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.
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?
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.
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.