5 Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

5 Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

Finding a literary agent is a bit like finding your one true love. It can take forever and you might feel like crap sometimes during the search. Here are five tips to help:

1. Find the agents of authors similar to you. Most agent directories list what agents “generally” represent. For example, some might say they’re interested in “mainstream fiction.” That’s pretty broad. But if you look in the author acknowledgments of books similar to yours and find out who the author’s agent is, you can query that agent. The agent will be more likely to “get” you.

2. Go to writer’s conferences. Conferences like the SDSU Writer’s Conference in San Diego let you make appointments for one-on-ones with agents and editors. Some will even do advance readings of your first chapter. Even if you can’t get into a one-on-one meeting, you can always pitch an agent at one of the cocktail parties or workshops that they hold. If you’re shy, don’t worry. Just hand over your first page.

And here’s a sneaky trick that one established author told us: Send your work to agents that you didn’t even talk to at the conference, saying REQUESTED- SDSU Writer’s Conference. “They’re not going to remember,” he pointed out. That way, they might move it up their pile quicker.

3. Keep organized. Once you start sending query letters, use something like QueryTracker.net to keep track of who you sent letters to, and when. This is a useful free tool; it also tells you things like how long the average wait time is for an agent and their contact info. It’ll also help stop you from sending the same query to the same agent more than once.

4. Network. This doesn’t mean that if you happen to run into Stephanie Meyer in the airport that you begin emailing her about how you’re best buddies now and can she forward all your work to her agent? Nope. It’s a longer process.
For instance, with my first agent I worked with a professional book editor with whom I developed a terrific relationship. When the first agent thing didn’t work out, she helped me get introduced to my new agent, Elaine Markson.

5. Send it and forget it. It’s hard to not obsess about when that agent will get back to you, but you must let it go. Agents do read everything they get sent, even it takes a long time (remember, they’re working for clients and making deals, which is what you want them to do for you, right?) and they say the cream will rise.

But Do They Love It?

Every agent I’ve encountered only takes on work IF THEY LOVE IT. So even if you’ve written a sure-fire blockbuster, if an agent’s response is, “Meh…” they are not gonna sign you.

And that’s what you want. You want someone who is head over heels for you, who calls you up and tells you you’re the greatest writer and maybe person in the world, because that’s the energy she is bringing to publishers.

Dealing with Rejection

Don’t give up. Rejections do not mean you’re a bad writer. They usually mean that the person just didn’t happen to love your work. Put 10 people in a room and ask them how many loved the movie Titanic. A few will say no, a few will say it was okay, maybe one will say IT WAS THE BEST MOVIE EVER, IT CHANGED MY LIFE!

However, if all your rejections have a similar theme, such as, “I loved your writing, but your character is unsympathetic,” then you might consider changing it. Or if what the agent says seems to make sense to you. Take it as a compliment if you get any feedback at all, too.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

3 thoughts on “5 Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

  1. I’m on my way, with my memoir The Wastebasket Chronicles. In first draft now, I have about 8 chapters down. I believe I believe I believe in the power of now. I’m writing it. I’m doing it, I’m getting it down on paper. Next steps will surely follow.

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