Literary Agents: How To Approach Them


So you’ve taken the first steps towards finding a literary agent that suits you. Now you’ve got one or two in mind, how do you go about approaching them? There are so many ways that you can go wrong here, so here’s a few tips to keep you on the right track.


About them

In many ways, approaching an agent is just like applying for a job. You need to know about them, about their brand and their work, and you need to find a way to show them this without sounding like a Wikipedia article. Chances are you found your agent because they represent your favourite writer, so find out who else they represent and read some of their books. Have a look to see if there are any publishing companies they seem to work with more than others, and if there are see if these publishing companies look like places where you want to be published.


Give them what they want

This is possibly the most important thing to do. If the agent you’re approaching says they want a 5000 word extract from the start of your novel and a one page synopsis, give it to them. Don’t give them your favourite 5000 words from chapter nine, and don’t give them a synopsis that stretches over three pages. This will make it look like you don’t care about being published, and it also makes it look like you’re not serious about them. They ask for these things for a reason. You ignoring them makes you look like a difficult writer, and that’s the last thing they want.


Give them the ending

I think this is the thing most writers struggle with. So you’ve got a cracking twist ending, or you’ve written a detective novel with the most unexpected culprit being revealed at the end. You’re proud of this, and as a writer you don’t want to ruin this surprise ending for anyone who’s about to read your book.

But you have to.

Unless an agent specifically tells you not to reveal your ending (and this is rare), put it in your synopsis. They want it so they can see that you’ve put just as much thought into the ending as you have in the extract they have from the beginning. And if you really think about it, how can they possibly judge whether they want to represent your novel if they don’t even know the whole story?


Meet them

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but meeting an agent can be the most useful thing for you. If the agent you want to apply to is going to be giving a talk that you can get to, go to it. Similarly, if there’s a book fair near where they work, they are probably going to be there. Going to these events means that you get the chance to ask the agent you’re applying to for advice. Ask them what qualities they best like to see in a writer, what mistakes people make on cover letters that make them put the manuscript down. And then, when you send your now perfect cover letter, you can also drop in the fact that you met them once.


Be yourself

At the end of the day you’re one out of thousands of writers that this agent has to choose from. Your cover letter is what reveals the most about you, so keep it nice and to the point. Don’t be arrogant or snooty, just be yourself. Tell the agent about you, but keep it relevant. They don’t want to know about your football trophy from year 6, they want to know what writing groups you’re a part of and what previous publishing experience you’ve had. Keep it relevant, and keep it honest.


We hope you’ve found these tips useful for when you start preparing to approach an agent. Watch out for more posts in the New Year, where we’ll be helping you to edit your novel ready to send out to your favourite agent.

Have you had any experience with finding literary agents, good or bad? Share your story with us in the comments below.

Literary Agents: Starting Your Search

Crime books

So you’ve finished your novel, and now you’re trying to decide which agents to send it to. Choosing an agent can be really tough, but the time you put into the search will be well worth it when you finally get an agent that’s right for you. Here’s a few things to think about when starting your search.


Your favourite reads

Most of us tend to read what we write, so for example if you write horror you’re likely to read Stephen King’s work. This is great for you, because it probably means you know whose work yours is similar to. Write a list of these authors, then research which agent represents them. Chances are, if an agent likes Stephen King’s work, they’ll like yours too.


Your goals

Do you want to be the next J K Rowling, known worldwide for your success? Or are you more bothered about making an impact in a more focussed publishing community, such as LGBTQ or women’s publishing? Whichever you’re looking for, you need to find an agent that understands your passion and goals. It’s also a lot more helpful to you if they have experience in whichever publishing route you want to go down.


Your genre

One agent doesn’t represent every genre. Most of the time they have 1-5 specialist areas or genres that they work hard on to get published. Make sure you choose an agent that specialises in your genre. There’s no point in going to a crime writing agent if you’re a romance novelist. Don’t waste your time or theirs. Decide what your genre is before you go looking for an agent to make sure you find the right one.


Your experiences

If you’ve gone to see an agent give a talk or if you’ve had a natter with them at a book festival, they’re much more likely to take you on than an agent who you have no connection with. So always look at agents you’ve met in some way. Not only will the fact you’ve heard them talk be a great talking point for your cover letter, it will also prove to them that you really are dedicated to getting published.


Your niche

It doesn’t have to be a niche as such, but you do need something that makes you special. For example, your book may be set in a specific city. If this is the case, check out local agents and publishers as they are more likely to take on your book than others. It’s hard finding something in your work that stands out from everything else in your genre, but there will be something, and that’s what you need to sell yourself on.


Once you’ve decided on all of these things, start searching for your agent. We recommend picking 5 to start with and applying to all of them. This way, if you get accepted by more than one agent, you can go for the one you feel has more to offer. Don’t apply until you’ve finished writing and editing your novel; you don’t want them to ask you for an extract and be unable to give them your best work.

We’d love to know what genre of fiction (or poetry!) our followers write. Share your specialism in the comments below so we can start to tailor our posts to you.

Jargon Buster

Whenever talking about writing here at The Writers’ Den we tend to use a lot of jargon. These specialist, writing specific words help us to explain what we mean in the best way possible, and without them our posts wouldn’t make much sense. A lot of you are beginner writers though, and might not know some of these words, so here’s a list of some we’ve used so far and their definitions.


Antagonist: This is the main person in the story who actively opposes what the protagonist is doing. For example, Lex Luthor, the Joker and Lord Voldemort. Think of this character as the bad guy.

Characterisation: The artistic creation of a fictional character, including the expression of them through action, dialogue and thought.

Climax: The moment in the story that has the greatest intensity, usually where the protagonist is having their final battle with the antagonist.

Dialogue Tags: These are the words that come after speech marks to describe how something has been said. For example, exclaimed and shouted.

Epilogue: A section at the end of a story that exists as a comment or conclusion to what has happened in the book.

Flash Fiction: A short story with less than 1000 words

Hook: This usually appears in the first paragraph or two of the story and grabs the reader’s attention to make them want to read on.

Metaphor: A figure of speech where a word is used to describe something when it is not literally applicable.

Novella: A short novel, usually between 10 000 and 40 000 words.

Persona: The narrator of the story.

Personification: The representation of a figure or object in human form.

Point of View (POV): Mainly in fiction, this is the angle the story is told from.

Prequel: A story that comes before an existing piece of work in the timeline of the fiction.

Prologue: An introductory section to a story.

Protagonist: The main character in your story. This is usually the hero.

Sequel: A story that comes after an existing piece of work in the timeline of the fiction.

Short Story: A story that’s under 10 000 words.

Simile: A description of something that involves direct comparison of it to another thing.

Stand Alone Novel: A book that has no prequel or sequel but that exists in its own right, as one book containing one complete story.


Has this post helped you to expand your writing vocab? If there’s any other writing jargon you can’t quite get your head around, let us know in the comments below and we’ll include it in our next jargon busting post.