Finding an agent is perhaps the most exciting and nerve-wracking part of becoming an author. An agent is often the gateway to getting your book published, and it might even be the first time someone other than yourself has read your book!
Agents are a jack of all trades. They are primarily an incredible sales person with brilliant contacts in the publishing world, able to get your book into the hands of just the right people. But they are often very good editors too, ensuring your manuscript is absolutely perfect before they send it out to publishers.
They are knowledgeable about trends in publishing, about which editors and publishers would be a good fit for you. They might sell your novel to different territories around the world, not just in your own country, and not just in your language.
An agent will sing your praises, help you navigate the mad world of publishing whenever you feel out of your depth, and clink champagne glasses with you to celebrate your book coming out! In fact, I am still learning what an agent does, and I’ve been an author for four years!
A good partnership with a literary agent could potentially last a very long time, and therefore it's so important to choose the right one.
But before you become a published author, even the thought of finding an agent can feel quite daunting. Here are my top tips.
1. Get your manuscript as polished as possible, and above all, finish it!
I know how excited I get when I’ve written my first few chapters. I want to shout about it! But if you send it out unfinished and the agent asks for your whole novel, you’ll be in a tricky situation.
Next, put it in a drawer or hide it away on your computer and leave it for a few weeks, or better yet a few months. Time away from it will really help you see it properly. Bring it back out and run your eye over it again. Polish it even more.Now it’s time to start sending it out!
2. Look in novels similar to your own story.
When looking for agents, I found the best way to find the right one for me was to look in novels that I compared my own story to. Read the acknowledgments at the back. Authors will always thank their agents if they've been helpful!
3. Pay attention to submission guidelines.
All agents require different things in that initial communication. Go to their website and have a look. Check if they are currently open to submissions—many agents only open for a few weeks in the year because they're very busy with their current clients.
The website will usually list what they need from you. It will probably consist of an opening letter (ie. a formal email), an extract from your novel, and a synopsis. Pay attention to what they ask for, and follow it to the letter.
The Covering Letter/Email:
Make sure you address it to the right person. Don't put Mr if it's a Miss! Be polite, and don't be too clever. List your merits, for example, if you've ever excelled in a competition, or if you've ever done any freelance writing.
Choose a couple of novels that you think are comparable to your own. Think up a good elevator pitch—a short, punchy description of your novel.
The Novel Extract:
Some agents ask for the first 50 pages of your work, others for the first three chapters. Pay attention to what they want. Make sure that all grammar and spellings are correct. Most agents require it to be double spaced in a size 12 font, but do check!
I always find the synopsis the hardest thing to write, because it's not a very creative process, and it's hard to pare it down to the most basic plot points of your story. The main thing is to be concise: if it doesn’t move the novel on, it doesn’t need to be in there.
4. Send your work out to a few agents at a time.
If any of them ask for your full manuscript, then email the others to let them know. This should spur them into reading yours quicker, and hopefully ask to read the whole thing! Likewise, if any of them offer you representation, let the other agents know, too. And if you decide to sign with an agent, tell the others as a common courtesy.
5. Be prepared for a long wait.
Publishing is a strange business consisting of long periods of waiting punctuated by moments of great excitement, and this does not stop after you get an agent! While you are waiting to hear, get thinking about a new project.
As a full time writer, I often have three or four books on the go at once. For example, I’m currently polishing the third draft of one novel, having just finished the first draft of another, while I wait back for notes from my editor about my next novel to be published.
I hope this has gone some way to explaining the process. My one final tip would be to find some like-minded people, either in person or online. Join a writing group or find others in the same boat. It makes it much less lonely and much more fun when someone else is doing the same as you! And last but not least, good luck!
Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block?Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.