How to Get a Literary Agent
There are two main ways to get an agent: get them to request your writing, or send it unsolicited.
First of all, says agent and author Nathan Bransford, “If you are trying to find an agent and you are not a) a celebrity or b) a deity, you will need to have a finished and polished manuscript.” Whether it’s a novel or a collection of short stories, it must be complete before you start querying. If the agent likes your work they will want to see the full manuscript, and it’s unprofessional to keep them waiting.
Next, get into the literary world. Read blogs by agents and published writers, and attend writing conferences and networking events. Nathan says: “If you do this before you try to find an agent your odds of success will increase dramatically, because you will ooze professionalism and knowledge, qualities that bode well for future successful writers.”
If you write short fiction, enter your best work into high-profile contests with large prizes, like the Bridport Prize or the Bristol Prize. The contest organisers send the winners’ anthology to several top London agencies, so even if you don’t win first prize it’s a great way to get your work in front of agents.
When agents start getting in touch, always stay professional. And be patient – agents can take up to three months to read a manuscript.
If your inbox is still strangely empty, or you’re just not keen on the agents who’ve approached you, it’s time to query.
Again, the first step is to do your research. Check that the agent handles the type of manuscript you want to send (ie. if they only represent science fiction, they won’t want your crime novel no matter how good it is). Hannah Westland, an agent with Rogers, Coleridge and White, advises that query letters should be personalised for each agent. “If the agent has similar interests to you, or have represented writers you like, then make reference to that when you approach. People want to feel like you’re not just sending the same standard letter to 100 agents.”
Always follow the submission guidelines on the agency’s website, but if they don’t list specifics then stick to the standard: black text on white paper, double-spaced, size 12 Times New Roman. First approaches are usually through email, and if the agent requests a physical manuscript then use good-quality A4 paper. Attach sufficient postage – the agency won’t pay the excess fees.
“A covering letter is very important,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, an agent with Curtis Brown, “but keep it shortish and to the point – no more than a page. A brief synopsis is always welcome but not pages of description – think of the blurbs you see on the back of books.” (More advice and a query letter template here.)
Most important of all, be persistent. Many authors query dozens of different agents before getting a response, so don’t let rejection get you down – keep sending your manuscript out until you find an agent who loves it.
(Originally published at IdeasTap)