Searching for agentIf you’ve been hanging around with writers for more than thirty-nine minutes, you’ve probably heard all kinds of horror stories about how hard it is to find an agent. Maybe you’ve even dipped your toes in the water (or done a cannonball right into the deep end) and lost your trunks. Well, I’m here to save you from that. Finding an agent is simpler than it seems if you follow a few easy guidelines:

Make a List of Potential Agents Who Are Right for You

Visit your local library or bookseller to see what books similar to yours have recently been released. Let’s say you’ve written a book on fitness and exercise. Look at all the newer books on fitness and exercise, and turn immediately to the acknowledgments pages. Authors almost always name their agents in their acknowledgments. The same would apply to a fiction book. If, for example, you’ve written a cozy mystery, seek out all the latest cozy mysteries.

Keep in mind that just because top agent Mr. Jay represents the bestselling author whose book you’re holding, there is no guarantee he will agree to represent you. However, a junior agent in his firm might agree to take you on.

Next, visit the Association of Authors’ Representatives at http://www.aaronline.org/. If you’re new to the book publishing business, you might want to read through their frequently asked questions. Then move on to the searchable database. If you search for mystery, for example, you will get agents who are actively seeking mystery authors. Not all book agents must be members of AAR, but you can be sure members of AAR are reputable.

Man looking through telescopeGet Info on the Agents

Once you have a list of potential agents, do an internet search for each of them. Most agents have websites, and AAR pages usually list the URLs of agents. Even agents who don’t have a website generally have a page on the agency’s site. The agent’s page or site will provide you with a list of his or her clients, a list of books s/he’s recently represented successfully, all the agents in the firm, and the submission guidelines. If the agent permits it, query by email. This will provide a speedier response. Be aware, however, that an email query must be as professional and carefully crafted as a snail-mail letter.

Prepare Your Pitch

Make your query letter concise (no more than two printed pages, and an equivalent email length). Briefly tell the agent what your book is about, but avoid grandiose comparisons. Statements such as “I’m the next Stephen King” or “Everybody tells me this book is the best they’ve ever read” immediately brand you as an amateur. If the book is great and if you’re a terrific author, the manuscript will speak for itself.

Make sure to include any relevant experience you have. An example would be, “My short stories have appeared in Modern Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and Fiction Today.” If you’re a nonfiction exercise expert, you might say, “I have a PhD in physical education and I developed the methods utilized in my exercise book during a six-week trial of patients enrolled in the Weight Loss Research Center.”

Write a Synopsis

If the agent’s submission guidelines request one, write a synopsis. Give a brief account (again, no more than two pages unless otherwise specified in the guidelines) of your book’s plot. For a nonfiction book, provide the table of contents and a sentence or two describing each chapter.

Pile of lettersWait for an Answer

If you’re rejected by the first agent to whom you pitch, don’t give up. Move on to the next one on your list and keep trying.

Now for Some Tips and Warnings

  • Have both your manuscript and your query letter and synopsis reviewed by a critique partner or a professional editor. A polished manuscript has a much better chance of being accepted. If your query letter is riddled with errors, you might as well hang up your cleats.
  • There are many unscrupulous agents who will take advantage of hopeful authors. Protect yourself by checking prospective book agents; do a web search for Predators and Editors to find a number of sites that list the bad guys.
  • Reputable agents do not charge reading fees. They make their money by finding killer manuscripts and selling them to publishers. Never send an agent money up front.
  • Avoid being “cute” in your query. Put your best foot forward. Gifts, threats, glitter in the envelope, a floral arrangement from FTD, and other such tricks will not get your manuscript any more attention. (In fact, they may hurt your chances.) Being professional is always the way to go.

(Photos: top, Australian Broadcasting Corporation; middle, Portent; bottom, upwire.com)

Writer

"Kathy writes compellingly and swiftly, has an eye for detail, and possesses an uncanny sense for how to shape a story to make it pulsate with energy."
 —Taylor Halverson

Editor

"Kathy Jenkins has honed her editing skills with such precision and excellence that today she is viewed by many (including me) as the best editor on the planet. No matter how many times I have read and reworked a manuscript, Kathy improves my writing with meticulous care and good will."
 —Susan Easton Black

Mentor

"Kathy has been so helpful to me in bringing my manuscripts to fruition, encouraging me to work diligently on my writing craft. She makes every author better in every way."
 —Ed J. Pinegar

Consultant

"Kathy brings life in her writing, wisdom in her editing, and experience in her consulting; she has made me a better and more confident author."
 —Ganel-Lyn Condie