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How To Find A Literary Agent, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Based on the writers I’ve known, there are four basic ways to find an agent:

1. Query an agent through Literary Marketplace, or another reference book that lists agents who are accepting solicitations. Write up a very polished letter, no more than a page or so, in which you describe your book, say why it has commercial appeal, tell the agent why you are contacting her in particular to show you’ve done your research, and if that agency says you can do so in their submission guidelines, send in the first chapter of your book. Repeat a few dozen times until you find an agent who wants to take you on. This is how I got my first agent, who managed to sell my first book before we parted ways for mutual reasons, and though the partnership didn’t last, I’ll be forever grateful to her.

2. Go to a writing conference and pitch your book to an agent. This is how I got my second agent. I met her in person, we had a certain simpatico, I showed her the first paragraph of something I was working on, and she said she’d be willing to look at my work. I sent her my novel and she accepted me as her client. The nice thing about finding an agent this way is that most writing conferences aren’t going to invite bum agents to their gig. They want only reputable agents from competitive agencies, so you can be fairly certain that an agent at a conference like this is going to be a real professional. (This isn’t an excuse not to do research of your own, though!)

3. Go through a writer friend you know. If your friend has a good agent and doesn’t mind sharing, you can ask him/her to put in a good word for you. Then write an excellent query letter, and send in a fabulous piece of writing that doesn’t make your friend look bad to her agent. The only problem with this approach is that it can be really hard to get turned down by a friend’s agent, and unless you are super-cool about it, your friendship can be affected.

4. Sell your first novel yourself, then hire an agent to negotiate the contract for you and represent you thereafter. I know two different writers who found their agents this way, but I think this is getting harder to do these days and fewer publishing houses accept un-agented manuscripts.

Finding an agent can be time consuming and difficult, and the task is so daunting that some beginning writers want to skip this step. They do so at their own peril, because if they can’t find an agent who wants to represent their book, they’re going to have an even harder time finding an editor who wants to publish it. In other words, if your work isn’t good enough for an agent, it’s definitely not good enough for an editor. Yet. So if you’re going to put in all that work to make your book good enough, you might as well find someone who can be your business partner and defender. It’s tough out there; it’s good to have someone you can rely to always be on your side.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Fledgling Young Adult novelists come up to me all the time and ask, “Hey, I’ve written something great. Can you hook me up with your agent?” I’ve even had a very nice librarian ask me that question, on behalf of her sister-in-law, as she was walking me to the podium to give a talk in her library.

I’m never really annoyed at this stuff. I understand that writers are looking for a way in, and think that I can help them. But there are some huge negatives in leaning on a friend or another writer to get you an agent.

What if my agent doesn’t like your work, but it’s good? What if my agent doesn’t like that particular genre (for making sales)? What if my agent is too busy and doesn’t give it the appropriate time? What if my agent doesn’t even return your email?

In my opinion, providing a single agent name as a contact is clearly a disservice to a beginning writer. Instead, I try to teach new writers techniques to canvass multiple agents. When I was in need of an agent I went to resources such as Writer’s Market and found maybe a dozen agents who represented the kind of manuscript I’d written. I emailed all of them, waiting to see who would respond in a reasonable time, or who would even reply at all. I did that over and over again, until I found an agent with whom I shared some common ground. Of course, we all know that a writer can send out 100 queries and get just a single reply, leading us to want to sign with that one agent.

I’ve had three agents in my writing career. The first two dumped me. I’m sure they found me too annoying in wanting to succeed and always keeping the pressure on them. Neither could sell my first two novels, Black and White (which eventually won a slew of IRA and ALA awards) and Rikers High (a Top 10 ALA winner inspiring non-readers to read, and even achieved a New York Times review).

Then I found the right agent through an email (she was just another name in a book to me) and then a follow up phone call. She read Black and White and said, “I’m sending it out to eight major houses tomorrow. A few of them will probably want it very badly.” She was right. Within a month, I was a professional writer with a two-book deal from Viking/Penguin.

So my best advice is to keep searching yourself for that agent. Understand how to do it. Refine your own personal techniques. It will make you more self-sufficient and ultimately more powerful as a writer. It can be a long haul until you find an agent who works as hard as you do in promoting your ideas. But it is certainly worth the journey.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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