The Quest For A Literary Agent

One of the questions often asked is: “When should I start contacting agents”?
In my opinion, the answer should be: “When your manuscript is not only finished but polished”, which is exactly what I did not do at first.

My first novel, The Crossing Lives Trilogy – Book One: Foundation, is set in two very distinct eras. I had completed the contemporary part but only had the first two chapters set in the Middle Ages ready when I started sending a few queries. They did not come to anything, but I did get a few encouraging comments, such as “You write very well and the idea for a trilogy is exciting” or “I thought the premise of the story was really engaging and original, and could see it appealing to fans of The Time Traveller’s Wife”.

Once the book was finished, I realised that the contemporary part was not working for me anymore and was definitely weaker – see what I mean about submitting too soon? I decided to re-write half my book. I am glad I did, as it is now much more balanced, which has been confirmed by my beta readers. After a request for the full manuscript from an agent I had met at the Frankfurt Book Fair came to nothing, I submitted again, before spending six months on our house renovation project. This time, my novel had been proofread and re-worked as well, but no positive answer came.

Finally, last month, I went again through the list of literary agencies I had compiled and researched them thoroughly. It turned out that about half of them did not represent my book’s genre or were not currently opened to submissions. I sent queries to the remaining agencies and then promptly wondered if January is a very quiet month for agents as I received some answers – all negative – incredibly quickly! Still, I hope to find my name on an agent’s “Client List 2016”.

I found the submitting process more time-consuming than expected. I spent a lot of time reading all relevant info on agency websites. I studied the bios of the various agents carefully, to be sure I would submit to the right one. My query letters are personalised, as I do not believe in “blanket emailing”. Then there are the subtle differences: the number of chapters required, in which format the document should be sent and how it should be named, if information about yourself and your writing experience is to be mentioned in the cover letter or integrated into the document attached, etc, etc. And finally, the synopsis. There are so many definitions of what a synopsis should be that it can be confusing. I asked that very question to an agent I met at a blogging conference and his answer was: “Don’t worry too much about the synopsis. If an agent finds your sample chapters exciting, you will be contacted, whether or not your synopsis is perfect”.

I would love to hear your thoughts on submitting and also have a question for you: some agents mention that they prefer to be given an exclusive period to consider your work. How do you feel about this?

Writing Bubble


7 thoughts on “The Quest For A Literary Agent

  1. Thanks for this helpful post – I agree the more research you put in the better the results. The best responses I’ve had (and by ‘best’ I mean timely responses that are enthusiastic about my work, requesting the full ms, or at least giving detailed reasons why they don’t want to read more) are when I’ve researched agents thoroughly, working through their lists for clients writing in genres similar to mine, buying and reading these books, and then weaving my appreciation of their client’s work into individually tailored covering letters – so yeah, it really is a lot of work! And having said all that, I still haven’t got an agent! Good luck with it all x

  2. Great, insightful post, it’s so time consuming submitting to agents isn’t it? Researching the agents is the way to go and I wouldn’t bother with giving some of them ‘exclusivity’ unless they ask for the full. They can take an age to get back to you so I would get as many out there as possible. Good luck! x

  3. Oh, I can identify with this Katia! I submitted two of my picture book manuscripts to agents late last year and it was such a laborious process! I looked them all up on Agent Hunter (a site I found useful) then went to their individual websites and found more info, then emailed each personally. As you say, they all have slightly different rules to follow with submissions too so it’s very time consuming! And I haven’t even heard back from any of them! About to send off the next batch of subs. I definitely agree you should send something polished though – I had mine professionally edited before submitting. At the Festival of Writing last sept, that was a clear message we were all given – ‘don’t submit something until you’ve polished it so much you literally can’t bear to look at it any more!’. They also said submit in batches of five or six, let the agents know it’s not an exclusive submission and if you don’t hear back from them in the expected time period then move on and submit elsewhere. And expect plenty of rejection! So I wouldn’t bother with exclusivity at an early stage. Good luck and thanks for sharing with #WhatImwriting – it’s always useful to hear about other writer’s experiences! xx

  4. I sometimes wonder if the fear of rejection is what keeps me from getting engrossed in writing my book, rather than my blog writing. I think you’ve done the right thing by researching and personalising your approaches. I hope that you find an agent soon. xx

  5. I hope you get some good news soon. I haven’t submitted yet, I’m still at the editing stage, but this is really useful. Thank you lovely and good luck xx

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