Note: My work with new clients often begins with a conversation on the options they have for publishing, the timetables associated with those choices, and the costs. The majority of my clients choose to self-publish for various reasons, among them that they are unknown, their work is simply for their family and friends, or they don’t want to wait to get their work out into the world. I’m following up a two-part series on traditional publishing versus self-publishing with a series on the topics I counsel authors on as they consider which road to choose. This blog looks at how to find an agent.
If it’s your desire to go the traditional publishing route with your book, you will need an agent. They are an important conduit, bringing in about 80 percent of the books that are sold by New York publishing houses.
Good agents have relationships with specific publishers and editors, and they do the work of finding the best fit, advocating on your behalf for the most lucrative deal, and negotiating a contract.
Agents have a stake in the advance you are paid because they receive a commission of roughly 15 percent of your payment and royalties; if an agent asks you for money up front, keep looking for someone else.
Once you have prepared the materials you need to send an agent, a new project begins: Finding an agent. There are thousands out there, but how do you find the right one? You want someone for whom your book will resonate and who has a track record in your genre.
Here are several ideas for finding an agent:
- Reach out to writers in your network. The first time I sought an agent, when I was considering how to publish Divine Renovations, I considered that my manuscript was similar in storyline to a book published by a friend and colleague, and I asked if she could refer me to her agent. She graciously gave me her agent’s name and email address, and I put my friend’s name in the subject line when I reached out to him. I got almost an immediate response. He liked my proposal but said he was selling fewer nonfiction works, so he opted not to take me on as a client. Not long after, I decided to self-publish, as I was eager to get my book into the world, and I did not have a lot of patience for the traditional publishing route. If you do have the patience, turn to the people in your network first.
- Go to the library and gather a pile of books you have read that are in the same genre as yours. Look for the ones that are most closely aligned to your work, perhaps those listed in the Comparative Titles section of your book proposal. Read the acknowledgments in hopes you will find a mention of the agent who sold the book. If you strike out, call the publishing house, ask who edited the book, and then contact the editor for the name of the book’s literary agent.
- Subscribe to Writer’s Digest or Publishers Marketplace. Writer’s Digest is a magazine for writers that offers resources from features on writers to information on writing contests and writing prompts. Writer’s Digest does regular features on new agents, complete with the details of the genres they prefer to represent and their contact information. Publishers Marketplace is an online platform that connects writers to agents, offering information and resources for each. On the Agents page on Publishers Marketplace, you will find a list of agents accepting work, complete with the literary agency they represent, web and email addresses, work they are currently accepting and in what genres, leading clients, best-known projects, and submission requirements.
Most agents want a query letter and a book proposal; some will ask for your manuscript as well, so make sure it’s in great shape before you start your outreach.
If you need help writing a query or proposal, read last week’s blog, also part of a series on the key differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
And keep reading. There are more posts to come to help you. If you have specific questions, I’m sure I can help. Reach out today to talk.