Getting a Literary Agent: Five Helpful Tips

queryletter

People ask me all of the time how I got a literary agent or whether or not I have any advice for them about trying to get a literary agent. I’ve come up with a few helpful hints for the process of getting a literary agent.

1. Write a good novel.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people want to skip right to all of the stuff with literary agents and the publishing industry and they don’t spend enough time on the writing/editing process. Before you send out a query letter, you want to make sure that you have written the best novel you can possibly write. Have people read your novel and give you feedback. Spend some time revising. If you have any writing professors or writing professionals who are willing to read your novel, send it their way. There are many professional writers/editors online who will read your book and give you detailed criticism for a nominal fee. All of this stuff is worth it. You don’t want to send anything out to agents until your book is representative of your best work.

Now, that is not to say that you won’t keep revising once you start the query letter process. I first started sending out my draft of The Muses in March of this year, and I didn’t get a literary agent until August. The draft changed many, many times throughout that process, but the draft I had in March was much more polished than the draft I had finished in January. So expect to spend most of your time on the writing process.

2. Do your research.

There are many ways to find literary agents. I used the Writer’s Market and querytracker.net. These are two great resources. They will show you a listing of all literary agents who represent your genre. So, for example, I put together a list of all of the literary agents that represented young adult fiction. Once I had my list, though, I spent a lot of time reading up on each agent to see whether or not my book would be a good fit for them. The Muses is a young adult fantasy with a touch of romance and a lot of music. So I wouldn’t have sent it to an agent who was looking for dystopian fiction, for example.

Many agents also have blogs, Twitter pages, and other social media. Check them out and see what they’re Tweeting about. You can also research the types of books they have represented in the past and see if any of those books have the same feel as your book. My rule of thumb, though, is to always query if you can’t find any of this information, and I’m glad that I did. (My literary agent doesn’t have a Twitter or a blog.)

3. Write a good query letter.

There are a lot of resources on how to write a good query letter. Basically, in a query letter, you want to explain who you are and what your book is about. The query letter is extremely important because the majority of agents don’t want to see any part of your book unless they like your query. Give them a reason to want to see more. There is a lot of debate about what makes a good query letter, and it’s incredibly subjective. The best thing to do is find successful query letters and see what worked for other writers. Then, you can decide how you want to write your query.

Here is the query letter that I used. This one got me 12 agents who wanted to see my manuscript, 3 agents who were interested in representing me, and eventually, a literary agent I was incredibly happy with:

Dear Agent Name:

My name is Sara Crawford, and I have written a young adult fantasy novel titled The Muses. The novel is a little over 94,000 words, and it is the first novel in a trilogy.

16-year-old musician, Sylvia Baker, has always been able to see Muses—mysterious beings who give artists inspiration—though they seem to be invisible to everyone else. After a near suicide attempt, Sylvia manages to climb out of the darkness of her mind by exploring her own musical abilities with the help of Travis, inspirational guitarist and classmate, and Vincent, the alluring British Muse who becomes Sylvia’s obsession. As she travels further into the world of these immortal beings that influence art, she finds herself in the middle of an epic battle between the modern Earthly Muses and the Original Greek Muses—some of which want her life.

Set in suburban Atlanta in present day, Sylvia’s story is a journey of self-discovery told through the lens of a teenage girl finding herself through music and love. This Twilight meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower novel includes thought-provoking themes such as the purpose of art, the negative effects of alcohol and drugs, and crippling depression all while remaining true to the teenage experience with tales of love triangles, high school chorus concerts, and anxiety over driving.

I have a BA in English from Kennesaw State University, an MFA in Creative Writing from University of New Orleans (emphasis in Playwriting), and I have previously been published in such publications as Ceremony and Illogical Muse. I also have two published books of poetry (via Virgogray Press and Lulu Press), two albums of music, many productions of plays I have written, and a number of other eclectic artistic experiences—including being voted 2010’s Best Songwriter in Atlanta in Creative Loafing and placing as a finalist in the 2011 Essential Theatre Playwriting Contest—that have given me a unique perspective to write such a novel about Muses and the artistic experience.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Sara Crawford

4. Be open to criticism and feedback.

Let’s say you get an agent who wants to see your first three chapters. So you send them, and then she comes back and says, “I like this, but I think you could lose the prologue.” (This happened to me.) Do not get offended. Do not be so attached to the way your manuscript currently is that you are not open to making changes. This is just good advice for any part of the writing process, but I found that some of the most helpful feedback I got for The Muses was from agents who later went on to reject the manuscript. Without some of those comments, it definitely wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in now, and I don’t think it would have landed me an agent.

5. Be patient and persistent.

Getting your book published is an extremely long process. You will get rejected. A lot. There will be agents who take FOREVER to read your work or to respond to you. Do not get discouraged. Keep your head up and query someone else while you are waiting. Do some revisions. Work on another book. Enjoy the process. I started writing The Muses over a year ago. I spent most of this year revising and trying to get an agent. And it will probably be at least another year–maybe two–before it’s published. If you don’t hear from an agent for two months, write them again. (I did this, and I got several people who said they were interested in my novel but had just gotten overwhelmed and hadn’t had a second to respond.) These people are busy and they have SO many e-mails that sometimes you may get lost. It’s okay to send them reminders.

The important thing, though, is to be determined. I queried nearly 200 agents. This certainly isn’t standard practice, but I basically queried every single agent in the United States of America who represents young adult fiction. And I got a lot of rejections. This business is very subjective, there are so many writers out there these days, and you have to have thick skin. But if you get a rejection. just have a laugh and send another query. Don’t give up.

8 thoughts on “Getting a Literary Agent: Five Helpful Tips

  1. Hi Sara, I don’t know how long it took you to query over 200 agents but you certainly sound persistent. While your query is great, no doubt, in my humble opinion it’s your bio that is really impressive. Unfortunately, some of us are not so refined. Thank you for sharing your points.

    • Thanks! I know querying over 200 agents is not really the standard advice most people give in regards to looking for a literary agent. I am a pretty stubborn/determined type person though. So by God, I was going to query every agent in the United States of America who represented YA. Haha. It worked out pretty well for me!

      And while everyone might not be able to get an MFA, etc., there are always ways to get involved with and to get small publications to build up your resume 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  2. “There are many professional writers/editors online who will read your book and give you detailed criticism for a nominal fee.”

    Did you seek out any of these sorts of services for help with your manuscript? I have a novel manuscript i desperately need “fresh eyes” on, and not fresh friend-and-family eyes, but helpful editor eyes. And i do believe you get what you pay for, and so i don’t want “free” critique, but at the same time i don’t want to get shafted. I wish there were a Consumer Reports for freelance editing services. (Or is there?)

    • I didn’t actually seek out anything like that though I generally feel it’s a good idea. (Honestly, I got a lot of helpful criticism from literary agents who requested to see my whole manuscript based on my query but then didn’t end up signing me. And I also got a lot of great feedback from family and friends as all of the family and friends I sent it to are avid readers.) I’m sure if you do a little research, you can find editing services like this that have worked for other people. There should be reviews available, I would think. I recently just started actually offering these types of services so it’s a new world I’m getting into myself! I might even offer a discount to my first few clients in exchange for writing honest reviews or something. I’m sure there are a lot of writers like you who are dealing with the same challenge!

      I’d love to read your manuscript, though! It may take me a while, but I’d be happy to provide some thoughts/feedback (for free of course as you are my friend and you like Morrissey). 🙂

      • I’ve done the rounds of friends-and-family eyes, i guess, and i have a list of revisions that i will be slogging through soon, but i know once i do those, it’ll still need fresh eyes and objective eyes and, frankly, writerly eyes.

        Thank you so much for offering to read it! I am definitely going to send it to you once i bash out my revision list. I’d love to hear your critique. And, there’s even mention made of the Smiths in it, so TBH you are probably like my target reader! 😀

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