- Have a polished manuscript ready.
2. Figure out your genre.
Research the kind of books whose content could be compared to yours. Figure out their target audiences and genres. Chances are that yours will be a close match. Literary agents want to know this, as well as your word count, your publishing background, and anything specific that qualifies you to write the books that you do (especially with nonfiction). Including your nationality can be helpful too, as well as a short sentence summing up your passions and possible literary aspirations. Don’t be too lyrical or over the top. Just state your case.
3. Write a few good summaries.
Literary agents don’t like any cliff hangers in the summaries. They prefer to know the whole plot, for marketing purposes. But an attractive packaging is everything. Take some time to make it sound as hooking and uncomplicated as possible. It should come across as knife-like, piercing through the over-loaded inbox of your literary target. Once you’ve got a decent summary ready, incorporate it into your query letter.
4. Finish well.
Ask the literary agent to represent your work. Thank them for their time in advance. Be sure to tell them what rights they would be representing – primary (first publication rights of your book) or secondary (film, audio, foreign language rights, and so on).
5. Research your agent.
Once you know your genre, look up agents who represent that genre. If they don’t represent books you like, they won’t be a good fit for you. They need to be as passionate as you, for you two to have a successful partnership. Research loads of agents, not just one. You will get mostly rejections, so it pays to submit to at least twenty. Let the agents know that you are undertaking multiple submissions, for the sake of politeness.
6. Don’t submit to the whole agency unless requested to.
Check your agent’s/agency’s website. Which agent working for this company is the best fit for you? Submit to them, and them only, unless the submission guidelines (which almost all literary agency websites have under a subheading) specify otherwise. Always check the submission guidelines. Most agents are quite different. Some want five pages of your work right away. Some want none. Some ask for fifty. Some like your query letter arranged in a particular way. The majority hate attachments. Always check the submissions guidelines and follow them rigorously – otherwise the agent will not even look at your pitch. If you’ve seen something specific in the agent’s biography on the website that would make them a good fit for you, mention it. “I noticed that in your biography, you specify that you are seeking daring epic fantasy fiction. I too share this passion, etc”. Avoid being greasy though.
7. Use a name.
In almost every case, it is important to use the agent’s name when submitting to them. Don’t just say (literally) “Dear Agent”. “Dear Name” is sometimes appropriate. Some agents hate the word “dear” altogether. Read their biography on their agency’s website. Read the submission guidelines. And always remember that if you use a name (spelt correctly!), you are far more likely to get a response.
8. Don’t limit yourself.
When I first submitted to agencies, I submitted mainly to New Zealand ones. I’ve now come to realise that it’s far better to go international. Do what you can to find a good fit.