Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

How to Find a Literary Agent

I recently hosted a space where aspiring authors asked questions about the publishing industry. In addition to talking self-publishing, I also gave insight into the process of finding a literary agent, which I will distill into a few points here for easy reference. If you’d like to listen to the whole talk, go here.

Researching agents

QueryTracker is my go-to tool for researching agents. You can use the tool for free or pay a small premium for advanced features. It has absolutely invaluable information on things like:

  1. If an agent is open to queries
  2. What genres they represent
  3. What their preferred method of contact is
  4. What their response rate is
  5. Their social media
  6. Feedback from authors who submitted to them on their querying process

A lot of queries you send out will go unanswered or will be answered a really long time from when you sent it out. This is another great feature of QueryTracker because it lets you keep track of outstanding queries you are waiting on. 

If you have an agent you particularly want to work with and you receive an offer of representation before they’ve gotten back to you – you can ping them to let you know you’ve gotten an offer. But other than that, you shouldn’t message the same agent over and over again. Which is another reason QueryTracker is helpful – in preventing you from accidentally querying the same manuscript to the same agent twice. 

publisher's marketplace

The publishing industry works on a long timeline. Even if a manuscript is fully edited and ready to go, it can take many months to a year before it will actually go to market.

Publisher’s Marketplace is a great tool for understanding what kind of books are getting agents and publishing deals RIGHT NOW… for books that will be published next year and beyond. You can go to Barnes and Noble to see top sellers – and that’s important too for finding comps for your query letter – but Publisher’s Marketplace gives you industry insight what books the industry will be pushing in the future.

When you read listings, note that there is industry jargon that isn’t apparent to the average reader unless you know what to look for. For example, the following terms below refer to how much an agent was able to secure as an advance for their author during the publishing deal negotiating process: 

  • “nice deal” $1 – $49,000
  • “very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000
  • “good deal” $100,000 – $250,000
  • “significant deal” $251,000 – $499,000
  • “major deal” $500,000 and up

You as a new author looking for an agent should use the site to search for recent bestsellers, using PM as a tool to learn who the agent is that represented the book, what kind of deal the author got, and who the publisher is.

What should be in your query letter?

This subject clearly needs its own article, but at a high level, your query letter should contain:

  1. Agent’s name (do not give a generic salutation!)
  2. Personal detail on why you are querying this agent (Did they represent a book similar to yours? Why are you choosing them as your agent?)
  3. Short and compelling hook 
  4. Word count in parenthesis
  6. Genre
  7. 2 Comp titles no older than 2 years
  8. Writing credentials if you have them
  9. Your contact info

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