How to get a literary agent

Advice, Books, Writing

I haven’t written about this much on this blog, but you may have read on my bio that I am a writer. I write novels for young adults, and it has always been my dream to be traditionally published. This means getting my books published by an established publishing house, rather than self-publishing. (Oh boy, let’s see how many times can I use the word publish in this post!)

In most cases if you want to be traditionally published, first you need a literary agent. There are some exceptions — maybe you’re working with a very small press or you feel comfortable representing yourself. In general, getting an agent is the way to go. Even literary agents who are writers themselves often get an agent to help them get their books published.

That said, it’s hard to get an agent. Many a writer tries, fails, and gives up. There are rumors that you have to have an “in” in the publishing industry and you’ll never make it if you don’t schmooze and network and meet some people.

I am here to tell you it’s possible to get an agent the old-fashioned way, because I did it. No personal favors, no industry contacts, no help from anyone.

So if you’re still reading, I take it you want to know how to get yourself a literary agent. Well, here it is:

How to get an agent (in this writer’s experience)

Step 1: Write a book. (Yes, for fiction you have to write an entire, complete, polished manuscript before you even think about getting an agent.) Research agents who represent your genre, and query* those agents. Get used to rejection, because you will get rejected by every single one of them (except the ones who don’t respond at all). Yay!

*A query letter is a fun little thing where you have to condense the essence of your book in the most enticing way possible in one page. You have about 250 words to convince a complete stranger that they want to read your book.

Step 2: Write another book! This time, decide that you don’t really like this one all that much, and put it away forever.

Step 3: You guessed it… write another one! And edit it. And polish it. Have some people read it, and edit it some more. Research agents. Write and re-write your query until it’s nearly perfect. Keep a very detailed spreadsheet of all the queries you send out. Get a lot of rejections, and quite a few requests*. Finally, an agent likes your book enough that she wants to chat on the phone. If you’re lucky (and I was!) that phone call includes an offer of representation.

*A request is when an agent likes your query letter and wants to read the book. This can be either a partial request (a few chapters) or a full (the entire manuscript).

Step 4: Celebrate!!! And wait for the next chapter of your writerly life to begin. (Hint: this usually means more edits…and then finally submitting the book to publishers and hoping someone likes it. Only now you have an agent to help you.)

~

For me, this process started in 2009, so it’s been six years in the making. If you want to be a traditionally published writer, you have to be patient. Writing a book takes a long time (especially if you’re in college and/or working full time, like I was), and the publishing industry moves at a very slow pace.

Let me know if you have any questions about writing, editing, querying, or my experiences!

-L

Resources:
~To get started writing a query letter: start here and here
~To start researching agents: Google is your friend (for example, search for: “literary agents {your genre here}”). But also start here.
~For a community of writers to answer your questions and help with your query: go here.

My Stats:
Writers tend to like seeing other writers’ query stats. Here are mine for my third book:

48 total queries sent
24 form rejections
14 no response
3 partial requests
7 full requests
Timeline: started querying October 18, 2014, received offer March 6, 2015

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