How Do You Find a Literary Agent?

SearchingI asked readers on my Facebook  page for questions they’d like me to answer on the blog. It seems many are dying to know the secret to getting an agent.

Stephanie asked: What is the single most important thing when approaching an agent?

Aleah asked: What’s the best way for a first time novelist to get their foot in the door with an agent? Where should one start?

These questions always make me feel like the writers are hoping I’ll reveal the secret handshake or code-word that will break down the barriers to getting an agent. I wish it were that easy! But it’s a process, with no shortcuts and no magic. Here are some things you can do:

1. Write a great book. If your book isn’t marketable, nothing else will matter. You’ve got to have a book people want to read, and write it well enough so that reading it is a great experience.

2. Write an effective query letter. It’s crucial that you  pitch your book in a way that captures an agent’s attention and makes them want to read it. Crafting a query letter can be a tremendous amount of work, but can make all the difference.

3. Attend writers’ conferences. Make sure there are agents on the conference faculty, and take every opportunity to meet with agents, network with them, and get to know them (without constantly pitching your book). Agents often take on writers after multiple interactions with them—your query is one interaction, a conference could be another.

4. Meet agents online. You’re already doing this by reading and commenting on agent blogs; interacting with agents on Facebook and Twitter. This is not the place to pitch your project; rather, it’s a more informal way of creating relationships. You never know what might come of them down the road.

5. Network with other authors. Eventually a referral from a writer friend might help you get an agent.

6. Be persistent. Don’t query a few agents, get a few rejections, and lose hope. Keep trying. It can take awhile to get an agent.

Lori Ann asked: Do you recommend first time authors (or any, I guess) hire an agent-finding consultant to narrow down and pinpoint the most appropriate agents to pursue with our manuscripts and proposals?

If you don’t have time to research agents, then maybe this would work for you. However, I have a hard time recommending writers spend money on this because there’s no guarantee you will get any return on your investment. Even when you target the exact right agents, it’s still a long shot.

It’s not just about you and your book.

Getting an agent is somewhat a numbers game. It’s an equation of supply and demand. The supply of writers is always far, far greater than the demand. So agents have to choose, and they have to say “no” to a great many worthwhile, marketable books.

Sorry, I couldn’t provide any magic bullets or directions to the secret passageway. Start with a great book, then do everything you can to get it in front of agents. It’s that simple—and that hard.

What is the most challenging thing about finding an agent? If you’re represented, how long did it take you to get your agent?

Here are some ways to find the agents you want to query:

Print resources:

2013 Guide to Literary Agents

The Christian Writer’s Market Guide – 2012

Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents

 

Online resources:

Guide to Literary Agents blog

Agent Query

Query Tracker

Michael Hyatt’s list of Agents who Represent Christian Authors

My agent blogroll 

My list of other helpful publishing websites

 

 

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  • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’m not yet represented, but for me the hardest part on this road was reaching the epiphany that I, as a person, am a far greater part of the ‘marketable package’ than I originally thought.

    The days of the lone and mysterious genius (where art though, J.D. Salinger?) are over, if indeed they ever existed. To successfully market a book the author’s persona has to be an attractive component, something that the agent wants to represent, something the reader wants to buy.

    I’d love to be wrong, and to live on my mesa, writing brilliant books and letting my dogs drive away the autograph-seekers on their pathetic pilgrimages…

    But if I do that, the only readership I’ll get is me, reading to the dogs.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      It does seem like the reclusive writer is a thing of the past. I think some classic writers would have to self-publish today.

    • http://www.pointdeception.com Jim Gilliam

      The bit about researching an agent is right on point. You MUST do your homework! It boggles my mind how much time and money are expended in querying the wrong agent. Armed with the concept that a bad agent is worse than no agent. I’m working on my third novel and still no agent. I went POD on the first, am spending a lot of time researching agents for the second, and trying to read and write every day. I know the odds and I take all the pearls to heart and soldier on. In the end that’s all any of us can do. There is no guaranteed other than God and luck and a lot of hard work.

      Jim

      • http://www.facebook.com/groups/224637372023/?fref=ts Funkè Ojo

        This is not an answer but a I-know-what-you -mean comment. I can say our life choices of publishing is the same. But is it then better to self-publish? I have turned about in my bed thousands of sleepless nights, thinking of what to do. I hate the “no sorry” replies to my queries! it bites! it’s like a “what? are you serious?” upset…upset…then i get over it and hope for the next to be a yes, but its another no and the same dumb reaction of hope. its tiriiiiing!!! arg!
        Funkè Ojo
        Author of One deportation morning

  • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

    Thank you for this reminder on how to find an agent, Rachelle. The “numbers game” is something authors really need to consider before they rail against the “gatekeepers.” Agents are marketing specialist in their field. They know what they can and can’t sell. It’s not a question of whether they like a writer or even if the writer is good at their craft. It’s a business venture. If a person doesn’t want to deal with that business, then they should self-publish their work and move on.

    I’ve never gone to a conference, so finding an agent for my work has been near impossible. Like a goober, I post on sites like yours and you don’t represent my genre. How silly am I? Oh well, I’ve learned a lot and it will pay off later down the road.

    One day, I’ll sell my other house and pay off my son’s medical bills and go finally go to a conference. Meanwhile, my craft gets better through the mentoring and friendships from people I meet along the way. I think that’s pretty cool no matter what the end result is.

    • http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com Anne Love

      P.J. Aren’t you a pastor? There are such things as scholarships and sabbaticals to attend a conference right? You would thrive at a conference. I hope you find it on your schedule sooner rather than later!

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

        Thank you, Anne. As a people person, I would enjoy a good conference. There was one here this last month but my grandfather past away that day. This next year, I’ll go to at least one. :)

    • http://bansheeweaver.blogspot.com Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      P.J., like you, I can’t afford to go to Writers’ Conferences, at the moment at least. Also, I comment on this blog and I’m writing a genre that Rachelle doesn’t represent. However, I think spending time here is a great investment which has already paid off many times over. Certainly, I’ve learned a great deal from the posts (thank you, Rachelle) and I’ve learned from the other writers who comment here (thank you everybody). Even more important to me: I’ve been able to meet and connect with wonderful people–like you. You’re not a goober except in that you think you’re a goober. I’m glad you’re here. So there! :)

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

        Thanks Christine, I’m glad you’re here as well!

  • Laurent Vigne

    Thanks Rachelle but those are all the same old answers and they rarely produce results. The ONLY way to get an agent (or a publisher) is through a personal contact. You need a godfather (or godmother) who for one reason or another will take you up. Read some writers’ biographies and you’ll see it’s always been that way. It helps as well if you’ve done creative writing at East Anglia.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Laurent, I hear what you’re saying, and I tried to make clear in this list that personal contact is a factor — hence, conferences and networking are important. The concept of a godfather or godmother doesn’t resonate with me and it’s not how most agents operate. But we all find new clients through a combination of queries and personal contact. I did say in this post, “Agents often take on writers after multiple interactions with them.”

      • http://madeleinecalcutt.wordpress.com Madeleine Calcutt

        Rachelle, personal interaction is rather tricky here, in Australia. As far as I know there aren’t any Christian literary agents here and also only about one or two Christian publishers who publish Christian fiction. As I can’t travel to America, and have problems travelling here in Australia, the chances of meeting an agent or publisher in this country are pretty much NIL. Any suggestions?

    • http://www.rachelneumeier.com Rachel Neumeier

      You are mistaken about writers needing to have a personal connection to an agent in order to have a change of representation. I absolutely did not. And I know several other authors who also did not.

      Incidentally, to answer the initial question, I spent about two months researching agents, and sent queries to only a dozen agents before one requested first a full and then a rewrite and then eventually took on and sold not only that book, but five others (so far).

  • http://www.athoughtgrows.blogspot.com Julie Luek

    Thank you for the insights and the gentle push to remember the most important factors are writing a good book and being politely persistent.

  • http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/ jeffo

    Rachelle, I have to ask this, because I’m really curious about something.

    Most agents talk about managing someone’s career, as opposed to just selling their book. When you take on a new client, especially a debut author, how far down the road do you try to look with them? I guess I’m asking long-term vs. short-term here, and I may not be doing that very well. How important is it to you to see that a potential client has more than one book in them?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      It is 100% very important. The only exception is if a book is clearly a one-shot deal that’s going to sell a ton of copies regardless of whether the author has any more books in them. That means it’s related to a huge current event or news story, or a celebrity.

      • http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/ jeffo

        Thanks, Rachelle.

        It’s funny, because sometimes when I’m querying I’ll find myself writing, “I’m seeking representation for my book X,” but that’s not necessarily what I mean. I plan on writing until I’ve got nothing left ot say, or I’m dead, whichever comes first, but it feels presumptuous to say something like, “I am seeking representation as I embark upon my literary career.”

        • http://aarsi-reflections.blogspot.com/ Navdeep Kaur

          I feel like that as well. I guess it may be my insecurities as unpublished writers that make me feel that way. I’m still working on my first few manuscripts; but it feels like the most important thing is finding the first agent, selling the first book. It does seem like when I begin to send out queries, I will be soliciting representation for one book, rather than my entire career because I feel so unsure about the prospects of it right now.

  • Jeanne

    Rachelle, such good reminders. Writing a book others want to read and also building relationship seem to be key.

  • http://www.jessicanelson.net Jessica Nelson

    It would be nice if there was some math formula to getting an agent or publisher but…there’s not.
    Good tips!

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    Rachelle, that’s interesting — and encouraging — to hear that agents sometimes take on clients after multiple interactions with them. Good to know. Thanks!

  • Lisa Nelson

    I usually only read comments and never post, but today I must say something. I wrote two manuscripts over the course of ten years and suffered many rejections. Last year I decided that I had to “get on with my life” and start back to work on building my academic career. I sent off one last query to my top pick agent because he had swiftly, but kindly, rejected me before and I was looking for quick affirmation of my decision to quit writing. However, within thirty seconds of sending my query, the agent asked for a partial and by the end of afternoon he asked me if I would consider making some revisions. At the end of that month, I had my agent. I had never met him before and I did not know anyone who did. I had attended one disappointing writers conference but had never “networked.” The message of the story is don’t give up and write a really good story!

    • http://www.lisamairey.com Lisa M. Airey

      Congrats! What’s the title of your book, Lisa? Has your agent found a publisher?

  • http://www.sueharrison.com Sue Harrison

    You’re absolutely right, Rachelle. Persistence is of prime importance in getting an agent. I spent 5 years searching until I got my first agent back in 1989. When I began writing for the inspirational market, it took me 2 years to get my agent. Well worth the wait!!

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com P. J. Casselman

      Wow, thanks for sharing that, Sue. As a published author, your input gives some good perspective to the rest of us. :)

  • http://www.johnniedonley.com Johnnie

    I first met real live agents (my heart pounding with trepidation) at a writing conference. But at those first meetings, I was totally unprepared and ignorant about the process. I didn’t know, for example, that my novel needed to be completed first.

    Three years later at that same conference, I met another agent who requested my proposal (for a different novel than I had shown those first agents). She recommended me to her colleague, and I got that long-awaited call.

    It’s a process, sometimes a long one, of learning, persevering, perhaps starting over with a new story, and networking.

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle.

  • http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com Jaime Wright

    I think it’s an adventurous process — although it can be discouraging. It’s neat to see who God has in line to pair me up with someday in that timing that is so perfectly His and not mine. Meantime, keep writing!! The other advice I’ve heard you and other agents give is don’t hinge all your hopes on one manuscript :)

    • http://aboutproximity.com Lisa

      I love that, I should look at it more like an adventure than something to worry upon. It is so exciting to think about how God might of prepared you to pair up with!

      • http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com Jaime Wright

        That’s just it!! The pieces fall into place as they should, when they should — of course, I’m not sitting back on my behind doing nothing, but worry is a factor to be removed from the equation so writing can still be loved and enjoyed as the dear friend that it is!

  • http://lindsayharrel.blogspot.com Lindsay Harrel

    I have found agent blogs (like this one and Books & Such) to be invaluable. I’ve met friends here, and I’ve formed relationships with agents. Twitter is a good place to meet editors too. And yes…conferences = hugely important. I don’t have an agent yet, but I’ve interacted with several, so when it comes time for me to sign with one, I can be confident in the one I end up with. To me, that’s far more valuable than rushing into an agent relationship just because someone *finally* wanted to sign me.

    • http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com Anne Love

      Great thoughts Lindsay! I agree wholeheartedly. Blogs are also a great way to stay connected after the conference is over.

    • http://aboutproximity.com Lisa

      Blogs have been so important to me too. For the content shared and all the talented community that responds.

    • http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com Jaime Wright

      AMEN!

  • http://www.meghancarver.blogspot.com Meghan Carver

    One of my biggest challenges is figuring out what to write in a comment – something witty, charming, intelligent. Something more substantive than “Thanks for a great post!” although that’s always true. Something more than :) although if we met in person I would smile. So…thanks for a great post! :) (There’s a reason my writing goes through revision.)

  • Roxanne Sherwood Gray

    Rachelle,

    You recommended that Lori Ann shouldn’t spend money on an agent-finding consultant because there’s no guarantee of a return on her investment. However, do you advise authors seek professional editing on a manuscript? (Hopefully making it a better book — tip #1.)

    Thank you for any help. These tips are great!

  • http://www.eileencook.com Eileen Cook

    I’m represented and am published with S&S. I did not know my agent. I was a slush pile find, and almost EVERY writer I know was a slush find. You don’t have to know anyone. I’ve been with my agent since 2008 and am very happy with the direction my career in going.

    I do suggest people consider a newer agent at an established agency. A new agent is actively trying to build their list and if they are with an established agency they have all sorts of mentorship and support. A more established agent already has a full client list while the new agent is is very keen to find their next author.

    Hang in there people! A great agent is worth the wait and your writing deserves the best agent.

    • Jan Thompson

      Good points, Eileen! Rachelle, what do you think are the pros/cons of getting a seasoned agent vs a new agent on the block? I read in a few other blogs that if the agent is new, there’s the possibility he/she might not not know many editors or enough about the publishing industry to help new authors have longevity in their writing careers. OTOH, like Eileen said, an established agent might be saturated with clients, and might not be actively looking for new reps. For unpublished writers like myself, what to do? Thanks!

      • http://www.eileencook.com Eileen Cook

        Just to add- this is why I would look at a new agent who is with an established agency. The agency will help them make contacts, choose editors etc. I’d be more leery of going with a new agent who didn’t have that contact.

        • Jan Thompson

          Thank you, Eileen! Sounds like a good combination — get an eager new agent who has built-in connections. That’s encouraging to know.

          I still would like to go the traditional route if possible i.e. querying agents, trying for brick-and-mortar publishers, and go from there. DH is all about self-publishing. Apple makes it so easy — something like the author keeping 70% of the profits.

          What’s the balance between ebook and printed book?

  • http://stephaniemccarthyauthor.com Stephanie M.

    Another great post.

    It took me about two months to get an agent, but that was on my THIRD book. The first book was awful, too bad to query. The second got some interest, but not enough so I shelved it. The third I knew was good, each book kept getting better.

    When they tell you that everything in publishing takes a long time, IT’S ALL TRUE!!!

  • Ursula Jordaan

    I’m not at that agent searching place yet, but this is wonderful information to have for the very near future.

    Thanks

  • http://www.rmharnist.com RM Harnist

    As a writer, I haven’t yet started looking for an agent. This information is great to file away for future reference.

    As a freelance editor, I have several clients currently looking for agents. I’m definitely forwarding them this information.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://enchantedseashells.com Enchanted Seashells

    Wonderful. Now I’m even more depressed. Seriously, very helpful and thank you for sharing the secrets!

    • http://marilynhudsontucker.com Marilyn

      Don’t give up, and don’t get depressed. It took some authors years and years to become successful. Never stop trying.

  • http://lifeunpublished.blogspot.com Kelsey Keating

    Great blog post! I always soak up everything I can when it comes to the agent field. You can never know enough!

    Thanks Rachelle!

  • http://www.kristenethridge.com Kristen Ethridge

    I think the most important thing to remember is that just like there’s no magic formula to selling a book, there’s no magic formula to getting an agent. I know that’s hard to hear when you’re trying so hard to do both, but there’s a certain amount of subjectivity in the process.

    My debut book, Saving Gracie, comes out next month from Love Inspired. It was rejected by 25 agents. Some requested fulls, some requested partials, some gave me a form rejection, some didn’t even bother to reply. I told my husband I was done with the book after one last great shot. I put it in RWA’s Golden Heart and Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write. I figured those were my last shots to get some notice, since I had exhausted most every other avenue.

    Shockingly (to me, at least), I finaled in last year’s Golden Heart. A month later, I received a call from an editor at Love Inspired wanting to buy the book out of So You Think You Can Write. And after that, I had not one–but two–wonderful agents offer representation.

    Lesson learned for me: the importance of perseverance and believing in yourself, and knowing when it’s time to move on and start another project. You may well be able to come back to an earlier project, but you have to continue to find new ways to market yourself and catch an editor’s or agent’s eye. Best of luck to everyone who is out there looking and trying to be the best they can be!

    • http://www.rachel-muller.blogspot.com Rachel Muller

      Kristen,

      I entered the same contest this year and finaled in the Top 28!
      Definately thrilled. That’s as far as it went for me. But I had someone tell me that qualifying in the Top 28 means that there is potential and people WANT to read my work. So I am not let down in any way, shape, or form :)

      Great story and I’m so glad you perservered! Best wishes to you on your new writing endeavor! :)

      • http://www.rachel-muller.blogspot.com Rachel Muller

        Qualified in So You Think You Can Write…this is. :)

        • http://www.kristenethridge.com Kristen Ethridge

          Congratulations, Rachel! That’s awesome! They ran the contest a little different last year vs this year, but YES…a top 28 finish definitely means your story is resonating with readers. Keep at it!!! :)

    • http://www.johnniedonley.com Johnnie

      Congrats, Kristen, on your debut novel, and thanks for sharing your story. Just goes to show the importance of sticking with it.

      • http://www.kristenethridge.com Kristen Ethridge

        Thanks, Johnnie! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/groups/224637372023/?fref=ts Funkè Ojo

      What? wow! this is encouraging. But wait, you were rejected by only 25 in total or 25 that you bothered to count? I am reaching the hundreds now…and i hear it only takes one…

  • http://www.rachel-muller.blogspot.com Rachel Muller

    Earlier this year I was asking the same questions. Since getting involved with ACFW I now realize there really is no secret to getting an agent. It is based on writing skills, catchy titles, good queries, and writers conferences.

    One new thing I learned in the last two months is it’s okay to get rejected. I learned from my mistakes and the rejection letters are giving me more and more good qualities about my book.

    For encouragement someone told me about two men who had a great idea for a book. The idea was a series to help and encourage readers of all ages with true life stories of grief and hope. The query was rejected 33 times over 3 years!! On the 34th try, the pitch was accepted and Chicken Soup For the Soul was birthed, selling more than 30 million copies.

    -The morale of the story…never give up!

    Great post! Thanks!

  • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

    Basically, it all comes down to “keep working and put yourself out there”. If you don’t do those things, you might write a great book, but it will continue to exist in a vacuum.

    Research is the other key part. Keep a list of possible agents you might consult. Look up their track records and information on their interests. One useful site I didn’t see you list is the Association of Author Representatives (http://aaronline.org/), which can be helpful for finding credible agents. Of course, one must remember to take the info there with a grain of salt. Brand new agents won’t be listed yet, for example, even though they might be perfect for you. (However, others from their agency might be, and it’s likely there’s some mentorship going on within the agency. In those cases, it’s probably just a matter of time and enough sales before the new agent is listed as well.)

  • http://birthofanovel.wordpress.com Marielena

    This is a timely post for me, Rachelle, as a book that was under serious consideration by a very reputable (and extremely nice) agent was just rejected this morning (she had requested to read the full). I so wanted her representation. She loves my writing, wants to see future queries … still, rejection after rejection and coming this close is very hard and once again I’m left asking myself if this is how I am supposed to be using my writing gifts.

  • http://www.andreagoodson.wordpress.com Andrea Goodson

    To answer the question at the end of the post, I would have to say that the part I found most difficult in relation to getting an agent has to do with whether or not one has previously published work. I am a first time novelist with my second book coming out next week. When I sent out multiple queries (and I mean multiple!) almost every response I received asked for examples or sites where the agent could view my previously published work. When I did not have that to provide, they were not interested. I realize why agents do this, they are busy and they don’t want to waste their time on every person who aspires to be a writer. This practice made it very difficult for me. That led me to self publish on Amazon and Smashwords. I am fairly happy with my decision so far, I have received several 4 and 5 star reviews so it has given me the boost I needed to know that writing is something I can be successful with, not just always “wanting to be successful”. In the future I might try again, after the series I am currently working on is over. Perhaps then more agents would be willing to look at my work.

    • http://madeleinecalcutt.wordpress.com Madeleine Calcutt

      Andrea, someone told me, I think it was an agent, that self publishing or vanity publishing is not considered by agents or publishers as having been published. I wonder what you think about this, Rachelle?

      • http://www.andreagoodson.wordpress.com Andrea Goodson

        I realize that may be the case. I just figured that at least then I would already have some type of fan base/following and actual numbers to represent the “marketability” of my work. Either way I love to write so it doesn’t matter too much. I have been through quite a few hardships in life and feel that using fiction to display the lessons I have learned to the world might help someone, somewhere. Plus it is just really fun! There are so many ideas floating around in my mind that I will surely write forever!

  • http://www.dawncrandall.blogspot.com Dawn Crandall

    I signed with my agent directly after attending my first writing conference (2011 ACFW, Saint Louis). Both agents I’d met with at the conference offered me representation within a week of reading the partial proposal of my first book.

  • Audra Noonan

    Rachelle,
    Thank you for the suggestions. I love that you incorporated the idea that there are no magic tricks to obtaining an agent. Writing like all professions requires a good deal of hard work and a bit of luck. If you have a good product and do the work to make it happen you have the best chance of getting an agent or publisher. Of course there is also the hard work or self-publishing as well.
    As a first-time writer I have never attended a conference. I have looked for them in the past, but it is difficult to know what would be truly helpful and what is a scam. Would you be willing to give some suggestions for good conferences or resources to locate legitimate conferences that will help in the pursuit of networking as well as improving our writing processes?

    • http://www.dawncrandall.blogspot.com Dawn Crandall

      The American Christian Fiction Writers national conference is a really good one to attend, although it does cost quite a lot. You get multiple appointments with very reputable agents and editors. There are also smaller ACFW chapters all over the country. I know the Great Lakes Chapter (if anyone happens to live in or near Michigan) is really good at getting their writers face-to-face meetings with agents and editors once or twice a year. And those “mini” conferences only cost about $40-$60.

  • http://www.SarahAnneLoudinThomas.wordpress.com Sarah Thomas

    After sticking my toe into the publishing world via blogs like this one and a conference or two, I assumed if I ever did get an agent it would be because we met at a conference. Turns out, I got an agent by sending a query, then a proposal, then a full manuscript. She did “know” me from my comments on her blog posts, but that’s it. And it wasn’t a matter of sending out masses of queries. I only sent a few to agents I thought would be a really good fit for me. Then I waited for God to wink at me ;)

    • http://merceyvalley.blogspot.com/ Mercey Valley

      Beautiful :) Love it.

  • http://marilynhudsontucker.com Marilyn Hudson Tucker

    I went to The Writers League of Texas Agents Conference last summer. I signed up early enough to get my first choice for an agent. I went to a Thursday evening workshop at BookPeople and practiced my pitch (along with other people). On Friday I attended the workshop on pitches taught by the agent I wanted. On Saturday I pitched her, and she asked me to send a packet. She laughed all the way through my pitch. I am in the process of revising now.

  • Jan Thompson

    Rachelle, thank you for this timely blog. Your first point absolutely made my day: “1. Write a great book.” I should print it out and stick it to my monitor right here to remind me everyday to write a great book. I think that even if I end up not being published ever, I will have the satisfaction of knowing in my heart that I did my best for God. If nobody else ever reads my series (except my middle schooler who has offered to edit my novels for me, bless his heart), I offer it to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, for His giving me a gift of writing. It’s going to be OK.

    Secondly, I have a question re: “3. Attend writers’ conferences.” For poor unknown writers like I am, how does one address this? It’s my dream to attend at least one ACFW conference, but I just can’t afford it without any advances LOL. Added all up, the cost of attending an ACFW conference will be more than a brand new iPad!! But what about face-to-face networking with agents/editors/authors, etc? My goal for attending conferences is to learn about the industry, and not necessarily to pitch my novels, even though I hope to have the MS completed before I go anywhere.

    P.S. Are you still accepting questions on your Facebook page? Thank you very much for taking the time to blog. You’re a blessing to me in my writing journey. Have a great day!

  • http://enjoyingthewritingcraft.blogspot.com/ Casey

    Several points stood out to me on this post and one of them being getting to know an agent, much as you would an author. I have many friends who are authors, but I didn’t become friends to gain something from them, I did it because I wanted to get to know them. A nice reminder that while agents are often put on a pedestal, we can get to know without promise of something in return. I like that. Takes the stress out of being anyone but myself. :)

  • http://Laura-moe.blogspot.com/ Laura Moe

    I’ve done all of the above which Rachelle listed , but I feel like I am dog paddling in the middle of the ocean. Even though i have had a lot of work published, I’m starting to second guess my writing ability..granted, my rejections have gotten better, but alas, still no representation.

  • http://www.candidkathryn.com Kathryn Elliott

    Love today’s graphic, Rachelle! *giggle* I’ll have to borrow my son’s binoculars when I start to query. :-)

  • http://www.christinarich.wordpress.com Christina

    Wow, a lot of comments. Great post and responses. I recently sold a manuscript and have another one with a different publishing house. Signing that first contract was intimidating, especially without an agent, but I was comfortable enough with the contract to sign. If I get an offer from the other house I’ll definitely be looking, but I know even with one sale, and if I get that second offer, it won’t be easy. I’ve come to learn that everything is in God’s timing and not my own.

  • Trent Coleman

    Hi Rachelle,

    Thank you for the tips on finding an agent. I just came over to your blog after listening to your interview on Michael Hyatt’s website about advice for first-time authors. You mention writer’s conferences in this article. I’m currently living overseas in a non-English speaking country, so I’m wondering if there are any online equivalents? I guess blogs like these are a good place to start. Any more suggestions on networking?

    • http://merceyvalley.blogspot.com/ Mercey Valley

      Twitter has an INSANE amount of good linkage. Get yourself an account if you haven’t already and follow Rachelle, Chip MacGregor, M Hyatt and people along those lines, see who they follow, and you’re off. I find FB can be distracting, and Twitter is where the real action takes place because you’re forced into short spaces. There’s no beating around the bush.

      • http://www.janthompson.com Jan Thompson

        I agree about Twitter. To limit the sense of being overwhelmed by avalanches of tweets, search for specific tweets using the hashtags #writetip, #writing, and #pubtip — tons of guides for new authors from writing reminders to publishing points. Pick and chose from the buffet table. HTH.

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com Claude Nougat

    Rachelle, as usual, an excellent to-the-point post and of course interesting comments. The “how-to-get-an-agent” process is made crystal clear!

    I have a question: how do you feel about authors who after trying a couple of years to get an agent gave up and self-published? I know the standard answer: you’ll look at their sales and if they’re mediocre, you’ll pass.

    But is that all an agent looks at, sales? Quite frankly, with the tsunami of self-pubbed titles out there (some 200,000 books/year!), what has happened is that the slush pile (to a large extent) is now published on Amazon and elsewhere. Quality-wise, it really is NO DIFFERENT from the sort of stuff you see as an agent when you ask for a full and read it.

    But on another level, there IS A DIFFERENCE! The author who – after trying to land an agent after a few years – isn’t someone who has given up. By self-publishing, he/she has shown willingness to tak risks, determination, belief in the value of one’s own books and Internet awareness and savvy.

    To verify these aspects, any agent can visit that author’s blog and see how he/she facebooks, tweets and pinterests, not to mention Google+ and LinkedIn.

    I suspect that with book discoverability becoming an unsurmountable barrier to sales (the tsunami of new titles is the cause!), more and more self-published authors will reconsider and look for an agent and try to return to the traditional publisher fold.

    How would you consider a self-pubbed author pitching you because she/he is trying to give up self-publishing?

  • http://merceyvalley.blogspot.com/ Mercey Valley

    Such good info (as ever). And I guess we do feel like there’s some miraculous combination for success or some trick we need to uncover – even as we know to “Just write a great story”. It’s such an irony, a catch-22 as the likes of JK Rowling prove… It’s a combination of events and more.

    Get to know the agents… I’ve heard of mega-pitching conferences where all that happens is the hard sell. I think I’d have a hard time at a place like that because I would SO rather get to know people more than sell my pitch and things like that. There’s a time and place for everything.

    Do agents go out for coffee and escape the rat-race, too?

  • http://www.womenabiding.com Tehila

    Thank you for once again being so helpful, but so realistic at the same time. By reading your blog, my illusions of how “simple” it is to get a book published are dwindling fast. However, I am more encouraged than ever that will enough hard work, perseverance, and good quality material, it may actually be possible – eventually!

  • http://www.lisamairey.com Lisa M. Airey

    Rachelle,

    I ended up with a book contract without having found an agent. Now that I have a publisher, would I still need one?

  • http://www.findtimefortea.com Kimberly

    Hi Rachelle, thanks for this post. Super helpful as always.

    I’m curious for your thoughts on when you think a writer should give up searching for an agent for a particular project? When does a writer lay that project to rest and begin something new?

    I realize the complexities of publishing don’t allow for hard and fast rules around this, but what has been your experience?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Nobody can answer the “when” question for you. At some point, you should be moving on to your next project, whether or not you’re still trying to land an agent with your first.

  • http://bansheeweaver.blogspot.com Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

    Thank you, Rachelle, for this post. I found it encouraging. It affirms that I’m doing the right things–thanks to you and the other Books and Such agents. You taught me what I should be doing.

    Since I don’t have the money to go to Writers’ Conferences, I suppose I should say that is the hardest thing for me. But I’m hoping that will change just as I’m praying that my current financial situation will change. So the thing I find the hardest and most intimidating part of trying to get an agent is writing a good query. Again, I’ve gotten a good education from you all and from Sara Megibow and Kristen Nelson. Also, I have paid to get a critique of my query from Writers’ Digest. Hopefully all of that will help when I start sending out my queries.

    Then there is “the numbers game” and timing, but I have little to no control over that, so I just put that in God’s hands.

    Blessings.

    • http://aarsi-reflections.blogspot.com/ Navdeep Kaur

      I’m in the same situation as you; conferences can be really expensive. My friend and I have begun saving up a little bit every month for a conference we want to attend in 2014. I think most conferences are annual, so it’s okay for us to save up and spend the time until then polishing our manuscripts and enjoying the craft.

      • http://bansheeweaver.blogspot.com Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

        I hope you’ll be able to attend a conference in 2014. Blessings.

  • Cathy Weber

    I am not n author but the topic caught my attention since a. Friend of mine is a literary agent and highly thought of by authors and readers.

  • http://infinitecharacters.com/ Connie Almony

    No magic bullet, but great advice none-the-less.

  • http://www.mikeoutler.com Mike

    As always, great info. It seems that a small factor in landing an agent is “Who you know, and not so much what you know”. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t gain as much knowledge about the process in order to better equip ourselves. Thank you Rachelle for sharing your insights!

  • http://susangreenwood.net Susan Greenwood

    Hello everyone! My situation is a bit different. I am not a novelist, although I have one I play with from time to time. I am mainly a curriculum, skit/play and devotional writer. I have never tried to query or propose my work to an agent or publisher-mostly because all the information I have received from conferences and blogs has been geared toward books. Most publishers do not accept unsolicited materials. Would it benefit me to seek an agent? If so, how do I find out who handles this type of material? I would love to sit down with someone, show them my vast array of material and then gain some direction. Is that even an option?

  • jack Stecher

    I would not consider myself a writer in general terms, but found myself writting a great mystery thriller, and spent the time and money to have it edited multiple times to improve it.

    But I find that writting a query letter requires a whole different set of skill or talents than writing a mystery novel. Yet agents will judge you by the query and never get to the book.

    Comming from a business background it seems backwards, which is why I find it so frustrating.

    Then you go and say it helps if people like you…. That one really hurts!

    My only saving grace may be that I don’t beleive poeple when they say no…

  • http://www.patrickecraig.com Patrick Craig

    Rachelle,
    I found my agent through interaction at a writer’s conference. We met at a workshop on current trends in fiction where I discovered how big Amish fiction really was. After the conference we exchanged a few e-mails about what would follow if “Amish” wore out. When I had an opportunity to submit a story idea for an Amish novel to a publisher, I sent the sample chapters to my agent friend and he encouraged me to write the novel and come up with two follow ups. To make a long story short, our interaction and relationship turned into an agent-client relationship and we now have a three- book deal.

  • http://noellemacleod.blogspot.com Noelle

    Got 2013 Guide to Literary Agents; now to finish the book! (almost there, almost there, almost there…)

  • http://joshua-mom.blogspot.com/ Jean Ann Williams

    I come here because Rachelle gives the best advice around.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.pointdeception.com Jim Gilliam

    This post would cost you over $1,000 if you were to purchase the tutorials from Writer’s Digest or other writers education centers.

    Rachelle, you put out a lot of really good information. Thank you for the post.

    The one constant I see in all of the rejections I’ve received is that agents are a highly subjective group of individuals. That just means they are human! Just like us.

    When you read your manuscript, a really great book I’m sure. Read it as a reader, and not as a writer. Believe me it makes a huge difference. Always remember that agents and editors are readers first. Since they are your first readers it is important that they, perceive your work from the reader’s point of view, as not only highly readable, but highly marketable.

    Hopefully, for the agency’s sake, all agencies will have a good supply of existing clients. So to level the playing field between the established clients and the wannabe clients like me. What I suggest is looking for established agencies with new agents trying to build a client list. Kind of like buying the worst looking house in a million dollar a house neighborhood for 300,000 dollars and spending 200,000 on renovations that increase your property value to 1,000,000 dollars.

    Another possible avenue is through contact with agents by attending Writer’s Digest writing boot camps that are put on by well known agents. Several writers have been asked to submit more material to the agent giving the webinar. Me for one.

    The main thing is don’t give up.

    Jim

  • nuku

    Writer’s conferences aren’t exactly an option for me, and despite having researched many agents and publishers, I can’t find anybody who would accept my work. (Read that as religious views)

    Do you happen to know of any non-trinitarian Christian agents or publishers? I can’t go mainstream because the agents that are accepting new clients won’t accept religious works, and I can’t go with the Christian agents (or publishers) I know of because they are unwilling to represent my faith.

    I know I’ve probably mentioned this all before, and I know I sound whiny, but I’m just hoping for some help.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.cowboysdontswim.com Craig Soffer

    Great post. I guess everyone finds their way here as part of their quest for a literary agent. I had a literary agent once, and the relationship was less than great. He strongly preferred a “don’t call us, we’ll call you policy” and ultimately didn’t place my novel — although the process of coming together and ultimately parting ways took six months. Still, I think the right agent for everyone is out there, but it has to be someone who truly connects with your voice and your style. Thanks for the great resources you provide to all writers.

  • http://thedeckchef.com/ Kent Whitaker

    Nice article with easy to understand points on the agent search. I must admit that I’m a bit depressed about there not being a secret handshake.

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  • http://spiritualjourneyman.com Caroline ‘Jennifer’ Knight

    Hi there,
    I paid to have my book published with Fast Print… autobi ‘What is life without thee’…. realise that any ‘help’ or ‘advice’ offered was the wrong sort and have learnt some stuff… but wonder should I get an agent…. the book was 696 pages and feel now it perhaps should have been split into at least a couple of books or approached differently…. would appreciate even the tinciest of your time to signpost me….. have other stuff to ‘pitch’ too (the word I now am familiar with) and ‘Plays’….would appreciate… kind regards …..

  • http://www.authorfeast.com Luke

    Great article Rachel. No BS, just solid info. I’ve gone a different route and found agents via my website. Now they come to me, which I never imagined.
    Thanks again!
    Luke

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  • Angela Mills

    This is probably a stupid question, should you try to find an agent that is geographically close to you or does it matter?

  • Terrance Leon Austin

    Very informative. Thanks Rachelle. The fact that you spend alot of your time helping aspiring authors like myself, is very encouraging. And the lessons we are learning from many blogs including yours, is like representation in a way. Thanks for your time.

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  • Lisa

    Do you have a list of writers’ conferences you would recommend?

  • CommunityCooperation

    Thank you, Rachelle, for your advice. I am in the process of querying now for my short non-fiction book “Stayed on Freedom´s Call” and finishing my first novel and query letter. It is a daunting challenge. I cannot afford to get to a conference, at the moment, but I also feel somehow safer having finished my first novel manuscript (or the 5th draft, anyway, with at least one more draft to come) before I attend a conference. Thank you again for supporting us,
    Shira Destinie Jones

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  • steve

    This blog is useless. You sate the obvious. How about stating what is not and actually being able to offer real help.

    • Mahrie G Reid

      Steve – sounds like you want that magic cure; sometimes the obvious is all there is! Get used to it.

    • Ernesto Oporto

      Steve, she is giving very good advise. Nothing is for free. No magic word. You have to work hard and learn.

  • ET (Liz) Crowe

    basic but very helpful advice! I’m indie multi pubbed but am determined to find representation and go much bigger in 2014. Have a couple of projects I’m working on now. thanks for the post!

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  • Krmission

    Very helpful, what a blessing to have a blog that is so helpful! God bless, Rachelle!

  • http://Www.scmatheny.com Scott Matheny

    Who do I find the best agent to represent me for a pilot?

  • R A M VARMA

    i have just completed English translation of an anthology of short stories originally written in Malayalam – the language spoken in the state of Kerala, India.. I want to identify a reliable literary agent to market my book titled- The Desert . The stories tell the trials, tribulations and agonies of the expatriates in the Gulf countries in a touching manner.

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