The 6-Step Guide To Getting A Literary Agent

Writing a book is one thing. Getting it published is another. Until now. In part three of a series in partnership with Windows 10, we find out just how it's done

There’s an unwritten rule in publishing: if you want to make friends, become a literary agent. Suddenly your Facebook inbox will be overflowing with messages for desperate writers, willing to do anything if it means getting published. Put your address on your website, and you’ll singlehandedly keep the postal service afloat with all the parcels, packages and bribes you’re likely to receive. And if you tell the bartender what your job is, you’ll probably get your drinks for free*. Because when it comes to getting published, having a literary agent is key.

So if you want to nab an agent for yourself, you need to stand out from the crowd.

Luckily, we’re here to show you how.

*OK, we’re not sure if the latter is strictly true. But we imagine that it probably is.

STEP ONE: KNOW YOUR GENRE
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to literary agents. So mass emailing every single person you can find on LinkedIn isn’t going to get you anywhere. (Not least because mass emailing anyone isn’t ever going to get you anywhere.) If you’ve written a hilarious guide to dating in the Tinder age, then approaching a team who specialize in Tudor-era love poetry might not be the way to go. Instead, take the time to work out what genre your book falls into. Is it a magical, female-fronted work of dystopian fiction? Is it a tragic tale of sheep farming gone awry?

STEP TWO: BUY THE BIBLE
Before approaching anybody, you need to find a copy of the bible. No, not the actual bible – the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, of course, which lists every literary agent currently working in the UK. You can order a copy online for £19.99, but we prefer this nifty trick: download Windows 10. Seriously, this is one operating system designed with writers in mind. Then, with that ticked off your To Do list, fire up your tablet, and start chatting to personal assistant ‘Cortana’. Ask her to find the nearest library to your house. When that page loads, check the online library catalogue if the Yearbook is in stock. Then trundle on down and check it out. (Literally. That’s how libraries work. You check things out.)


STEP THREE: DO YOUR READING

Now you have your hit list of agencies, you need to find out exactly how they like to be approached. Agencies often employ several individual agents, and each of them will have something in particular that they’re looking for. Open up the new Microsoft internet browser – Edge – and look at their individual websites to find out what is required – and follow their instructions to the letter – saving them to your Reading List as you go. If you stumble at this hurdle, chances are, your work won’t be looked at all.

STEP FOUR: TWITTER, TWITTER, TWITTER

It doesn’t matter if you hate social media. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have anything to say in 140 characters or less. Twitter is your friend, and it pays to remember that. Search for literary agents’ profiles, then follow every single one. One good trick is to create a document in OneNote where you list the hashtags and handles used by each particular agency, and then spend 15 minutes every morning checking their profiles – it’ll sync with your phone so you can even do it on the bus, if you don’t have your tablet or laptop to hand to hand. After all, this is where writing competitions are most likely to be announced, and it’s your opportunity to get to know what an agency is really looking for – behind the official website spiel.

STEP FIVE: WRITE YOUR SYNOPSIS
Usually, an agent likes to see the first three chapters of your novel, a short synopsis, and a covering letter. But there are so many variations of this that, again, you need to see what each individual wants before sending anything. If the agent asks for a one page synopsis, don’t try to impress by sending them five. Don’t even try to impress by sending them one and a half. Use OneNote to make a table charting exactly which agent wants what, and then check the box when you’ve sent your work in. Otherwise you run the risk of forgetting who you’ve contacted, and doubling up.

STEP SIX: PLAY THE WAITING GAME

Some agents state on their websites how long you can expect before you hear back. The average is six – 12 weeks, though that varies greatly, and some agencies are more hardline: if you’re not successful, you won’t hear anything at all. But if you do hear back, the next step will be showing them your whole manuscript (another good reason to finish it before contacting them in the first place).

Whatever you do, don’t call or email the agent to ask if they’ve received your work unless a) they’ve asked to see the whole manuscript but then haven’t got back to you for several weeks, or b) another agent has expressed and interest and you are letting them know. Agents only get paid via their signed authors – everything that comes their way and is unsolicited has to be looked at in their own time.

AND REMEMBER…
… Just because a book isn’t right for one agent doesn’t mean it won’t work for another. Keep trying. There are countless stories of successful authors who had scores of rejections before finding an agent. Just look at JK Rowling.

Don’t forget to join me again next week as I learn how to tackle Young Adult fiction, and make my manuscript stand out from the crowd.

To find out more about how to upgrade to Windows 10 visit windows.com/10

WATCH OUR ‘A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A NOVELIST’ VIDEO, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH WINDOWS 10:

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