You typed in the magic words “The End,” and it’s true, your final page is one sort of end, but “to be continued” may be more appropriate in terms of your writing journey. Where will it continue? Into the publishing blogosphere, into immense tomes that contain information on agents, into the pages of writing magazines, into the post office, into new files on your computer, with carefully personalized query letters addressed to dozens of strangers—strangers who hold your destiny and dreams in their hands. Strangers known as literary agents.
Getting a literary agent is an intimidating process, and the world is rife with information on how to lure in one of these mystical creatures. In this blog post, I’ve distilled my myriad observations from time spent as a literary agent and as a writer down to five key tips that should inform your actions throughout your search.
Tip 1: Write Something Amazing
Too obvious? If you’ve ever had to read the slush piles, you’d know that it actually can never be said enough. Too many writers are so excited by their bestseller wishes and National Book Award dreams that they end up skipping over the many steps necessary to perfect their manuscripts. Getting a literary agent in today’s hardscrabble publishing environment is difficult enough when you have something stellar in hand. Don’t lower your chances by sending out anything less than your best, which might mean having a trusted friend or skilled editor assist you in revisions.
Tip 2: Choose Your Targets Wisely
You have the next big thing in historical romance. You read an interview with a Phd making a splash with the latest neuroscience-meets-your-life wherein the author praises his agent effusively. This agent might be a perfect match for the good doctor, but will he really appreciate the hours you spent mastering the intricacies of 18th-century hairstyles? More to the point—does he know the editors of your genre? By making sure the agents you approach are the right fits for your work, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time, rejection, or worse–acceptance by someone who doesn’t really know how to market your book.
Tip 3: Follow Submission Guidelines
A synopsis and a letter. A letter and a synopsis and two pages. A letter and a synopses and ten pages. Only a letter. A partial. A whole. You can’t keep track of the everyone’s preferred submission format, and you would get your submissions out so much faster—in seconds, really—if all you had to do was replace the name after the salutation and hit send. However, it’s worth it to take the time and tailor your submission to what the literary agent has requested, since deviation from the requirements might lead them to ignore your submission. Do your research and also pay attention to whether the agent is even accepting submissions right now—you could save yourself a lot of time in your path to getting a literary agent.
Tip 4: Create a Good Query Letter.
I’ve written before about the importance of query letters—and one of my most popular service is editing and refining query letters. As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. This is actually true for literary agents, who you cannot query twice. So labor over that query letter. When a document is short, it’s even more vital that every word is carefully chosen, every paragraph polished to its highest potential.
Tip 5: Be Patient.
The time between when you send your material to agents and the time in which it takes them to respond may feel like an eternity. But agents are plowing through tons of material, so don’t take the delay personally or let your imagination run wild—Perhaps it got lost in the mail! Occupy yourself with a new project, or catch up on all the television shows you missed out on while writing your book.