8 Steps to Hiring the Agent You Need

Finding a literary agent tips

It’s been said that an agent is like a bank loan: You can only get one if you can prove that you don’t need it. But there are more than 1,200 agents in the United States, and more than 90% of them must find new writers to make a living. Here are eight steps to getting the agent you need:


1. Find a salable idea.

2. Write a proposal or manuscript. The only time to contact agents is when you have something ready to sell.

3. Research potential agents online and off as my previous post suggests.

4. Write an irresistible query letter about the hook, the book, and the cook, the subject of an upcoming post.

5. Follow the submission guidelines of the agents you contact. The comedian Steven Wright once saw a sign in a restaurant window that said: “Breakfast served at any time.” So he ordered French toast during the Renaissance. Of course you don’t want hear back from agents at any time. You want to hear yesterday. But don’t call or email to see if your work arrived or when you will get a response. Established agents receive thousands of submissions a year and don’t keep a log.

Make a note on your calendar or your copy of your query letter of when the agents’ guidelines say you will hear from them and call or email them if you don’t.  If it’s important for you to know that snail mail arrived, send it certified or get a return receipt.

If you’re mailing your work, and you don’t want the material back, you still have to include a stamped-self-addressed  #10 business envelope if you want to be sure to get a response. If you don’t, you may lose the chance to get feedback and may only hear back if an agent is interested.

6. If the agent has a written agreement, read it to make sure you’ll feel comfortable signing it, and feel free to ask the agent questions about it.

7. Meet interested agents to test the chemistry for your working marriage. Look at the challenge of finding and keeping an agent as creating and sustaining a marriage that has personal and professional aspects to it.

8. Choose the best agent for you, based on passion, personality, performance, and experience.

Then bask in the glow of satisfaction that an agent thinks enough of your book’s  potential and yours to represent you. I hope you find an  professional, knowledgeable, and motivated mentor for the adventure that awaits you.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org /Keynoters: Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

10 Ways to Find the Agent You Need

An old cartoon shows a group of agents sitting around a table, and one of them is saying: “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep these damn writers from getting ninety percent of our income.

In the early eighties they did find a way: they raised their commissions to fifteen percent. Agents are now trying to figure out how to cope with the changes in publishing. Some  are adding services and increasing their commissions. But one reason why now is the best time ever to be a writer is that there are more ways to find an agent than ever. And the more challenging publishing becomes, the more agents and editors need new writers. Here are ten ways to find the agent you need:

1. Your writing community: The writers you know, online and off, will recommend agents.

2. The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR): The 450 agents in AAR are the best sources of experienced, reputable agents. Members are required to follow the AAR’s code of ethics. The directories talked about in item number five of this list indicate when an agent is a member, and you can look up agents at www.aaronline.org.

3. The Web: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google, online directories, agents’ websites..

4. Writers’ organizations: They’re listed online and in Literary Market Place.

5. Directories: Directories vary in the kind and amount of information they provide. For the best results, check what the first two say about the same agency: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents; Guide to Literary Agents; Literary Market Place (LMP).

6. Literary events: Writing classes, readings, lectures, seminars, book signings, conferences, and book festivals present opportunities to meet and learn about agents and publishers. Conferences offer opportunities to meet agents.

7. Magazines: Publishers Weekly, The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers have articles by and about agents. If you don’t want to splurge on a subscription to Publishers Weekly, read it at the library or online.

8. Books: Check the dedication and acknowledgment pages of books you like and books like yours.

9. Your platform: Let agents or publishers find you—be visible online and off, get published and give talks, publicize your work and yourself. When your continuing national visibility is great enough, agents and editors will find you.

10. PublishersMarketplace.com. This is an online news source and community for publishing insiders. If you become a member ($20/month), then you’ll have access to a database of publishing deals made by agents and editors, as well as contact info for hundreds of publishing professionals.

Finding agents is easier than ever. Getting one to say yes is a far greater challenge and the subject of the next post.

Adapted from the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, Writer’s Digest, April 2011.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org /Keynoters: Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) / blog: sfwriting4change.wordpress.com