How can I find a literary agent

How can I find a literary agent

You’ve just finished your first novel. It’s been edited to perfection, passed around to all your friends and family who are certain that you’ll be on the Best Seller list in no time. But the road to riches, as you soon find out, is paved with rejection letter after rejection letter, until you not only no longer trust your family and friends, but you begin to distrust yourself. You toss the pile of rejection letters into the fire and follow them with the pages of your manuscript, trying hard not to throw yourself into the fire along with them.

As most writers and would-be writers know, the art of creation and the selling of that creation are on opposite sides of the profession. Every day, agents, and publishers are inundated with query letters that usually go from opening to tossing, pausing only long enough to insert the form letter into the required SASE. But with a bit of creativity and the right materials, yours might just be the one query that not only gets read but results in a request for sample chapters and perhaps, the entire manuscript. It’s the first step to possible publication and the most important one.

My first attempts to spark interest from the literary field produced many dreaded form-letter rejections. But recently my success rate has improved dramatically. In less than one month’s time, of the 32 queries I submitted, I’ve received ten responses with personal replies. Of these, one said the submittal was very good, but the material wasn’t right for their agency and four asked for sample chapters. I was amazed at the increase in successful responses I’ve received and wish to share with other writers the method I used.

First, I purchased three books: 1996 Writer’s Market, 1996 Guide to Literary Agents, and 1996-1997 Insider’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman. I obtained another list of agents from a freelance writer I met at a Business and Professional Women’s meeting and began to compile my agent list.

Since my novel is in the category of contemporary fiction, I eliminated all agents who represented non-fiction, and all other fictional categories. Then, I narrowed the list to only New York agents because all the major publishing houses are in New York City. I knew if I could make it there, I could make it anywhere. I now had a database of over 60 agents.

Because the opening line of my query asked a gender-specific question, I created two query letters, one aimed towards men, and one towards women. There were only 15 male agents on the list, so the first mailing went out to them. The rest of the letter read like a PR piece, followed by an overall plot and character outline and some background information about my experience in the profession that is the setting for the novel.

I now had my target agent list and my query letter. The next step was sending it out into the cold literary world. All the books I read had specific guidelines for submitting queries, but I wanted to give them something different. I needed something other than heavy prayer to help me avoid those piles of rejections and get a more positive response.

At about 2 o’clock one morning (which is when I seem to have my best flashes of ingenuity) I came up with the method that has given me the high success rate I previously mentioned. I ignored all the suggestions I had read regarding the submission guidelines. Instead of the usual query letter with the enclosed SASE, I created an attractive tri-fold brochure. This style of paper is an 8-1/2 by 11 page on 38# paper stock, scored twice for easy folding. Because it was a self-mailer and didn’t require an envelope, I attached a SAS postcard inside the brochure and secured it with a clear seal.

The postcard had my return address on the front, and a fill-in-the-blank checklist on the back with the agent’s name so that I knew who had responded. I also had a “comment” line so they could write a few words, which all who responded did. I saved the agent time, and myself 12 cents postage. I’ve also received a variety of positive, personal comments including one from an agent who remembered seeing the submission before.

(He wasn’t taking on new clients, and I forgot to update my database, but at least my submission was memorable!) I also created a tracking record that listed the name of each agent, the date I sent the query, the date and response to the initial query, and the date and response to the sample pages.

When I submitted the requested pages, I used color coordinating paper, labels, and mailing envelopes. I also attached a gold embossed “Thank You” sticker to the back and enclosed a business card that matched the original brochure. I did not include an envelope for the return of the pages, since the postage cost was more than my cost to reproduce them. I noted that on my letter to the agent, which I enclosed with the sample pages. I also mentioned the name of the reference book I had used and his credentials.

A little ego food goes a long way.

The most difficult part was finding the right design and the best font type to use for my cover letter that accompanied the submission. I chose a simple 28# cream paper, a matching mailing label, and a dark green envelope. I have over 500 different fonts in my program, and I chose one called manuscript because it looked the most professional. This type of carefully planned presentation could make the difference between your submission’s destination being an editor’s eyes or the agent’s circular file.

Depending on the subject of your manuscript, there are hundreds of theme brochures available through stores and catalogs. The brochure method eliminates the need for an envelope since it folds neatly into thirds and is sturdy enough to mail by itself. A limited selection of these papers can be found at major office supply chain stores. There are also several mail-order companies to choose from.

The bottom line is: research your material. Direct your campaign to a specialized group of agents and be creative in your presentation. Use whatever gets you that much-desired request for sample chapters instead of another form letter rejection. It worked for me!

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