Finding an agent to approach is not always as simple as you might think and can become quite an involved process. Before you even consider looking for an agent, make sure that your book is as good as can be. It’s finished, it’s been edited fully, and you’re at the stage where you would happily release it to the world. You can have a quick browse of agents before this stage, but their interests or availability may change between this early search and when you’re ready so there’s not a lot of point to it.
Step 1: Identify what your book is
This is important because different agents are looking for different things. You may already know exactly what box your book fits into, but it needs to fit into something. Is it a transgressive sci-fi romance, or a literary noir thriller? Find a box that fits your work and go there. This is a somewhat fluid decision. If, for instance, you have your transgressive sci-fi romance novel and you’re struggling to find an agent who is interested in that, approach agents just interested in sci-fi or romance, depending on what best describes your novel. Try and stick as close to the truth here, as well. You may really want a specific agent who is only interested in historical fiction, for example. Don’t try and pass your book off as that just because it’s set in the 90s; all you’ll do is annoy them.
Step 2: Look up agents
The internet is your friend here. Wikipedia has a list of all literary agencies in the UK; from there, you can look at their lists of agents and find out what their submission protocol is, whether they’re taking submissions, and what the individual agents are looking for. Start making a list of all the agents that look like they’d be willing to take your book on. There’s also the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook—a yearly publication that has a lot of useful information about writing in general, but also has a pretty comprehensive list of agents and agencies you could approach. I don’t want to outright say that I don’t see point of the book, but I’m heavily implying it. With the vast amount of information online, I personally find that easier to use for this process.
You can also do a much more targeted search. If, for instance, you really like a specific book, the agent will usually be listed or thanked in the front of the book; but if they aren’t, you can Google the book and/or the author to find it out. Once you have a name, most of them will have a website or social media presence that will outline if they’re taking people on, what they’re interested in, and how you can contact them. If this information isn’t there, ask them. As long as you’re polite they won’t mind you sending them a message or an email asking them how you could approach them.
Step 3: Sort agents
You don’t want to approach all of them at the same time. At this stage, you should have a pretty sizeable list of agents that you could and would be happy to approach. Arrange the list into some kind of order. You can arrange it however you like, but a good way to do this is to put your ultimate goal at the top. The agent is part of a prestigious agency, works with some fantastic clients, has a great reputation, and is looking for the exact type of book you’ve written. Put that person at the top and keep adding in descending order of priority until you get to the bottom of the list.
Once you’ve sorted your agents, you can and should approach more than one agent at a time. So, break it up into groups of five or six and approach everyone in the group. You need some way to keep track of who you’ve approached and, very importantly, when you approached them. Agents will give a time-frame for how long it will take them to get back to you. You note when you approached them and how long you will have to wait, and then you wait. Follow through with anything that comes from that before moving onto the next block but, if nothing has come back by the deadline, move onto the next block. Repeat until the end of the list.
Step 4: If it all goes horribly wrong
Hopefully this won’t happen, but it can do. None of the agents on your list get back to you, or they all reject you. Don’t just retry the same path. Adjust your query letter, look at the content of the extract you’re sending them, and make sure that you’re approaching the right people. If you can, ask someone to read your book and put it into a category. Getting many people to do that wouldn’t hurt. Repeat the steps until you find one that takes you on.
If you are finding that you are repeating this process multiple times, maybe you need to look at other options. Your book may not fit into where the publishing world is at that point in time. You can self-publish or approach independent publishers, or you could put the book away until a time when the industry is in a different position and might be more ready for your book.
Finding an agent is a somewhat lengthy process that has a few complexities to getting it right. Going through the process thoroughly and efficiently will make it a lot easier and you’ll find that it takes a lot of the stress out from the whole ordeal. Just approach it logically and remember that rejection isn’t personal.
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© 2018 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.