Find the Right Literary Agent

Aspiring authors are often confused by the myriad of resources, articles, websites, books and advice on how to find a literary agent. Taking a structured approach, as described below, however, will help any aspiring author to find the right literary agent for his manuscript.

Create a Table of Literary Agents

On an A4 sheet of paper, create a table with 6 columns and write the following headings in each column:

  • Name of literary agency
  • Name of literary agent
  • Address and telephone number
  • Website and email address
  • Manuscript submission guidelines
  • Remarks

Directory of Literary Agents

Choose a suitable directory of literary agents from a book like Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Comb through the directory and mark those literary agents who accept submissions for the kind of manuscripts in question. Enter the data of these literary agents into the table created above. For the serious aspiring author, the number of agencies listed at this stage can easily reach 100.

Eliminate those literary agents who have been mentioned unfavourably in a website called ‘Preditors and Editors’.

As the publishing industry is dynamic, anything can happen between the time the information is submitted by a literary agent to such directories as Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and when a literary agent receives a manuscript. Some agencies may have shut down, merged with others or are no longer looking for new authors. Eliminate these agencies from the table created above. At this point, there will probably be about 40-odd literary agencies left, out of the original 100.

Contacting Literary Agents

Next, telephone the literary agents that remain on the list created in the table mentioned above. If a particular agency has specifically stated that it will not accept telephone queries, but is an agency worth approaching, an aspiring author can say something like this: “I know you don’t accept telephone queries, but please forgive me. I have a specific issue which I am hoping you will help me with.” Proceed to explain the reason for calling: it may be something as simple as the fact that the aspiring author is calling from overseas and needs to check that the address for the agency is still valid.

Although many people baulk at the suggestion made above, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties: for one, literary agents who have a website with a phone number listed and nothing more can be weeded out. There are literary agents who refuse to work with authors who live abroad. Most important of all, an aspiring author will be able to gauge, from the way the agent speaks with them, whether he would like to work with this literary agent. All this valuable information should be entered under the ‘Remarks’ column on the table created above.

Submission of a Manuscript to a Literary Agent

At this stage, the table should contain a list of literary agents who have given the aspiring author precise instructions for submitting manuscripts to them. From the original number of 100 literary agents, an aspiring author should have about 20 or so dedicated literary agents.

Despite claims to the contrary, agencies vary in what they want and need. Some agencies accept submissions via email and some demand that the submission package be sent by post. Some want a 1-page synopsis of the manuscript and some, a full, 3,000-word synopsis. Furthermore, some literary agents want the first three chapters of a novel and some, the first fifty pages.

As such, aspiring authors should tailor their submissions according to what each literary agent wants. For those agencies that accept email submissions, naturally, the cost will be next to nothing. For those that request a submission by post, it is no longer worth including a self-addressed envelope for the agency to use if it is not interested in the manuscript. Merely include a line in the covering letter which states something along these lines: “I do not require the material back and have, therefore, not enclosed a self-addressed envelope.”

A cheap way to ensure submission packages arrive is to send them to the literary agents using a postal service called, ‘A. R. Registered Post’. It is cheaper than courier services (such as FedEx), but still requires the signature of the recipient as proof of delivery.

The approach described above will ensure that an aspiring authors’ submission package has gone to literary agents who have already shown an interest in the manuscript. This is a far better option than submitting a manuscript blindly and hoping for the best.

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite

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