31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 29 – How (And Where) Can I Find a Literary Agent?

Holy crap, you guys. Day 29 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”. Two more days and we’ll be diving headfirst into NaNoWriMo. Make sure you’re totally ready by checking out the other posts in this series here if you haven’t already, or by watching the corresponding YouTube videos here.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Leighton, you haven’t ever gotten an agent, and you aren’t even traditionally publishing your book. What could you possibly know about finding a literary agent?” And, I’ll admit, you make a good point. What do I know about finding a literary agent? Well, the thing is, at one point I actually was planning on traditionally publishing The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy. And during that time I did extensive research about finding a literary agent, and I even queried one! Don’t make all of that research futile. Take my wisdom and run with it. Please. It’s my dying wish.

So, what is a literary agent? A literary agent is a person who represents your book for a percentage of your future earnings, and helps you workshop your novel before shopping it around to publishers. I want to make it absolutely clear that an agent takes a percentage of your future earnings. This means you do not and should not, under any circumstances, pay an agent outright. If they ask for an up-front payment, they are a SCAM. Instead, they should ask you to sign a contract with them that states that whatever advance and royalties the publishing company gives you for your book, they take 10-15% of that for themselves. So if you get a $10,000 advance, they get 10-15% of that. And if you get 10% royalties, then they get 10-15% of that 10%. So let’s say that you agree to the agent getting 15%. In this scenario, you’d then receive $8,500 of the advance and 8.5% in royalties.

Naturally, after seeing these numbers, I’m sure your next question is, “Do I even need a literary agent?” I mean, if you’re planning on self-publishing, then no, you do not. If you plan on traditionally publishing, though, having a literary agent is really your best bet at getting your novel published. Sure, there are some authors whose manuscripts have been picked out of the slush pile at a publishing house without the help of an agent, but the chances of this actually happening are very, very slim.

Where do you find a literary agent, then? The best place to look is the Internet. Just to do a Google search, and make sure to keep an eye out for scams (do your research before you query an agent). You can also look in the acknowledgements of books for the names of published authors’ agents. I’d recommend looking in the acknowledgements of books in the same genre as your novel, because that probably means that agent is willing to represent books in that genre.

Which leads me to another point: How to find an agent that’s right for you. After all, not all agents will be open to representing your novel’s genre or target audience. Not all agents represent YA fiction, and some prefer fantasy over contemporary or mystery over sci-fi. The good news is that all agents list the types of genres they’re looking to represent, which they call a wishlist. Check out the agency’s website (because most literary agents are a part of a larger agency) and find the agent’s personal profile. Once you know that an agent is looking to represent a novel like yours, you’ll need to query them, something we’ll be talking about in detail tomorrow.

Keep in mind that, if your novel is rejected by one or more agents, that doesn’t mean your novel is bad. Rejection is, unfortunately, a part of being an author, traditionally published or otherwise. Even J.K. Rowling’s manuscript of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone was rejected many times. So don’t let it get you down. After your fifth rejection, you may consider looking over your manuscript to see if there’s anything fundamental you might be able to fix to make it more desirable, but for the most part you’ll just need to keep submitting. If worst comes to worst, you may have to set that manuscript aside and work on another one to submit. Whatever you do, just don’t give up. If you work hard, you’ll get a novel published. And you can always self-publish, if you really want to get your novel out there.

And what about your next novel? Do you have to find a new agent, or can you keep the one that represented your last book? Well, if you’re happy with your agent and they’re both happy with you and represent the genres of your subsequent books, then odds are you can stay with them. However, if they weren’t able to get your first novel published anywhere, they probably won’t be willing to take another chance on you. In that case, you’ll have to move on to a new agent and hope that your next novel is able to be picked up by a publisher. If things did work out the first time around, though, you may still have to query the agent for future books (it really just depends on the agent), but you’ll probably be at the top of their list. If you publish a bestseller, they’ll probably never want to let you go, so there’s a best case scenario that you can shoot for!

Trust me, looking into literary agents can be a bit scary and overwhelming, but my recommendation is to dream big. Find your dream agent and query them, even if you’re afraid they won’t like your manuscript (so long as they’re looking to represent a novel like yours, of course). You never know what’ll happen until you try. I’d also recommend, though, that you query some associate agents and junior agents, because odds are they’re just starting out in their careers and looking to build their client list. This means it’ll be easier to be picked up by them because they don’t already have a full client list. Plus, they’ll probably give you more attention than a big name agent with big name clients would give you.

Just because I didn’t choose to traditionally publish my debut novel, that doesn’t mean I think there’s anything wrong with traditional publishing or with literary agents. In fact, if I could still have one traditional thing as a self-published author, it would be a literary agent. I wish I could have someone like that who would workshop my novel with me and help me navigate the murky waters of publishing a book. But alas, when you choose one path, you lose the chance at the good things another path might give you. Still, someday I may traditionally publish a book or two, and if that day comes I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with an agent.

And, like I mentioned, tomorrow for Day 30 we’ll be discussing how to query an agent, so stay tuned for that! I’ll (hopefully) see you all tomorrow!

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