a literary agent::
to successfully find and contact a literary agent?
Before sending hundreds of query letters to unfamiliar names
in a directory, learn the basics. This is not a drive-by shooting.
Don't pull up to the curb, toss your manuscript, honk, and speed
away. How will you know you've got the right agent? When is
the right time to phone and introduce yourself?
a literary agent.
Understanding your relationship. Author Representation is
a business. The reality: this individual is not your
mom and publishing is not really as much art or science
as it is timing and professionally crafted material. Consider
your actions carefully because you have just entered a court
of publishing opinions.
business of publishing is too fast paced and filled with too
many rapidly subjective decisions to allow for lingering friendships
and idle chats at the coffee table. When you want begin a relationship
with one out of more than 500 reputable Manhattan literary agents,
you'll need to think about the business side of publishing.
It's a business where the exchange of information may be held
in an elevator or hallway as well as at lunch or dinner. And
the conversations tend to be brief.
an agent is a long-lost family friend, chats with your agent
about Dorothy Parker during the days of the Algonquin writing
group or suggestions about plot twists in books you've recently
read are too time consuming. Think about it. Would you
have that discussion with an attorney who is about to represent
you in a circuit court?
Okay, the analogy is a stretch, but your new agent is in the
business of representation. This person is your defense
attorney, the one who pleads your case in front of the publishing's
Premise of the First Date - "Your
Honor, I brought my lawyer."
would you find an attorney to represent you in court? Would
you go on a blind date? If not, then why apply that buckshot
approach to finding your agent? Think about this while your
are searching for an agent. You are preparing yourself to enter
into a business partnership for which you agree provide
a commercially viable product (a finished fiction manuscript
or a nonfiction manuscript with three chapters and an outline)
to that agent.
be signing an agreement. A legally binding contract.
agent then presents your product to key business contacts he/she
has in the publishing industry.
Initially, it's a business contract. Always try to remember
to treat it that way. Begin with a professional and structured
business transaction. The agent is not yet your friend, although
history proves that can happen, but the reality is this literary
agency is simply a professional conduit, a road for your work
to travel to its ultimate destination. So, dress nice. Comb
your hair. Don't pull up to the curb and honk. Above all, don't
send the agent a flawed manuscript filled with punctuation errors
and expect to get a goodnight smooch from publishing's judges.
Getaway cars go in both directions.
the agent with your best professional demeanor. Have
respect for their time. Of the commodities they do have (contacts
in the business and your potentially saleable book), time is
not one of them. Reading your work takes up the evenings. Contacting
publishers is a 24/7 occupation. Does it take up time? Yes,
so value their time.
Present your best work (proper format, clean, readable typeface,
and quality paper) to the agent. Never, and I'll stress
this point, never give any agents your work with a note that
tells them that they'll "need to polish this up and fix
this for me" or "here's the gist, can you help finish it" because
the agent will give you the gist by not responding. Or, by responding,
"I'm sorry, this is not up my alley."
if you get a note that says, "Not for me, I just don't
have the enthusiasm for this." And you're wondering what
the "enthusiasm" part means? It means finish your
work, revise it again, and have someone else read it. Then study
the market (books written in a similar style and subject matter)
and send it to an agent who represents your genre, your style
and Contacting Agents - Capturing
the elusive agent.
Research the agents.
Begin your own log of agent's names that are referenced in the
Thank You pages of every book that you might be
reading. Keep a list of your favorite authors, particularly authors
whose style, voice, and genre match yours.
do you read the acknowledgment and/or thank-you page? Standard
practice in the industry is for authors to thank their agent,
their publisher's key contacts, including the editor. You'll
find the agent's name along with the author's mom, dad, dog,
sister or brother (who may have keyboarded or typed the manuscript
five times). Then there are distant relatives who may have housed,
fed, and nurtured the author's talent. These pages are a snapshot
into the life and times of the writer and you'll learn quite
I like authors who thank their dog. Who else stays up all night
tending the midnight fires by your feet? When your own book
is published thank whomever you must, including Trigger
my golden retriever and Upshot
the cat, but don't forget to thank your agent.
The work is hard and they get little glory while standing behind
the Agent's Category and Personal Preference.
(What Genre Did You Say? Jacobean Historical Pleasures?)
agents specialize. Find out what their preferences are. Usually
they represent or "agent" what they like to read as well as
work that breaks or falls into current publishing trends.
your genre (category) mystery? Thriller? Suspense? Or science
fiction? Collect the names of those authors' agents. Are you
writing the great American novel in high modern form?
Read and absorb the style and voice of those books, and capture
the agent's name. Can't find someone who represents Jacobean
Pleasures? Widen your net to include agents who represent
history and humor.
are you crafting a memoir that wrenches poverty into a half-nelson
arm grip the way Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning
Angela's Ashes did? He thanked his agent with wit and
grace in his Acknowledgments page. "Molly Friedrich,
who became my agent and thought that Nan Graham, Editor-in-Chief
at Scribner would be just the right person to put the book on
the road. And Molly was right." - Frank McCourt
see, there are very few secrets in publishing. Just a strict
requirement to get the research done first.
not call the agent. Ever. Okay, here's where we break that rule.
Call them once, but only after you have checked the library's
copy of LMP (or the online website) and found the agent's name.
You'll want to find out the correct spelling and pronunciation
of the agent's name and also check to see if they are still
with the same agency. Agents, like autumn leaves, drift occasionally.
Verify that they still are where "the books" say they are. (*See
"the books" by scrolling below if you need details.)
First contact is by letter. - It's
not a bench warrant.
In the books you'll find agents have rules about how
they like to work. Some prefer to work by e-mail, however, most
prefer to see a snail-mail query letter. The rule, broken often,
of sending a query only (not the query plus your nineteen-pound
novel) needs to be observed. Write a professional one-page
query using our three-point version of an introductory
cover letter. Your agent will thank you for it.
sent your manuscript. Time scrapes slowly across the floor,
denting your parquet flooring with its claws, and you still
have not heard. Wait an appropriate time. Ten days is not
an appropriate amount of time. Try to wait at least two months.
Full ones, not February doubled. Then send a one-page letter
with a summary of what you sent and ask politely if they have
had a chance to review your work. Wait another two weeks after
you have sent the follow-up letter and call, restating you are
looking for the an update of submission. They may not remember
you or your manuscript, so don't take it personally. Just act
professionally - and quickly state your reason for calling.
"I'm a writer
who submitted my manuscript three months ago and if you are
still considering my work, I'd like an update."
tickets and reckless driving? Not allowed.
Do we really have to say this? No tantrums, no whining, and
to avoid publishing's night court of abandoned writers, try
slowing down. We know that's a tall order. Interestingly enough,
editors have long memories and so do agents, so if you are moved
to express yourself in ways which do not belong on paper and
are even less appropriate over the phone, restrain yourself.
You'll thank us later.
Whatever you do, enjoy the journey. Remember that you are in
this for the long haul, that your writing just needs persistence
and time. Not to mention court-approved manners.
page's recommended links for "the books" and other
Marketplace Online - Find current information
- The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc. - Agencies.
Net - A neighboring website's directory for writers
Getting a Lit Permit
:: Finding a literary agent
the Cover Letter
Attending a writing conference