the agent holds all the cards. It can seem like that, but it should be a joint venture, a business relationship based on mutual respect (and often more than that).

An agent is just as keen to find you as you are to hook them. They are on the lookout for the best new writing from writers they can work with effectively and you are on the lookout for the agent who can bring out the best in you and give you the support that you need. See it as a two-way beauty contest.

Ask yourself: is this an agent I can work with? That said, the odds are not in an unpublished author’s favour when it comes to submission. Few debut novelists get taken on; an agent might sign up two or three new writers in a year from the thousands who approach them. By buying Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published and taking on board its advice, you might just up the odds a little. Armed with your new-found knowledge about how agents operate, you are forewarned about the potential obstacles in your way, are aware of the time it might take to get noticed, and are prepared for how that might tax your patience along the way.

So how should you go about looking for the right agent for you and your work? The three main maxims that underpin all the advice that follows are:

• Research thoroughly
• Take your time
• Be professional

These are equally relevant when approaching a publisher direct.

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Use resources such as the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or Writer’s Market to narrow down the agents who might represent your genre and the age range you are writing for. Look them up online, follow them on Twitter, attend events where they are speaking. Do they seem like a good fit for your work? Draw up a shortlist and have a clear sense of why you will approach each one: this will become very useful when you are drafting your cover email (usually still referred to as the cover letter).

Do you write across several genres and age ranges? If so, can you find an agent who represents them all? A larger agency is likely to have agents who collectively represent authors writing for adults, children and YA, which might be advantageous if you do too. A boutique agency might be more specialised.

Take your time

You’ve sweated blood and tears over your manuscript: put the same effort into perfecting your submission. It’s your chance to promote your work, so take a deep breath and follow guidelines. Draft and redraft your submission email. It all sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed how poor so many submissions are. Take time to get it right.

Be professional

Let’s assume that your manuscript is ready to submit – that it has gone through various drafts and rewrites and really is the best it can possibly be. This is your one shot at impressing an agent with your pitch, so don’t blow it with an ill-researched and rushed ‘application.’ Treat it like a resume for a job and make a good impression.

No two agencies are the same. Agencies are composed of individual agents, each a personality with their own favourite genres, skills and passions. You’ll have worked out by now, in your quest to be published, how personality-driven the whole publishing world is: it’s a very subjective business, in all senses. The broad structures and functions of an agency or publisher might not differ wildly – but there will certainly be agents who are professionally better at representing thrillers and other commercial fiction than literary novels. There will also be agents who – as individuals – you could work with better than others.

To find the right agent for you, ask yourself some key questions:
Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond? Do you want to be taken on by an agent in a larger, well-established agency or by a newer, boutique sole-agent agency?

Do you want an agent with editorial skills to help shape your writing, or are you keener on someone who comes from a brand management and marketing background?

Exclusive advice from Alysoun Owen from the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published


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