Finding a Literary Agent, By Maria V. Snyder

Back to Advice.

Literary agents work for you. They will submit your manuscript to publishers, negotiate contracts, and go to bat for you provided they like your book and take you on as a client.

Editors prefer to receive manuscripts from agents. Agents will only send books they are excited about and are well written. In fact, most publishers will no longer consider manuscripts from John Q. Public unless his agent submits it.

This is how the process works - you write a book (agents won't touch articles or short stories) and you decide if you want to publish your book the "traditional" way (i.e. with a publisher) or self-publish it. For those seeking to find a publisher, then you need an agent - it's the best way. Some agents charge reading fees, which is okay, but there are plenty that don't and I would suggest you start with them. Once an agent decides to represent you he/she will begin sending your book to publishers/editors and if they sell it - that's when they make their money. Usually 15% of the advance money and 15% of all royalties earned for the book.

So how do you find an agent? The best place online is Agent Query. This site not only has a searchable database of agents, it has LOTS of great advice and resources. I suggest you find agents that live in New York City and that represent books that are similar to yours. In other words, if you have a fantasy novel, look for agents who represent fantasies. Also read the acknowledgements of published books that are similar to yours. Many authors thank their agents in the acknowledgments. When you submit to an agent, he/she likes to know who your reading audience is - so if you wrote a fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist and a romantic subplot, you could say that your book is similar to Poison Study - then the agent knows which publishers/editors to target. Why New York city? Because that's where most of the editors are and your agent can meet them in person. Another thing to look for is if the agent is agent is a member of AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives) that's a good sign (but not required). Many agents have blogs and are on Twitter and they provide good information like what novels they are currently looking for!

Once you find these agents, then send them EXACTLY what they ask for in their submission guidelines. If they want you to email three chapters and a synopsis, then that's what you send them! To send them the proper materials, you'll need to know the lingo (i.e. know the difference between a cover letter and a query letter). And you'll need to write a synopsis as well (best to have a "1 page" and a "6 page" synopsis of your novel). For more information on submissions, go HERE.

Many times agents say they will contact you if they want more information or to offer you a contract - so if you don't hear from them by a certain time, than it's a "no, thank you." Also attending writers' conferences is a great way to meet agents in person and some even have appointments so you can pitch your book to him/her. For all correspondence with editors, be professional, be polite, and be prepared. If you do get a rejection, don't send a nasty email back. I used to send thank you cards to the agents that took the time to personally reply to me even if it was a quick note about why the story didn't work (many of them remembered me because of this!). Agents talk to each other quite a bit and you don't want to get a reputation for being unprofessional. An agent might believe he/she can't sell your current novel, but a future novel might be more marketable. If they remember you as being professional, they'll be more open to reading your next submission.

I couldn't find an agent for Poison Study (after 40 queries), so I sent it out to all the major SF/Fantasy publishers and happened to see that Harlequin was starting a new Fantasy line. But that was thirteen years ago and the publishing climate has changed. I do have an agent now and think that is the best way to go if you want to be traditionally published. Good agents will also be invested in your writing career and will contact the publisher when things go wrong, like chase down a late advance payment or find out why your fantasy novel is shelved in the romance section of a major bookseller. Also with an agent, your relationship with your editor will be focused on the writing and story and not on the money.

REMEMBER - there are sharks in the publishing waters! There are many bad agents out there - so make sure you do your research and check out SFWA's Author's Beware site - and Predators and Editors site for agents to avoid: The Agent Query website has this great article about Beware Scammers.

Books & Excerpts |  Biography |  Appearances |  Writing Advice |  World Map
FAQs |  Short Stories |  Links |  News |  Home
All contents copyright © 2004-, Maria V. Snyder
Contact Maria at
Designed and Created By Depixelate Web Design