Literary Agent: Another Step Toward Writer Status

cartoon publishing literary agent

I’ve been a little AWOL recently, tracking down literary agents, compiling lists and readying my book for submission. Normal service will resume shortly 🙂

ONCE YOU HAVE ripped your eyeballs out numerous times, popped them back in, ocassionally mixing one up with a marble, all during the editing stage of a book, you are ready for beta readers.

I don’t like the terminology of beta reader as it sounds derogatory, as if they are beneath the author. They aren’t, they are a reader, and invaluable in addressing issues you have no chance of spotting yourself having read the same manuscript so many times the inside of your skull resembles a cement mixer, blending words, chronology, characters, plot and everything else, round and round, over and over again. The good news is, that slop will straighten itself out and the mixture is ready for a final once over for typos, minor inconsistencies, formatting, the building block of your superstar writing career.

Mansucript ready. Beta readers feedback received. Then comes the literary agents. I’m about to embark on this stage of my writing journey/ saga and I can tell you, it is the most nerve wracking point so far. Research the lit agent market, note appropriate agents that represent books of your genre.

  • You need a cover letter personalised within reason to each agent.
  • A synopsis; one page detailing the main points of the entire story. And usually a sample, frequently three chapters or 10,000 words, although some do want the entire manuscript. Non-fiction submissions are dealt with through a proposal which looks like a one page business plan, outlining the value of your book in the market. Make sure your work is correctly formatted too; 12pt font, Times Roman, double spaced etc. William Shunn has a great example of professionally formatting your book.

There’s the fear of making a mess of the cover letter, the first thing an agent will read. For that very reason a good cover letter is essential.

Then of course the synopsis/ proposal also sends doubt into overdrive.

Some good advice I read about; instead of carpet bombing every agent on your shortlist, send out around eight submissions. That way if there is something inherently wrong with your submission ‘package’ you’ve only lost out to those few instead of dozens. But remember, the main thing an agent will be after is the story. Your bio in the cover letter isn’t going to sell it to them. This is the clash of creative writer brain vs selling yourself. Make your story sound as interesting and attention grabbing as possible. Agents are inundated with submissions. I doubt if many go beyond the cover letter if the hook isn’t engaging and something they are interested in selling to a publisher on your behalf.

Non of the above is terrifying. Really..


  1. I appreciate reading a good post just when it is most timely. I’m bit further behind than you, but hope my turn will be not too distant in the future. I’m glad you took the time to stroll through the Cow Pasture. Welcome to the fence jumpers. I look forward to reading your comments. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  2. Best of luck. You may get lucky and hit the right agent right off, but it may take a hundred or more. One piece of advice a friend and writer gave me was to go in a book store and seek out books similar to what you have written. Then in the acknowledgements, look for the author’s agent and query that person.

    1. Thats it, might happen fast might hapen slow.
      And I heard thats a good idea too. Agents want to know what the book is competing against, what genre it fits into etc, so they can judge its marketability.

      1. If you haven’t already considered it, you can also look for small publishing houses that don’t require an agent. But, just as in the case of literary agents, run in the opposite direction if they want any money. I had a friend go through a small press that charged her for a lot of things, and she’s yet to recoup the money she invested. But I’m probably not telling you something you don’t already know; like me, you seem to have done your homework re literary agents and publishers. 🙂

      2. Thanks Mary.
        I think the great thing about publishing right now is there are so many options, small publishing houses being another one alongside the better known ones. I’ll keep it in mind 🙂

  3. Writers needd to mail it with the qwuery and back it up with a great story. Best of luck. And I agree with you on avoiding a large sweep of agents. Better to take your time and adjust the query as you go along.

  4. Good luck with submitting to agents. I’ve only dipped my toe in the water in this area… have found some of the reasons for passing very frustrating. I think it’s a very subjective thing, and if it clicks with an agent then great. If it doesn’t click for them, their feedback is often (well-intentioned) but useless to you. Assuming they get back to you at all!

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