Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding a Literary Agent: Preparation

A writing colleague of mine who just finished their novel asked me how to do the whole query process, which brought me to thinking of this series of Finding a Literary Agent posts. This will be the first in I’m not sure how many, listing what I think are the steps in finding one. This applies to novels more than non-fiction but can help with the latter in some aspects.

1. Finish your manuscript (proposal if non-fiction): You’d think this was common sense, but unfortunately, there are several na├»ve (or way-too-hopeful) authors who think their unfinished manuscript is so brilliant, the agent won’t need it completed. Not so, despite the rare exceptions out there. Before you do anything close to finding an agent, get your novel written!

2. Join a Critique group or Writing Workshop: Nope, you’re not ready to find that agent yet. Either is your book. Once you have the first (or second or third) draft finished, it’s beyond wise to find a local group of writers to share your work with and get it ripped a part. I cannot stress enough how important this is, and how much it can really help you as a writer, and your story. Parents, spouses, children and students do not count as critiquers.

Also, it’s almost imperative or highly recommended one get a critique partner or beta reader. The object here is not to get your first 30 pages polished and shiny, it’s to get your entire manuscript beautiful. How many agents probably request partials, loving the first 3 chapters, then when requesting the full, sees the story fall a part? I’m guessing this is an often occurrence because of workshops, etcetera, going over those first 30-50 pages hardcore and the author walking away feeling like their book is ready.

Lastly on this topic, join a local association, uh, associated with you write, like the SCBWI, RWA, MFA or SFWA, etcetera. Most have local chapters that meet, which is another way to network and find others to connect with.

3. Be a Professional: Take your work seriously. If you’re aspiring to be a more-than-one-book author, you have to treat your writing (and everything part of it) as a job. This means several things, including but not limited to how you receive criticism from said joined workshop/group, having some sort of schedule to keep you motivated and working on those revisions (and not half-assing it), getting to know published authors in your area (can anyone say book signings? A great way to support fellow writers and networking), reaching out to the online writing community (blogs will be addressed in another post, but I’ll just say this here: no bad mouthing anyone in the industry no matter what!), using sites like Twitter to inform yourself and others of related stuff (but again, be professional, everything you put on the net is in essence building your character, for someone looking for an agent, you should care about your image).

4. Rewrite, Revise, Rinse and Repeat: A fellow writer from AW ( has this on her signature and I love it. Never stop working on your craft. The more you work on it, the better you get at it.

5. Research, Research, Research: During your revision process, using your critique notes from the workshop or partner or beta reader, browse books in your genre and read acknowledgement pages to make a list of agents you might be interested in querying. Know the genre; know what books in your genre are doing well and why. Become active in the blogging community, there are lots of agents out there who blog, dishing out lots of helpful information regarding the industry (I have a few on my blog roll). Visit these awesome sites: Query Tracker, Agent Query, Publisher’s Weekly and Guide to Literary Agents and use them! They are all chalked full of agently information to help build your Query List.

I'll post the next step, Discovering the Query Letter, next. Hope this is helpful information for any aspiring authors out there! And of course, readers, you got suggestions for this process, voice 'em!


  1. Great post. I look forward to reading the rest in the series. It really is a wild ride, isn't it? Work, work, work. But (hopefully) worth it in the end!

  2. I would include a step in the editing process where you go through your own work trying to find things that are wrong even where there aren't any. Your best passages will still be questioned by someone, so being the first one to come up with the criticisms will help soften the blow a bit.

    As much as we all love our words, we can't treat them like children, or they will never grow up and be real books.

  3. Amazing post! Great advice, I can't wait to read the rest!

  4. Jennifer, thanks! And totally worth it in the end. At least, I believe it is, haven't reached the end yet!

    CM, great addition! Which reminds me, reading out loud really helps in fine tuning your piece as well, which depending on the kind of workshop you attend, will have this available.

    Thanks Hayley!


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