How to get a literary agent

You probably already know the official answer to that question. Open up the Writer’s Market, or the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, parse through the agent list, select the ones who represent books like yours, and send them whatever they ask in their submissions guideline.

And voilà, welcome to the slush pile!

Your work of art may well resurface, but in all likelihood, it just won’t have the legs to push past the hundreds of other manuscripts and find its way on the lap of a sleep-deprived, homeward-bound assistant fighting for elbow room on a crowded bus.

You should still go through the process. It’s a sure way to bond with any writer you’ll meet.

But there is a better way. Here goes the Paris Book Doctors’ four-step approach on how to get a literary agent:

  1. Write a bloody brilliant book. Don’t settle. Aim high. If you haven’t spent thousands of hours sweating over it, if you haven’t planned and prepared (or gone through ten rewrites), if you haven’t made sure that every section is taut with tension, if you haven’t cleaned your prose till every word has found its place, then you’re settling. Aim higher. Write a better book.
  2. Network. Meet other writers, go to book launches and poetry events, attend writing conferences, enter competitions, find yourself a good writing group and if you can’t find one, then start one. Look through your university’s alumni list and make friends. One disclaimer: make sure you help others. No one likes a user, plus there’s a lot to learn in fixing someone else’s prose.
  3. Repeat steps one and two until you have a great book and a network of writing-types. As your writing improves, and as your criticism of others’ writing becomes more constructive, you’ll start knowing more established writers, and you’ll get lots of good advice on how to improve your book.
  4. You’ve finished your book, written a great synopsis, an enticing blurb. Now take a moment to look around you. If you’ve followed the above steps, you not only have a very good book, but you also know people who like it and are willing to pass it on to their friend/agent/publisher. Careful, don’t rush this, don’t waste contacts. If you’ve spent too long networking, and not long enough writing, you might well get your book in front of the right people, but it won’t go any further. No one wants to represent a mediocre book.

Now your book will get the attention it deserves. It doesn’t mean that you’ll find an agent or that it’ll get published. But it does mean you’ve given it everything it deserves. And more importantly, it means you’ve become a better writer.

One thought on “How to get a literary agent

  1. Great advice Albert, especially the first point about writing a brilliant book. It sounds so obvious, but incredibly, lots of people waste time and money sending off half-baked first drafts to everyone in the W&A Yearbook. Networking is crucial, I agree. Tenacity, i.e. not being put off by a growing pile of refusals is another big one. Sylvia Plath reported a 95% “no thanks” response to her early efforts to get a book deal.
    Another major thing is to mark your contact details and name clearly on everything you submit – my agent gets a significant amount of manuscripts that she’d like to take further, but without any way of contacting the author!

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