How do you get a literary agent?

First, have a dear friend whose former college roommate just happens to be a literary agent. Ask that dear friend to make an introduction and wa la! You’ve landed an agent.

But what if you don’t have a dear friend whose college roommate just happens to be a literary agent? Frankly, it’s going to take you a bit more work and a lot more patience and perseverance but, yes, you can do it.

I finished my manuscript for my new book back in September. Or maybe it was August. I have no idea. It’s Covid. I’m lucky I remember to brush my teeth. Anyway, I completed it then, but had started querying agents several months earlier, in March. I sent out letter after letter after letter and either got no response or a very polite rejection email.

I cried. Cursed Covid. Doubted my talents and determined I’d never had any so what the hell was I crying about? And then one day it came to me that, if my life was turned upside down by the pandemic (and it was/is), maybe the lives of those I was querying were too.

Hmm. I thought about this and devised a plan. I’d go on Publisher’s Marketplace and see which Agent Member Pages had been updated recently. It seemed to me that, if an agent was active in this regard they just might possess the “bandwidth necessary to take on my project,” something I was told by the agents who were kind enough to get back to me that they did not have right now.

If I may digress…

Regarding Publisher’s Marketplace, I have a subscription which doesn’t cost a lot and even if it did cost a lot it’s totally worth it because I’m a writer and PM is where my people hang out. So go, now, and get a subscription or you won’t be able to follow along with what I’m about to tell you. I’ll wait….

Ok, so once I’m on PM…

I direct my attention to the right hand side of the home page. There you’ll see a section called NEW CONTENT. Beneath it, it will say how many new deals, how many new book reviews, how many new rights postings, and how many members have updated their pages. 

Click on updated member pages.

This brings you to a new screen that says Member pages updated today and, below that, Other recently updated pages. Here you’ll see the word Role. Writers, editors, publishers, many of them have pages on Publisher’s Marketplace. You want the role of Agent.

Now go through every single recently updated Agent listing. Read them very carefully. Does the agent represent the type of book you’re writing or have written? If not, move on. Seriously. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

If the agent does represent the kind of book you’re writing, read his or her Submissions Guidelines very, very carefully and then follow them to the letter.

Note: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you should do something unique to get the agent’s attention. Forget it. Your query won’t get past the assistant in charge of going through the hundreds agents receive every day.

Once I find an agent to query…

I copy and paste all the agent’s pertinent information into a word document. Email address, website URL, phone number, exact title, submissions guidelines, etc. Then I go back to PM and see if there any others I can query. (Sometimes I come up with three in a day. Other days I come up with zilch. The trick is to get on the site every day or every other day, do the research, and query agents with recently updated pages who are MOST LIKELY to be interested in your project, pronto. They just updated their page! Contact them! They’re looking!!)

Once I’ve found an agent with a recently updated page, who reps the kind of book I’m writing, I follow his or her submission guidelines to a T, and query them that day. If they want the first ten pages of my manuscript pasted into an email, that’s what I send. If they want a letter that tells them about the book and why I’m the best person to write it, that’s what I send. It can take me an hour or more to put these materials together (I’m a writer; I’m always tweaking my work), but I stick it out. I send out one query a day, sometimes more.

This technique is what worked for me most recently. It took a long time but ultimately, God said “Amen” and I received an immediate (and I mean ten minutes after I hit “send”) response from an agent. I’m very excited about the whole thing and I wish you much luck in finding the guy or gal who gets you and your work and will work hard to get your project published!