The Right Literary Agent for Your Book

Are you a subject-matter expert or fiction writer looking for a literary agent to get your manuscript in front of legit book publishers? If you aren’t swamped by C-19, use this time to find a literary agent who can be a good match for you.

Now, with no connections, introductions, or insider understanding of who you can trust to champion your story, how do you find the right literary agent to represent you?

Find the Right Fit

Start at your local, oops, virtual bookstores, at least until you can get into brick-and-mortar stores. You want to look inside books that are similar to yours to glean information from their front and back matter.

Mining the inside of your competitors’ books is not a new strategy. Experienced editors have been telling writers to do this for decades. Unfortunately, online booksellers don’t always give you “look inside” access to the front and back matter pages you want to see in order to get the information you need. The point is to start reaching for and reading your closest competitors’ books.

In addition to those few authors who have written the quintessential classics on similar topics to yours, identify authors in your genre who have published repeatedly within this decade. Find out what they are writing today and where they are speaking, so you can listen in. Have they stayed with their literary agent and, importantly, is their literary agent still taking clients who are writing on similar topics?

Gather Names

Start your research by asking these basic questions. Keep in mind that people regularly change firms and focus. Once you gather names and career specialties, confirm their current locations, as best you can, on search engines and social media sites, such as LinkedIn. When it’s time to reach out with your book pitch, who are the individuals experts you believe will answer your email and help you further?

  • What agency does the author thank in their acknowledgments?
  • Who on the publisher’s editorial staff gets author kudos?
  • Who wrote the book’s foreword? Is this someone who, in addition to the author, might review or endorsement your book?

When you go to research literary agent websites, be observant. Make sure a literary agent’s website is up to date. Do they showcase current authors, both current titles and backlists, current submission guidelines and current blogs and PR about their firm? If their website hasn’t been updated in a few years, send a brief email, querying them. Otherwise, do your own independent research first, so you know you are connecting with agents who are interested in your field and genre before you send out any email inquiries.

  1. A little sleuthing goes a long way. Literary agent websites are informational treasure troves. They tend to be proud of their PR and expect you to read it: print interviews, blog posts, recorded talks, guest podcasts. Understand their current perspectives as well as the current genres they request and current client list they represent.
  2. Did I say “current”? Don’t get caught banking on a literary agent who traditionally represents your genre but hasn’t featured the genre on their website since 2017. Because, surprise! They may be flooded by submissions in your genre and, for the foreseeable future, have changed their focus. That could also be a sign that your genre is a hard sell. Download their writer guidelines to see what’s what. If you still believe you’re a good match, comply to their rules for submission.
  3. Embrace diversity. Celebrate the diversity that has infused the world of literary agents you are able to court. Today, this field is more diverse than ever. For a quick search, enter any culture, ethnicity or group + “literary agency.” The dozens of results that appear may take you all day to read.

The Association of Authors’ Representatives might be a site you wish to explore for relevant matches, though literary agents pay to be a part of it. Many commercial websites, like Readers’ Digest, post blogs on the topic of literary agents.

Cultivate Your Savvy

Literary agents must be able to visualize the dollar signs that come with your book idea. After you give them your sales handle – a compelling single-sentence pitch – make sure they will be able to count on real sales and marketing initiatives from you.

Before any literary agent can get excited to take you on as a client or pitch your proposal to publishers, they want to know that you come with a built-in fan base, a significant following – what I call your beloved community. Build your audience by actively marketing yourself. Yes, now, years before publication.

What does “significant” mean? A modest start would be a tiny town’s worth: 10,000 followers. From there, keep doubling your numbers. Again, you’ll find dozens of online tutorials to learn how to build a following as well as the investment that takes, both in terms of budget and time.

Finding the right literary agent takes talent and grit. An exquisite manuscript is key to getting your foot in the door, but you must make time to be that agent’s best salesperson. Your pre-publication efforts and initiatives are the savvy that will help them get your book proposal in front of publishers.

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