Do you want to publish through the traditional route? Well getting a literary agent can definitely help you there!
A literary agent is someone who represents authors and their books. They work on commission, so they only get paid when you get paid, and they’re always looking for a manuscript to fall in love with. Here are just a few things a literary agent can do:
- Some agents will help you polish up your manuscript before submitting it to editors at publishing houses (this may include light editing or suggestions for changes)
- Agents can negotiate contracts for you since they know the publishing industry a lot better than most authors
- Agents submit your work to editors for you
- Some agents will work with sub-rights (audio books, translations, movie rights, etc.) and some will have other agents at their agency to do that for you
- Agents can match you with the right publisher (assuming the publisher takes you on too)
Not all authors need a literary agent, but they can be quite helpful. However, some publishing houses (mostly the larger ones) will not work with authors who do not have a literary agent for a number of reasons.
Once you’ve found the agents you want to contact (you can find them through sites such as querytracker), it’s a good idea to make sure you have everything right. Here is a checklist to go through before you send out your query letters.
1) Is your manuscript the best it can be?
Above I mentioned some agents may be editorial, but this does not mean they want your first draft. They want to see the best you’ve got. If they fall in love with your story but see that it needs some changes or editing, two things might happen:
- They may ask you to revise and then resubmit. If this happens, when you resubmit your query mention that they asked for revisions.
- They may offer representation and, if you accept, work with you to polish up your manuscript. Some agents are more editorial than others.
2) Is your query letter the best it can be?
Your query letter and your sample pages work together as the ticket to representation. Some agents do not get past the query letter, so it has to be superb.
Follow all of the submission guidelines when it comes to the query letter. Some agents have vague guidelines and some have more detailed guidelines. Read them carefully.
3) Is this agent open to submissions?
Check! Sometimes agents will close their submissions, just like I close my ask box. They often list on their website if they are open or closed to submissions. If you really want that agent, wait until they’re open to submissions before you start querying at all.
4) Does this agent take your genre?
Of all the complaints I’ve read written by literary agents, getting queries for a genre they don’t represent seems to be one of the most common ones. Most agents will list what genres they want/don’t want on their website, but it’s always a good idea to look at books they represent (also listed on websites) to learn more about what they look for in certain genres.
5) Is your synopsis the best is can be? (uncommon)
It’s not common for agents to ask for a synopsis at the query stage, but it does happen. Even if the agents you’re querying do not request a synopsis, have one ready. They may respond to your query with a request for sample pages, a full manuscript, and/or a synopsis with either of those.
6) Is your manuscript complete?
DO NOT start querying agents when you’ve only finished half your manuscript. If they want to see your full manuscript, they want it right away, not six months later.
7) Is the agent’s name spelled right?
Double check. Triple check. Spell their names right when you’re writing your query letter. Don’t ever write “to whom it may concern”. And yes, starting a query letter with a specific salutation means that each agent gets an individual letter. Don’t send mass emails.
8) Does this agent take authors in your area?
Most agents will take international authors, but some will only represent authors from certain countries.
9) Sample pages?
Most agents ask for sample pages of your manuscript. These can vary from the first five pages to the first fifty pages. Sometimes they ask you to send your full manuscript with the query.
Make sure that you’ve included the right amount of sample pages. Agents often let you go over the page limit if you need to finish a sentence or a paragraph, but that’s it.
Check the submission guidelines for information on how to attach the sample pages. Some agents want them pasted in the actual email. Some prefer an attached file.
If you paste in your sample pages, look them over for formatting issues. Do the same to your query letter.
10) Is your manuscript formatted properly?
You need to have your manuscript ready if an agent asks for it. Some will have specific instructions and others will not. Some will want you to send it as a .doc, some will want a .pdf, and some will not care what file it is as long as they can read it on their phone.
Be ready to format your manuscript in a different way or to make it a different type of file.
Here is a guide to a generic format that is pretty much acceptable anywhere. However, if you are sending your manuscript digitally, you can leave out your mailing address.
11) Did you include your contact information?
Sign your query with your name, email, and phone. Even though most queries are done through email now, you should include your email. If you are using a pen name, you can do this:
Writing as [pen name]
12) Did you follow submission guidelines?
Do it. Follow the guidelines. There are a select few authors who have written unconventional queries, but those are rare cases.
- Make sure the subject line is right. Some agents may ask for specific subject lines. For example, if an entire agency shares on email, you may be asked to put an agent’s name in the subject line. Others might ask you to write “query” and others might ask you to put the genre.
- Make sure you included everything. The query, the sample pages, the synopsis, etc., make sure you have it all.
- Make sure you used the right email. Some agents have emails listed on their website for non-query contacts and emails listed specifically for queries. Check to make sure you’re sending your query to the right email.
- Don’t include extras. Many agents ask that you not send attachments for virus reasons or just because they have no need for them. Don’t include your personal drawings or maps or extra writings or anything else that wasn’t asked for.
13) Is this agent right for you?
You’re starting a business relationship when you accept representation. Some authors stay with their agents for decades. Make sure that the agents you’re querying are agents that you can see yourself working with. Look at their other books.
If an agent calls you to offer representation, don’t be afraid to ask questions about them and how they work with authors. And remember, you do not have to accept right away, especially if you have other agents looking at your manuscript. You can ask for a week or two to think about it.
You should also make sure you’re not querying a scam agency. This websitelists several agents, both good and bad. If they have a “not recommended” next to them, don’t query them.
14) Are you keeping track of your queries?
Above I linked you to a website called querytracker. This website has features that help you track your queries. However, you can also create your own way to track your queries.
Here are some things to put on your query tracking chart:
- Who you sent your queries to
- When you sent your queries
- When the agent responded (if they responded at all)
- Whether the response was a pass or a request for more
- Who you sent your manuscript to
- When you sent your manuscripts
- When the agents responded
- Whether the response was a pass or an offer of representation
15) Who are you sending queries to?
Lastly, you should pace your querying. Pick just a few agents at a time to send queries to. Some agents always respond and others do not. Those who do not respond to rejected queries sometimes list how long writers should wait before calling it a rejection. This can be anywhere from two weeks to a few months.
If you get rejections from all the agents you sent queries to in the first round, try revising your query or even your manuscript. Then send out the next round. If you get rejections from all of them too, do some heavier revisions on both your query and your manuscript.