How to find the right agent for you and your book
Words: Amanda Reynolds
You’ve written your book, well done. Not many do, finish that is. And you have. And you’ve polished and edited and asked people to read and you truly think it’s the best you can make it. It’s time to send it out into the world and that means, in most cases, submitting to a literary agent. But first, what do you need to do to ensure you not only secure the services of a top literary agent (no mean feat), but also the right one for you?
It’s easy to think that getting an agent is so nightmarishly difficult you should try them all, pleading if necessary, hoping that one will take pity on you, especially when those rejections inevitably begin to land in your much-refreshed In-box. But the relationship you build with your agent is one that will likely span your whole writing career, so tread carefully. It’s important that you can work with them, and that they can work with you.
Most agents will help their authors to get their manuscripts into the best possible shape before submitting to commissioning editors at publishing houses. This is in everyone’s interest as relationships are built on trust, and editors rely on agents to only send them their authors’ finest work. This means that your first editing experience will be with your new agent.
Before you submit anywhere you need to know that your agent will offer you this editorial expertise. (Personally, I haven’t come across any reputable agent that wouldn’t.) You also need to check that they represent your type of work, so research the other authors they have on their books and see what they have sold in the past. Does it feel like they will ‘get’ your book and will be a champion of you and your vision?
Another important consideration is do they have a good track record of selling foreign rights for their authors. It’s not something I had thought much about when I first began looking for an agent, it felt presumptuous to consider at such an early stage, but it’s been a huge part of my career so far, with deals struck for translations in many countries by the wonderful team who represent me. There are also other rights to consider such as film and TV. Does the agent you’re querying look after these for their clients, and have they some successes already?
It should go without saying that when you send out your submission package to agents you must follow their website instructions to the letter. Don’t put together a one-size-fits-all package and email it out to a hundred agents at once. For a start, you’ll waste a lot of people’s time, and you’ll get a deluge of rejections, but also you’ll have squandered your one chance to impress the right agent for you. Do your research, polish your submission and make sure it’s presented in the way they’ve asked for. Address your email to the person you want to read it and make it personal to them. Tell them why you have chosen them and why you hope they choose you. Then wait for feedback, maybe only sending to a handful of agents at a time. Keep records, update them and your submission, and use any feedback given with rejections to improve everything, including your manuscript, before you send out again.
When you find the right agent for you it will be because your manuscript and submission matched you to the right person; the start of a long and hopefully successful partnership. Your agent is someone you can rely on to always protect you and your writing, to ask the questions you daren’t, or would never have thought of. They will always have your back and endlessly promote you and your books, and at the end of a long and exciting day when your book finds a publisher, and your dreams come true, they will be the person you can happily sit down with to raise a glass, toasting your joint success.