Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do you really need a literary agent?

To be honest, when I first heard the term "literary agent" I rolled my eyes. Really? Some opportunistic, bureaucratic suit needs to get their bony Mr. Burnsian fingers on my manuscript to use it for a piece of the profits? The road to publishing seemed overwhelming already without having to include yet another stranger in the process.

However, I understood a little more clearly what the role of a literary agent entailed after attending a writer's conference where an analogy was made that depicted agents as less of the evil connigut I imagined them to be.

The analogy was that literary agents are gatekeepers. Do you need one to get published? Short answer: if your goal is to go beyond small press and be published in a national/international market, then yes.

Apparently there is a Great Wall of China of sorts that separates us first time authors from the big time publishers, and the only way our manuscripts can get through to the other side is with the assistance of the agents (aka the gatekeepers). Agents offer us access into the major publishing houses, houses such as: Simon & Schuster, Random House, Hyperion, Little Brown, and Penguin which will not look at any manuscripts that are not represented by an agent.

Agents search out the publishers in your genre, pitch the manuscript, and manage your promotion.

Unfortunately, agents do not grow on trees (as tremendous as that image might be). Not only do we have to seek them out, but we have to completely win them over.

So to actually get yourself a literary agent (yes they are objects, not people)you have to carry out two major tasks:

1. Finding an agent. Now here's where YOU get to be picky. Like online dating. You begin by seeking out an agent that you think would be a good fit for you and your genre. You research their credibility, the authors they have worked with, as well as their personality, taste, and organization. NOTE: Savor this time period of judging others since aftewards, the tables will be forever turned.

But where do you even begin to look? I've referenced this agent's blog already, but here it is again:

Not only is he an excellent agent to begin looking into, but on his homepage, if you scroll down a ways, you'll see off to the left side a list of agents and their blogs. This list is a great way to begin agent window shopping. Browse through and see if there's anything to your liking.

Some great examples from this list include:

Janet Reid at

Jennifer Jackson at

Jonathan Lyons at

Also, to find more agents, go to where you can channel surf agents based on the genre you are interested.

2. Seducing an agent. This is when you become the creepy and desperate stalker (online.) Once you find an agent you like and are ready to submit your work to them, you have to write a query letter that manages to woo them in a heartbeat. In your query letter, you'll be explaining why they specifically will want to represent your book. In order to pull this off, you must begin observing their every move. Investigate their tastes and style as best you can so that you can properly appeal to their liking through your letter.

Do as much online research as you can on the agent (some will have far more than others.) Follow them on their twitter, on agent websites, and most importantly, on their blog. Your query will score major suck-up points if you mention something specific about their blog. Using specific examples including books that they favor or have helped get published is an excellent (and I'd go so far as to say required) way to draw comparisons from your book to their individual preference.

So start scouting out the options. Once an agent catches your eye, you must become the Austenian villain: inspect their tastes, passions, and pursuits. Then charm the hell out of them.

What are some questions that you may have? Do you have any specific agents in mind already? Do you have other input or past experiences concerning agents that you'd like to share with the rest of us novices?

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