Getting Published Step 3: Finding a Literary Agent


The agent’s role & why you need one

A literary agent is your personal liaison to the publishing industry. He or she will work with you to perfect your manuscript, manage the submission process to publishers, negotiate your publishing contract, and provide general advice for your writing career. Agents also act as filters for publishers. They read queries and manuscripts from thousands of authors and pick out the ones they think are most likely to sell to publishers. This lets the publishers focus their attention on publishing and marketing and leave the time consuming process of finding new authors to the agents.


Top 5 reasons you need an agent:

  1. Publishers generally do not accept “unsolicited” manuscripts (i.e. manuscripts directly from the author)
  2. Agents have established relationships throughout the industry and they know the publishing houses and specific editors who would be the best fit for your work
  3. An agent will present your manuscript to many publishers simultaneously, which puts pressure on the publisher to read it quickly and respond with a competitive offer
  4. Agents are expert negotiators. They understand every aspect of a publishing contract and are financially motivated to get you the best deal possible
  5. They are your personal industry expert and can offer advice on writing, what you should work on next, marketing, and your career as an author
Check out the free sample section of The Complete Guide to Getting Published for even more reasons you should sign with a literary agent.

Overview of the agent search process

Before you begin searching for an agent, make sure your manuscript is complete, properly reviewed, and in its best shape. Agents almost always require a full manuscript before they will sign a first-time author. And it’s quite possible that an agent will immediately request your full manuscript. So make sure you’re ready to send it out before you begin the query process – once you have an agent’s attention, you don’t want to keep them waiting.

Here’s a quick overview of the agent search process:

1. Creating and perfecting your pitch

2. Writing your query letter

3. Locating specific agencies/agents and doing your homework

4. Submitting your query letter to agents & fielding responses

5. Signing with an agency and celebrating!


The pitch

A “pitch” is a carefully crafted set of brief descriptions of your novel, ranging from one sentence to a few paragraphs in length, that explain the concept in such a compelling manner that those who read it immediately want to learn more. Your pitch is extremely important. The reality is, you are the first link in a long chain of “sales” that need to happen in order to get your book published and in the bookstores for readers to purchase. Your ability to effectively sell your novel with a proper pitch to an agent directly relates to the level of success other parties will have when they attempt to sell your novel further down the chain.


The query letter

A query letter is the initial letter, or more commonly an email, that you send to prospective agencies which introduces you and your book (using your pitch), and requests that they contact you for more information if they’re interested. All your hard work in writing your novel, revising, researching the market and locating literary agencies, comes together at this one letter. It’s perhaps the most important document you’ve written thus far, except for your manuscript. You have to sell your concept and yourself in a way that stands out from the hundreds of other authors trying to get published – all in just a few short paragraphs.


Locating agencies

In order to find the right agent for you and your manuscript, you have to do a little bit of homework. There are thousands of agents out there – each specializing in different genres and styles. In order to zero in on your perfect agent, you’ll need to build an Agent Submission List. This list will be your primary tool for navigating and staying organized during your agent search.


The agent submission process

Here is an overview of a typical agent submission process:

  • You submit a query letter to an agent.
  • You wait. Some agents will respond in days, some in weeks, some never at all
  • You start receiving responses. An agent will either: Pass or Request more information
  • If an agent requests more information, they will usually ask for one or more of the following: The full manuscript (also referred to in the industry as simply “a full”), a partial manuscript (also referred to as simply “a partial”) which is usually 30 pages or 3 chapters, and/or a full synopsis of your book
  • You wait again while the agent reviews your materials. This time frame can range from a few days to a few weeks to a few months, depending on the agent, their schedule, how much they requested, and if they ask for other opinions within their agencies.
  • After reviewing your material, an agent will either pass or offer you representation

Signing with an agent

Choosing whether or not to sign with an agent is a big decision. And it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Every agent works differently so you want to make sure you’re committing to one that’s best suited for you. Your diligent research earlier on in the process should have helped filter out any fitting agents already, but now it’s time to really examine the agent carefully and determine if they are the right one for you and your book.

Your dream of publishing your novel is within reach! Check out this video to see how The Complete Guide to Getting Published can help you write a killer query letter and get signed with a literary agent!