Getting a Literary Agent
The USA and UK collectively publish almost 400,000 books every year. Many agents are open to receiving submissions from other countries. So, if you have written a book in English, why not try your luck with the frontrunners in publishing?
Use our BANANA WRITER'S GUIDE to take your novel on a journey through the crazy world of literary agents. Learn about applying to agents, cover letters and why the industry will teach you to be the most patient you've ever been.
EDIT NOVEL MORE
Out of fear, put your novel in a drawer to gather dust and be eaten by novel chomping ants.
THE END OF YOU PUBLISHING DREAM
EDIT NOVEL EVEN MORE
If a sentence doesn’t sound right to you, it will sound terrible to the agents reading it. Make your writing the absolute very best you can. You must read your novel and know that you absolutely could not give another letter, full stop or comma more.
Make a list of agents you want to contact.
Guide books such as the “Writers and Artists Yearbook” have a list of the agents and their submissions guidelines.
Look in the acknowledgement pages of novels that are similar to yours. The vast majority of authors thank their agents and it is a good way of knowing which agents like your genre of work.
Many reputable agencies belong to book agency associations. Here are some links:
The Association of Author’s Agency (UK)
Association of Author’s Representatives
GETTING AN AGENT
Write a cover letter that tells the agent about your main character, what your novel is about and who you are as a writer. Keep the letter brief (no longer than one A4 side) and remember this letter is your sales pitch for your novel. It is your ONE chance to make an impression to the agent.
-Do not write Dear Sir / Madam only the agent’s name will do.
-Do include past writing achievements such as published short stories, online articles or blogs.
-Do not worry if you don’t have extensive writing experience. An agent will make their decision mostly on whether they like your novel and the way you write. However, being a quirky, fascinating, author helps.
-Do write brief facts about yourself that will make you stand out as a marketable author. Imagine the kind of interesting facts that journalists will quote about you in the future (when you are a rich and famous author). For example, if you have a blog with 100,000 followers - mention it, if your book is based on a celebrity you know - mention it, if your book is about drug addicts and you work with drug addicts - mention it and if your book is about the CIA and you use to be a CIA agent - mention it.
-Do be careful about overselling yourself. If you think your novel is much better than bestselling author X, Y and Z - keep it to yourself. Rather say something along the line of “My novel is probably in the genre of author, X, Y or Y.” Agents do not want to work with obnoxious egomaniacs.
- Do mention why you specifically want to work with them. Why is this specific agency the one you would love to be part of? Agents are human and like to feel special.
-Do be professional in your letter. Your letter may make the agent laugh but they are not looking for a clown, they are looking for a professional who will turn up on time and make them lots of money. You don’t have to sound boring - just give the impression that you are likeable and are serious about becoming an author.
- Do apply only to agents that take on your genre of novel. Usually their website will tell you the types of novels they like. If the agent states that they do not accept your type of novel and you still apply anyway, your application will be used as bedding for the office hamster.
POST / EMAIL YOUR APPLICATION
Depending on the agent, you will be required to either:
- Send just a query letter; if they are interested they will request sample chapters.
- Send your cover letter along with your synopsis and sample chapters (usually the first three chapters)
WAIT EVEN MORE!!!
(Anything from 1 week - 6months. The average waiting time is 2-3 months, so it is a good idea to apply for 20-30 agents at a time.)
Getting rejections are always horrible. But remind yourself that the majority of bestselling authors have been rejected at some point in their career. Do not give up after a few rejections. If you believe in your work, keep going! There are hundreds of agents out there. If your novel is good enough it will eventually find a home with an agent.
Agents will pass on your novel by the following methods:
A standard form letter that is sent to the masses which says "Thanks but no thanks."
A personalised rejection that says why they did not like your novel and ways you could improve. Sometimes agents give good and helpful feedback. So, if you have been rejected by one or more agents for the same reason, do take note.
A blank silence. This is the worst kind of rejection but happens a lot. Agents are very busy people and sadly many are too busy to even tell you, "No."
REQUEST FOR THE FULL MANUSCRIPT
When an agent asks for your full manuscript they are very interested in your novel. Most good agents receive about 100+ submissions a week and hate wasting time. They have seen something positive about your novel, so give yourself a pat on the back.
(The agent may make you wait anything between 1 week - 6 months. They are very busy with their current clients and reading your novel will sadly not be their biggest priority. Sometimes agents do want to sign you up within a few weeks. However, the majority of authors usually have to wait 1-3 months. If they haven't rejected your novel there is still HOPE, so just sit tight.
THE AGENT FINALLY CONTACTS YOU...
They love your novel and want to sign you up!
They love your novel and want to meet to check you out (before signing you up).
They love your novel and want to meet to check you out. But before they sign you up, they want you to make some editorial change
They like your novel but don’t love it so they do not want to sign you up.
Keep applying to other agents and start the submission process again.
Stephen King, J K Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Yann Mantel and Tan Twan Eng are just a few examples of authors who faced A LOT of rejection and did not give up.
Being a talented writer is important, but PATIENCE and DETERMINATION go a long way in this competitive industry.
Accept the offer, jump for joy and scream lots! However, if you are still waiting to hear back from other agents (that you are more interested in) write to them immediately to hurry them up. It is only polite to let them know you have another offer. Give all agents a timeframe to get back to you (2-3 weeks is decent amount).
Treat this meeting like a job interview. You still have to make a good impression and sell yourself as an author. You do not have to be as formally dressed as a corporate interview, but you still have to look professional. They want to see someone who will give a good impression to publishers, because when they sign you up they are putting their name on the line. Let your passion shine through and it does not harm to let them know your past writing credentials. They want to see how serious you are about your book and whether you will be committed in the long run i.e happy to spend a large amount of time on editing and promoting your book. If the agent wants to meet you, there is a very high chance they will want to sign you up after the meeting.
Decide if this is the best choice for you. If an agent asks you to do this, they are seriously interested in your book but are just not 100%. It is a risk because you could spend months doing changes and still not get an offer. But you could do the changes and end up with a great agent. Until you have signed a contract, there is no reason why you cannot apply for other agents at the same time.
SIGNING THE CONTRACT
Use common sense and read the fine print. Ask the agent if you do not understand anything. They are usually very happy to offer advice. If they are cagey about the terms of the contract, beware. Trust is an important part of the author-agent relationship. Most authors stay with the same agent for many years.
On average, most agencies will deduct 12-15% from the money you earn from your novel. This may vary for when they sell the rights of your books to other countries, movie studios, book groups, libraries and the radio.
Never pay to join a literary agency. Legitimate agents only get paid when they find you a publishing deal. There are many scams where agents will steal your money under the guise of things such as “admin fees,” “website fees,” “editorial fees” (for editing your work), “reading fees” (for reading your whole manuscript and giving you comments) and even a “photography fee” (so you can look nice and presentable on their website).
Most good agents will read through your work several times, give you comments, help edit your work and give career advice all for FREE and BEFORE they submit your novel to the publishing companies.
CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE AN AGENT!
The average agent receives close to 100 applications a week (often more). Out of the 100 applications, they may request only 1-2 full manuscripts. Unless they are a new agency, they will usually only accept 2-3 new clients a year (or even less). So give yourself a HUGE pat on the back and jump up and down. This is the start of something amazing! BW