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Monday, July 11, 2011

Tips on Snagging the Right Literary Agent

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

With the changes e-publishing is bringing to the market, many are wondering if they still need an agent. My answer to most writers is, yes, especially if you still want to be published by a traditional publisher. This post isn't about the debate of why you may or may not need an agent. It's about how to find a good, legit agent who will work well with YOU.

Before you go searching for an agent, you need to know the following:
1)What do you want from your agent? Is it someone who will negotiate your contracts? Do you expect your editor to help you polish or make suggested changes to your manuscripts? Is it someone who will guide you on your writing career beyond the first book contract? Or do you want someone who will help you promote your work? Agents have different work ethics and some see their role differently from others, so you need to have an understanding of what you expect and want.
2) What publishers are you targeting? Make sure the agents you target have sold to those particular publishers. How does your agent network with authors and publishers? Do they attend writing conferences? Are they on social media networks?

3) How accessible do you expect your agent to be? Are they accessible to you by email, phone, blogs? How important are these things to YOU personally? Don't think you can harass them with status updates each week, but you should feel comfortable contacting them once a month or when you have a particular issue or question.

4) What kind of reputation are you seeking in an agent? Do you expect an agent who has big name authors with all the big name publishers and the large advances in Publishers Weekly? Or are you more interested in an agent who is known to be well-trusted, who is loyal to midlist authors, and who works with new writers and gets them established?

5) What kind of personality are you more comfortable working with? This is something to consider in any project or job you do. Everyone has unique personalities and some of us get along better with some than others. Pray for wisdom and be willing to wait on the right agent at the right time. Just because one agent works well with your critique partner and best friend, doesn't mean that agent is going to work best with YOU. 

How does an author discover the personality and work ethic of an agent?

You can't make a determination about someone you've never met in person or have only spoken to on the phone or pitched a story to in 10-15 minutes. In fact, you need to have already done your homework on them before the in-person pitch or phone call.

1) Subscribe to Agent Blogs. More agents are blogging these days. Subscribe by email, on RSS reader or an e-reader and trying to read up on their blog posts each day or once a week, depending on what your schedule allows. Start by doing an online search for literary agents, make a list and visit their websites. Be sure to check out their Submission Guidelines. No need in following an agent who doesn't represent what you write. That is the first step in narrowing down your list.

2) Follow their Social Network Sites. If they are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Goodreads, follow them. You'll get a glimpse into their personality and preferences through their blog posts, but even more at how they react to other writers and wanna be writers who have questions. 

3) Follow an agent's authors. Sometimes an author will post the most recent sales their agent has made for them, some great things their agent is doing for them, or advice their agent may have given them. They may even post interviews and contests where their agent will participate in an effort to promote their book and client.

4) Attend writing conferences and workshops where agents are accepting pitches and giving workshops. We all have limited budgets and none of us can attend every writing conference we would like, but you might be able to afford one or two throughout the year. Narrow down your list of targeted agents and invest in a conference where he/she will be.

Submitting to Literary Agents
Once you've narrowed down your agent search to a handful of potential agents, it's time to begin working on your submission process. While this is another whole blog post, I'll list a few things to think about.

1) Don't send out a submission unless the book is complete and critiqued by a critique partner/group or another writer who's further along in their writing journey. For some reason, writers want to skip ahead in the process and send out proposals to publication as soon as they complete a book. They don't realize all the rewriting, edits, and polishing that is necessary before sending out a proposal. Believe me, your book will not be ready as you finish it. 

2) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. This is NOT an option. It isn't okay to do some of the things on their list and skip others. Do everything just the way they ask. If they only accept query letters. Send a query letter and nothing else. If they ask you to embed the manuscript in the email, do it. If they ask you to send it as a Word document as an attachment, do it. Don't do what YOU this is best or more convenient for YOU. The way you follow directions, is a good evaluation as to whether or not they will want to work with YOU or not. It's a partnership. You may be hiring the agent, but they can always reject you. It works both ways.  

3) Enter a few contests for feedback and recognition. If you enter a contest and final or win a category, be sure to include this in your query or cover letter. They do pay attention to certain contest winners and finalists. It gives you an edge over the slush pile. Plus, you might receive some great feedback that will open your eyes to help you make your manuscript even better before it goes to an editor. 

4) Build an online network. Building an online platform is critical, especially if an agent wants to sell YOU and your work to an editor. They need to know you have a network of people you can market your book to, as well as to know that you feel comfortable networking and promoting yourself. Books don't sell themselves just because they're published and these days publishers are spending fewer dollars on new and midlist authors. The burden of sales and promotion is mostly on the author. If you can prove you might be more marketable than an another author in the same genre, you may win the next publication slot. An agent knows this.

Let me know if this is helpful or if you have other ideas you can add.


SUPER advice, Jennifer! Definitely keeping it in mind as I search.

Joanne, You're welcome. Hope your search goes well.