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How To Get An Agent, by Sarah Alderson

I got an agent when I was just like you (and by that I mean Googling ‘how to get an agent’ when I should have been finishing my manuscript and/or working).

I remember on my first visit to my agent’s office seeing the pile of manuscripts on the desk that they’d received that week – a mountain of paper reaching almost to the ceiling. It took my breath away. And knowing that my own submission had made it all the way off that pile to an editor at Simon & Schuster and then to a book contract almost made me cry.

A lot of people ask me how they can get an agent. So here’s my advice on the topic. I also asked my own agent for her top tips.

1. Research

Buy The Artist and Writers’ Handbook if you live in the UK or visit this website if you live in Australia. You’ll find information on how to submit your manuscript to agents as well as lists of literary agents and their details.

2. Finish your manuscript

No agent is going to take on a debut author without a complete manuscript.

3. Make every word count

Make your first sentence really count. Actually, make every word count, but you need your manuscript to make it off the slush pile so you really need to make a good first impression.

4. Tailor your submission

Tailor your submission letter to each agency. Read their website, find out who you’re submitting it to. Do they represent any authors that you admire? Do you think you would be a great fit for them? If so, why? Also – get their name right. Don’t mess up your mail merge.

5. It all counts!

Remember that everything you submit – the cover letter, synopsis and sample is there to make an impression. So, the cover letter and synopsis needs to be short and simple with the cover letter saying a little about the author and the synopsis short and attention grabbing (like a book blurb) and make sure that the sample material grabs the reader’s attention from the first page – you can’t have it getting going in the third chapter, as the likelihood is that the agent will have stopped reading before then if nothing happens in the first two chapters.


I asked my agent what makes her fire something straight in the bin? Her answer? ‘Although we’d never fire anything straight into the bin (!), it is off-putting when there are a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes in the cover letter and the wording doesn’t make sense!’

7. Keep it short and snappy

‘An incredibly long synopsis/covering letter is a negative – it shows that the writer is unable to self-edit. Not laying the sample material out in a manner that is easy to read – ie small, difficult to read font & not double spacing is not a good idea. And when we ask for the first three chapters, we mean the first three chapters – not the 8th, 21st and 38th [how are we supposed to see the progression if we are given three ‘random’ chapters?].’

8. Know your audience

Show that you have a clear understanding of your target readership. Your genre and your competitors. If the author states that they have never read a YA novel, but their submission is a YA novel, that will set alarm bells off.  So obvious research and knowledge in the area that the author is writing is crucial.


Sarah Alderson bio page

Hunting LilaLosing LilaFatedThe Night She DisappearedLocal GirlsWriting the Breakout Novel: Winning Advice from a Top Agent and His Best-selling ClientThe Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life

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