Friday, October 12, 2012

How to find a literary agent

If you want to publish with one of the Big New York Publishers, you will probably need a literary agent.

I sold my first two books by going directly to the acquisition editor of a small publisher. That approach won't work in the big time. The big publishers like to work with agents, not authors.

So, how do you find a literary agent?

Here is what I've learned so far by taking classes, talking to agents, and reading books on the subject. The best book was literary agent David Fugate's book, The Unconventional Guide to Publishing. (I don't get anything if you buy his book.)

Two qualifiers:
  • Qualifier 1. This post applies to nonfiction. Finding an agent for fiction is a different animal. I don't know anything about that process.
  • Qualifier 2. You need a great idea for a book. Not just a good one, a great one. When you test the idea on other people they go "Aha!" and say things like, "Wow!"
The process:
1. Join PublishersMarketplace for $20 a month. PublishersMarketplace is where people in the publishing industry go to find out what deals have happened recently, and the agents involved.
2. Search for deals for books similar to yours. The deals will list the name of the agent. Add that name to your list of potential agents..
3. Use the PublishersMarketplace search function and research the agents on your list. Find out how many deals they have done, the size of the deals, and so on.
4.Write an amazing book proposal, including two sample chapters. The competition is so intense that only amazing proposals will make the cut. Fugate's book comes with several good examples. Put the proposal aside.
5. Write a powerful query letter.
6. Send a query email to the top agent on your list.
7. When an agent responds, send your proposal.
8. Repeat.

Don't be discouraged if  (when) you are rejected. As psychologist and author Sarah Fine said in a MediaBistro class, "Rejection is part of the process. You will be rejected. You are not different." Don't let rejection stop you or slow you down. Continue sending queries and proposals until you find the right agent for your work.

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