How to Approach a Literary Agent

It is important to know how to approach a literary agent, as they are there to work with you to get publishing deals. An agent will advise you on contracts through your career and help you get the best deal possible. You shouldn’t have to pay them any money up front, they earn their money by taking an industry standard of 15% of any money you make from your book. If you are looking to publish your book traditionally and not by yourself or through other methods, then it is worth having an agent. Publishers could easily take advantage and end up with more than this 15% on top of their share if you are not knowledgable about contracts. It’s good to have someone on your side.

Here are 11 steps for how to approach a literary agent:

1) Have your book completed. This doesn’t mean have all the art work and have it type-set and in a bound hardback copy. Just don’t send a first draft, send a completed manuscript that’s been proof-read and edited at least once. Most agencies won’t have the time to take on a book at first draft. They will also most likely want contact via email so make sure you have a digital version of your book in a universal format e.g. Microsoft Word.

2) Research what agencies you want to contact and keep a spreadsheet listing who you will contact and why. This way you can clearly see who wants what from you and you can keep track of who you have contacted, plus any feedback you receive.

3) Research the agency and tailor your approach to them. Compliment the works they already represent, tell them why you are approaching them specifically.

4) Explain your book honestly (target audience, genres, word count) but also talk about yourself – have you had any reviews, any sort of exposure for your book, attended any particularly useful networking events (show you are actively pushing yourself forward). Try to stand out, be yourself and don’t be bland. Why have you written that story in particular? What’s your personal attachment to it?

5) Only send what they asked for. If they just want the first 2 chapters, just send the first 2 chapters. They will most likely delete any submissions that don’t go along with the guidelines.

6) Don’t approach everyone in one go. Some people will give feedback so it is worth holding back in case someone gives you a valuable edit for your book which helps you get a deal elsewhere.

7) Label any attached documents with your name and the name of the book! Agencies get a lot of submissions so they need to be able to tell yours apart from the rest.

8) While you wait for responses, start another project! Some agencies may ask what you’re planning to write next. They like to see that you’re forward-thinking and ambitious, not just solely relying on one book with no other ideas. Also, they may like your writing style but not that particular story so it’s worth having something else to show them.

9) They are working for you – don’t be arrogant but don’t accept questionable responses e.g. “we like your work but want an exclusive. We may not be able to work with you yet but we don’t want you approaching anyone else until we are ready to take on your work”. Get them to put their money where their mouth is. If they are interested the chances are someone else will be too, so you don’t need to be stuck with an agreement you are not happy with.

10) Agents talk to each other – don’t snap if you get a no. If you annoy one agent, they are likely to tip others off not to work with you.

11) It’s not just about the deal, it’s about the relationship you could have with the agent. If your personalities clash you are going to find it difficult to work together. Find blogs written by them, follow them on twitter – get a feel for who they are as a person. If you meet them and don’t feel comfortable with them then find someone else! You need a relationship you can trust.

Now you know how to approach a literary agent, these steps should help you get a better deal for yourself.

Useful resources: 

Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2017 – the ultimate guide for writers navigating the media and publishing world.

Author, Abi Elphinstone, talking about the 96 rejections she encountered before her success

A list of example letters that were sent to literary agencies and resulted in those authors being signed.

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