Monday, March 7, 2011

How To Boost Your Odds of Getting An Agent

Before I had an agent I scoured the internet for information on this topic and came away feeling dejected wondering if the only way I could land an agent, my portal into the 'published author world' was by networking at conferences I could not afford to attend or knowing someone who knew someone who knew someone who was besties with Stephen King or JK Rowling. Two months into my agent search I signed with the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, plucked straight from the slush pile where most of us find ourselves as newbies heading into the great big world of 'wannabe-published'. I'm not saying my way is the right way, or the only way, it was simply what worked for me. I spent some time reading books, magazines, and chatting with authors to figure these three things out- so I thought I'd share them because I believe they were instrumental in boosting my odds of getting an agent.
  1. Don't be desperate. Be particular. By which I mean, do not randomly throw out your queries to anyone and everyone at random. Nicholas Spark's agent might be basking in a sun-hut in Fiji thanks to his dutiful agenting but if you're writing a nonfiction book on the fashion habits of koala bears- that may not be the best fit for you. Don't waste your precious time and subject yourself to needless rejection mass querying to those who would never be a good fit anyways- you only need one agent to love your work, the right one who will advocate for you and your project, so its imperative that you. . .
  2. Focus your search. I spent a warm day in March at my local Borders bookstore with a pen and paper going down the aisles and pulling out books with multicultural fictional titles [since that was the genre of my manuscript]. I checked acknowledgements, and nine times out of ten the author thanked their agent. As I went down the aisles I realized a handful of agents represented most of the multicultural works on the shelves, the number one agency based on my research of my local Borders? Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency proud agent of Lisa See, and Amy Tan and other literary greats. You don't need to go to a brick-and-mortar store to research, the Internet provides a plethora of resources as well- but for me it was a way to not get distracted and simply focus on the task at hand- plus not all authors list their agents on their websites.
  3. Read the submission guidelines and follow them so thoroughly your momma wants to check you into an OCD anonymous inpatient clinic. Seriously. Follow the instructions and don't think you're the exception if going unsolicited. Many friends have scoffed at this saying, its okay if this or that is off- but the truth is that though its a royal pain to format your manuscript for the specifics of each agent- since you're undoubtedly sending to more than one, each with their own unique requests for page margins, line-spacing, and font- its pointless to send it out if you don't tailor your work to the specifications required. An agent is busy- a fact I realize more now that I have one- and if they can toss your work out for technical error.
Do you have a literary agent? What tips would you give to those in the searching process?

[photo source here]


  1. I'm in the middle of the querying process. This is a great post. I think I've been good about only submitting to people I've researched, and you know what? The few that I spent the most time on, that I felt like I was best matched with, are the ones that requested more material.
    Go figure :)
    Now I get to wait... and wait some more...

  2. Great advice! I've done the same, as far as looking at authors who write stories similar to mine, but the main thing I've found? The agents who represent those accomplished writers don't accept unsolicited queries. Go figure, right? Therefore, I'm hoping I stand out in the slush pile of those agents who do.

  3. Jolene, thanks! Good luck on the query process, as Tom Petty puts it best, "the waiting is the hardest part." Hoping you hear good news soon.

    Ashley, thank you! really? I think things have changed in the past year or so with more and more not open to new manuscripts- I wonder if its a sign of the economy and borders closings etc- Hoping for good things for you soon though!

  4. Thanks, Aisha. This will be very helpful to me. Now, if only I had something to submit!