The Wannabe Author’s Checklist To Finding A Literary Agent

Jacqueline Abelson Beyond, Books, Career Advice, Creative Writing, How To, Publishing, Writing

You finally did it! You wrote a novel!

And not just any novel, the Next Great American Novel! A 2:00 a.m. baby, born from the unholy alliance of too much caffeine, canceling your plans with your friends, eating an entire tub of Redvines (but eaten in small handfuls, with the lid of the tub re-sealed and returned to the candy cupboard between each handful), and good old insomnia.

Now you’re ready to take your manuscript to the next level: Literary Agent!

A literary agent brings the author and the publishing houses together. The role of the literary agent is that they submit your manuscript, formulate your deals and act as your advocate throughout the book’s life. In exchange – once they sell your novel to a publishing house – they take as payment a percentage of your total earnings (usually 15%.)

But how do you even find a literary agent who is willing to take a chance on you and your manuscript? Especially if you are a first-time writer.


There are hundreds if not thousands of literary agents out there in the publishing world. So much so, that it might at first seem almost impossible to find that one agent who will be willing to take a chance on you. But have no fear. The best you can do is try:

✔︎ Pickup a Copy of the Latest Edition of The Writer’s Market

The Writer’s Market is a book that every wannabe author should have in their possessions – if not, then at least read. It’s a dictionary-thick book that is broken up into several sections about what it takes to break into the publishing industry. There’s this very important section in every edition of The Writer’s Market that lists all of the available literary agents who are looking to accept manuscripts from potential authors. Comprise a list of all the agents you want to submit your manuscript to before officially reaching out to them.


✔︎ Your Query Letter Needs to be on Fleek

(Over 21? consult the Urban Dictionary for the definition of fleek).
Agents love query letters. Particularly the ones that are short, clear and straight to the point. Submitting your query letter to an agent in this day and age is a requirement. Once you know which agents you want to contact, drafting your query letter should be your next step. Make sure your query letter is only a page long and that you include a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) to the agent if you’re mailing your query letter. Triple check for misspellings when it comes to your query letter.
Struggling writer-male

✔︎ Select the Right Agent

There’s no right or wrong way to choose a literary agent. Every literary agent is a person. But it’s vital to know, before you mail your query letter to your listed agents, that the agents you have on your list represents the same genre as your manuscript. You don’t want to hand over your young adult novel to an agent that primarily specializes in representing authors who write erotica. Just saying. So double check to make sure that your agent is experienced at representing the sort of book that your manuscript could be.


✔︎ Mail/Email Away

It’s always a good idea to go on the agent’s website to see what they require for their submissions. Some will only take submissions either through the mail or email. They may also ask you to include the first three chapters to your novel as a way to give the agents a little taste of your skills as a writer and storyteller. So always make sure to follow the agent’s directions when it comes to submitting both your query letter and your manuscript.


✔︎ Expect a lot of Rejection Letters

I’m not telling you to have low expectations, I’m just saying to brace yourself. Hope for the best, but expect the worst. Literary agents are known to reject over 90% of the projects they receive for consideration. Some agents are often more interested in the salability of your book than the quality of your writing. So don’t despair when you hear back from an agent who doesn’t want to take you on as their client. Just remember, the agent that’s right for you is the one who can see the value in your work. Plus, as I said before, there’s hundreds upon thousands of literary agents out there in the world and only one of you. You’re bound to get a “yes” from at least one of those agents out there. So don’t let one, two or 50 rejection letters stop you from finding the right agent for you. Keep looking and keep researching, because your perfect agent is somewhere out there looking for you as well.


Other helpful references to finding agents:

Publisher’s Marketplace

Manuscript Wish List

Agent Query

Query Tracker

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Jacqueline Abelson
Jacqueline is from Pasadena, California where she was honored as one of Pasadena's 50 Student Leaders according to THE Magazine in 2012 for outstanding leadership. She is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she is majored in English with a minor in Psychology. Her debut young adult novel, HEAR, was published in 2012.
Jacqueline Abelson

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