Finding a Literary Agent: Do’s and Don’ts

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By Beth Bruno, Freelance book editor

Do:

Follow submission guidelines on the agent’s website.

Personalize your query letter. Find a connection between your work and the agent you are approaching, be it a writer you admire that the agent represents or a common interest or something else that catches your attention about him or her on the agent’s website.

Open your query letter with a referral source, if you have one. Promising referral sources are: other agents (by name), established editors, published author(s) who admire your work, experts in your field (nonfiction), friend(s) of the agent.

Make every word count. The query letter makes that all-important first impression. Describe your project in tantalizing prose that arouses curiosity to learn more about it.

Write it yourself. The query letter is the agent’s first brush with your talent. Showcase your own skills, not those of a ghostwriter. Your book editor can help tweak it but it should sound like you.

Contact several agents (multiple submissions). If an agent asks for an exclusive reading, limit exclusive access to three weeks, tops.

Keep records during the querying process so you know when to re-contact agents who have not responded to your query.

Continue writing. Agents are more likely to represent writers who have new books in the wings than writers who are pinning their hopes and dreams on one title.

Don’t:

Send a letter with errors in spelling or punctuation. Ask your copy editor to double-check your query for accuracy.

Write in a folksy style as if the agent were your best pal. This is a professional relationship you wish to establish.

Badger the agent with phone calls or questions. Observe the timeline established on the agent’s website for submission responses.

Tell the agent that your book will be the next Pulitzer Prize winner or #1 bestseller. Let the quality of your writing speak for itself.

Pitch an incomplete novel. Fiction agents want to read the whole manuscript; nonfiction agents want a book proposal.

Submit chapters unless the agent requests them.

Sit around and chew your nails waiting for a call or letter from an agent. Silence does not mean rejection. Most agents receive dozens of queries every day.

When an agent asks for more:

Send the requested chapters or pages right away and identify them as materials the agent requested from you.

If an agent offers to represent your work, review the agency contract with a copyright attorney before you sign anything.

Good luck!
About the Author

After twenty years in education and human services fields, Beth Bruno began a second career in 1995 as a columnist, author and book editor. Hundreds of her articles have been published in print and online, and her first book, Wild Tulips, came out in 2001 and went into a second printing in 2002. Beth’s proximity to New York and her position as President of the CT Authors and Publishers Association give her unique access to literary agents and publishers in and around New York City. Several of the authors whose manuscripts she has edited have been published in the mainstream, thanks to her referrals on their behalf. Beth’s editing interests are eclectic and include a delicious mix of fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and children’s works.

In addition to editing, Beth serves as a judge for the Indie Book Awards, an excellent contest for authors who publish their work independently.

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