How To Get A Literary Agent

With National Novel Writing Month and 2021 ending soon, it’s a good time to assess your 2022 writing goals with me. I imagine thousands upon thousands of writers will be polishing their NaNoWriMo manuscripts over the next weeks and months. At the end of this process, many will need literary agents. Millennial Writer Life is here to present our first Writing Guide.

What is a literary agent and why are they necessary?

In US markets, it is typically for editors and publishing houses to not accept “unsolicited manuscripts”, which are manuscripts that have been sent by an author themself. A “solicited manuscript” is one that an editor has requested or one that has been submitted via a literary agent.

A literary agent’s job is to represent a writer. Some agents help with developmental edits more than others. Some have very open communication styles. But a reputable agent will only charge a percentage of what you earn, will communicate effectively with your editors/publishing house, and will not make decisions on your behalf?

Where do I find literary agents?

There are a variety of ways to find a literary agent, but the most common ones are searching for one via:

  • Google Search can help if you are just searching “literary agents for X genre” or if you are searching for the agent of a writer whose work or career you admire.
  • Twitter is helpful because so many people in the literary world use it. Use the search feature and check out people’s bios to see who is a literary agent and what agencies they work for. There are also plenty of Twitter lists too that can help.
  • Publishers Marketplace is a longstanding tool that was used before the internet. Can be found at pretty much any franchise bookstore.
  • Query Tracker is a useful way to find agents and to see other writers’ past experiences while querying and submitting portions of their manuscripts. This tool is amazing for helping you keep track of how many people you’ve queried as well.
  • PitMad is… “the original Twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. No previously published works. Agents and acquiring editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.”
  • Conferences or workshops sometimes host events where writers and literary agents meet up or do “speed dating”. I’ve seen variations of this as Associations of Writers and Programs Conference, as well as Breadloaf Conference (which has an application that is open now and due by February 15, 2022)

How do I learn to write a query letter?

There are tons of resources online, but two that I would definitively recommend are The Shit No One Tells You About Writing and Youtube channels, like BookEnds Literary Agency and Alexa Donne’s channel.

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing is a podcast and such a vital resource because, in each episode, the hosts read the query letters and sample pages of a handful of writers, then offer useful feedback. The range of genres among the query letters alone is a great way to see how queries from different genres may need to address different things.

BookEnds Literary Agency is a Youtube channel that features two literary agents tackling different topics in each video. In terms of query letters, they’ve covered what makes a perfect query letter, why your letter may be rejected or well-received. Overall, a very accessible way to learn more.

How much do they charge?

A reputable agent will typically ask you to sign a contract that notes the major terms of the business/creative relationship. Agents make money by earning a percentage of whatever project they help pitch that earns you money. A typical percentage for a literary agent to earn from your earnings before taxes is 15%.

What are some questions I should ask them during “The Call”?

General topics that you want to cover are an agent’s preferred method of communication, how they pursue a book deal in advantageous or harrowing situations, how many other clients they have, how long they plan to be an agent, and if they represent across genres.

I recently did a video about my recommendations for questions to ask a literary agent during The Call:

Takeaways from the video: (a) publish work in the prospective genre of your book, (b) work to be relatively visible/searchable online by making a website, social media etc, note in your social media bios that you are seeking a literary agent.

Why do some people have numerous agents?

Many publishing professionals recommend that you get an agent that specializes in a genre you will publish a lot in. Certain genres, like YA or sci-fi, have certain quirks that make it better to have an agent catered to that genre. Here are two posts on the topic.

What are the rules about contacting numerous literary agents at the same agency?

The standard rule is that writers are prohibited from querying different agents at the same agency at the same time. This means it’s customary for you to contact Agent A at Blue Lit Agency and wait for a rejection or six weeks for no response before you proceed to contact other agents at the agency. To play it safe, I’d also recommend notifying the previous agent you’ve queried from the agency to notify them that you are moving on with your query.

Originally published at https://princeshakur.substack.com on December 15, 2021.

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AUTHOR of WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO BE GOOD (Tin House Books, Oct ’22) | The Creative Hour Podcast | Twitter @prshakur | https://princeshakur.carrd.co/

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Prince Shakur

Prince Shakur

AUTHOR of WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO BE GOOD (Tin House Books, Oct ’22) | The Creative Hour Podcast | Twitter @prshakur | https://princeshakur.carrd.co/

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