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Top Tips For Finding A Literary Agent

September 20th, 2019

If you want to be a novelist, sooner or later you’ll face the difficult decision of whether to self-publish or go down the traditional route of finding a publisher. For anyone hoping to find a publisher, it’s highly likely (and, in most cases, advisable) to first seek representation from a literary agent.

Why do you need an agent?

The majority of publishers will not accept manuscripts directly from authors. If you are serious about getting published by a reputable publishing house, you need an agent. Of course, agents do more than just find you a publisher. A good agent acts like your best writing buddy – they support you, help you come up with ideas for books they think will sell, give feedback on your work, negotiate contracts on your behalf and help you build your writing career.

I’ve had two agents so far. My relationship with my first agent end mutually when we both agreed she had done as much as she could for me. We are still good friends. My second agent has recently negotiated a four-book deal on my behalf. She has supported me through a difficult time in my personal life and helped shape my new crime series. In fact, she’s done so much for me that earlier this year I was in the lucky (and very rare) position of having two offers, from two different publishers, and having to choose which one I wanted to work with.

But….finding an agent can be just as hard as finding a publisher. Literary agents received hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts each week. Getting your work picked out of the ‘slush pile’ is notoriously difficult. But not impossible.

Based on my own experiences, here my top tips on how to get a literary agent.

Finish your novel

Agents are not interested in a great idea. They are interested in working with an author who has talent, who understands the industry, and is able to demonstrate they are able to write a novel. You can’t demonstrate this if your novel isn’t finished.

Many aspiring authors don’t believe this. They think the idea for their novel is so unique, so original that the idea alone will sell to an agent. Believe me when I tell you this won’t work. Agents are busy people. If they’ve read your submission (see below) and they like it enough to request the full manuscript, they will expect to see the manuscript right away. If you tell them it’s not ready, they’ll think you’ve wasted their time.

And when I say ‘finish’, I mean ‘finish’. Don’t even consider contacting agents until your novel is the absolute best it can be.

Do your research

Find an agent who represents your genre – this information is usually available on the agent’s website or on their Twitter profiles (agents will often say something like: ‘actively seeking psychological thrillers and historical fiction’).

Look at the list of authors the agent represents – could you see yourself fitting within this list? If so, why? If not, maybe this agent’s not right for you.

There are several resources you can use to help with your research:

The Writers and Artist Yearbook lists all the literary agents in the UK and Ireland (and has so much more useful information too).

The internet is obviously an invaluable resource too. Start following agents you like on social media, check out what’s being said about them in different writers’ forums, sign up to Publisher’s Weekly and the Bookseller to get the latest industry news.

Understand what an agent wants to see in your submission pack

You’ll find submission guidelines on the ‘submissions’ page of an agent’s website. In almost every case, an agent will want to see:

cover letter or email (most agents accept email submissions)

a synopsis (500 – 700 words)

the first three chapters of your novel

It’s really important that you follow the submission guidelines. If you don’t do this, your submission won’t be considered.

Write a killer synopsis

Every writer struggles with the dreaded synopsis. The pressure to get all of your wonderful story into a single side of A4 is a challenge none of us relish. But you have no choice, so my advice is to simply get on with it.

Please remember these points when writing your synopsis:

it doesn’t have to include every single plot twist and turn

the aim of your synopsis is to give the agent ‘a flavour’ of your novel and make them want to read it

one page, single spaced – no longer than this

Know what information to include in your cover letter

Your cover letter (or email) is the first thing the agent will see, so it has to be excellent. The basic information it needs to include is:

who you are and why you’ve chosen this agent (see research above)

a brief (100 word) summary of what your book is about – the genre, key themes, and any other important information

what market your book would appeal (eg, for my books, I might say  ‘would appeal to readers of Elly Griffiths and Tana French’)

any other information you consider relevant or interesting (eg, Is your novel set in a place you know well? What makes you the best person to write this book? What other writing work have you done?)

NEVER try to oversell your novel by describing it as ‘ground breaking’ or ‘a roller coaster ride’ or ‘the best book you’ll read this year’. Let your writing speak for itself.

Make your first three chapters as good as possible

These chapters showcase your writing. They need to be the best chapters you can write. If you’re looking at your work and you’re thinking ‘ooh, Chapter 6 would be so much better here’ then something is wrong.

Be prepared for rejection

Rejection comes with the territory; it’s not something you should take personally. Some agents may not respond to your query at all. Others will send a polite rejection. If you’re very lucky, a handful may ask to see the full novel. But even at that point, there’s a good chance they will ultimately say no!

Don’t give up

Despite the rejections, you mustn’t give up. If you want to be a novelist, you keep going in the face of all adversity. Determination, a thick skin and hard work will get you there eventually!


Sheila is an Irish crime writer living in Eastbourne. Her first crime series, featuring DI Ellen Kelly, have all received wide acclaim. She is currently working on a new series, set in Eastbourne featuring retired journalist, Dee Doran. The first Dee Doran book will be published in January 2020.

Website – www.sheilabugler.co.uk

Twitter – @sheilab10

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Sheila-Bugler-author-page-1405242063026200/?ref=bookmarks


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