Useful Information | Getting an Agent

If you have written a novel that you would like to get published, it is advisable to retain a literary agent. This is especially the case if you are a previously-unpublished writer. Most publishers will not talk directly to a writer so having an agent is vital to get your foot in the door of a publishing house. Also, even if you are approaching publishers who say they are happy to talk to new writers directly (there are some out there), an agent will help you to negotiate your contract with the publisher (royalties, advances, subsidiary rights) and will advise you which publishers are suitable to your masterpiece.

Briefly, these are the steps to follow in approaching an agent in Ireland and the UK.

Send a query letter. This is a 1-page introduction of yourself and your book. You can send these to multiple agents at the same time and you don’t necessarily need to tell each agent that you are approaching others. Include all your contact details and enclose a stamped-addressed envelope as this is the most likely method the agent will use to contact you. Follow up this letter with a phone-call after 2 weeks.

Send sample chapters and synopsis. If an agent contacts you expressing interest, send a synopsis and 2-4 sample chapters. The synopsis should be 1 A4 page, including full story, including ending (yes it hurts to give away the ending but it is necessary), should also include word-count, genre and maybe some similar books currently on the market. The chapters should be the first 2-4 chapters of novel (not chapters selected at random) and should be finished chapters, not a draft. If you are sending chapters to more than one agent, state in your covering letter that you are doing so. Also state that you will show the full manuscript to one agent at a time. If you wish to get the chapters back, enclose an addressed envelope with sufficient postage.

(Some agents, such as Curtis Brown and Luigi Bonomi, ask that the synopsis and chapters be sent along with query letter. See their websites for submission details.)

Send the manuscript. If an agent asks to see the full manuscript, send it as quickly as possible, writing on the envelope ‘SUBMISSION REQUESTED’ and follow up with a phonecall after a few days to make sure it was received. Ask at that time when you might expect a response. Brace yourself, you might be told not expect response for up to six months, although the norm is 3-4 months.

Follow up. After the 3, 4 or 6 months has passed (depending on what the agent has told you), follow up with another phonecall. The purpose of this is not to harrass or scold because you have received no response, but to show the agency that you are still engaged in the process.

If more than one agent requests your manuscript, pick your favourite. Don’t send it to more than one at any given time. And wait until you have received response from the first agent before sending it to the next.
Again, what you send should be the finished rewritten, edited, proofread and rewritten-again manuscript, not a draught.

(The above applies to Fiction only, a different set of parameters apply to Non-Fiction.)

For more details, read ‘How to Get Published and Make a Lot of Money’. It is my bible (despite the dodgy title) and I pick it up for most information about writing or if I just need some encouragement.

For a comprehensive list of agents and the types of clients they represent, read The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. This is a must-have book for all writers.

Drop me a mail if you have any questions about any of this.


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