Literary Agents: Top Tips – Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my top tips for submitting to literary agents. In that post, I talked about preparing your work – particularly your covering letter and manuscript. If you missed out on that one, you can find it here.

Today, I’m going into the organisation bit.

As I said yesterday, approaching an agent requires a plan and these tips will help you get organised so that you can put your best foot forward.

So, continuing from where we left off…

4. Scope out your targets and do your research

You will never find the right home for manuscript if you don’t check out the list of agents. Will you be able to shoot a target if you’re not looking at it? Probably not. So you need to know what is out there and find what is best for you.

There are different agencies that handle different genre of books. Some are purely children’s literature, some are only literary fiction – some are even just non-fiction. Make sure you only select the agencies that want to see your genre of work. There is no point sending a crime thriller to an agency that only deals with children’s fiction – you’re just wasting everyone’s time there.

There are numerous lists (both paid and free) that you can use to give you a start, but it’s advisable to do your own leg work. Many of these lists are out of date or contain names of agents that no longer work there so check them out yourselves. The last thing you want to do is ruin your chances by sending work to an agent who doesn’t exist anymore…

Which brings me to the most important part of this tip: check out the individual agents in an agency and find one who you think your work is most suited to. Agents like it when it looks like you’ve done your own research – remember what I said about first impressions? Addressing a covering letter to the agent who is after the sort of thing you’ve written will go a long way to getting them to like you – and liking you might just be what swings it in your favour if push comes to shove. And make sure that the agent is accepting new clients – you can usually find out if they’re not accepting new clients on their information page. Don’t waste your time by submitting to an already overworked agent, no matter how much you think they’ll love your story – you won’t get anywhere.

When you find the agencies and agents that you think will appreciate your work, check out their submission guidelines – all agencies have them and they are there for a reason. Don’t take it for granted that they will want three sample chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter. Some agencies are very specific about what they want and may well base a decision on as little as 5,000 words so make sure you note down what they want.

You want to make a good first impression and – unfortunately – ignoring the details is a common error, so they probably won’t even remember you if you screw that bit up…

5. Create a submission strategy

It is not a wise idea to submit your work to every agent that fills your criteria – it is certainly not a good idea to submit to two different agents within the same agency. If one agent thinks another in the same office will appreciate your work, they will hand it on themselves – you don’t need to do it for them. Although agents are realists and understand that you don’t want to put all your eggs in the same basket, they don’t want to feel like they are one of hundreds that you’ve submitted to at any given time so definitely don’t send out any mass emails to more than one agency.

You need to prioritise – work out which agents you’d like to submit to first and then work your way slowly through the list. And for that, you need a submission strategy.

Different writers do this in different ways – ultimately it’s down to you. I like to take all the information I gathered from step four and put it all into a worksheet – that way I colour code it based on what information is important to me and can very quickly see who I’ve submitted to and who I haven’t. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you have a way of quickly seeing what your next step is.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 09.32.10Most writing sites recommend submitting to no more than three agencies at a time and I have to say I agree. That way, if you are faced with the terrifying prospect of a rejection from an agent, you still have two more in play, which will help keep your morale up. Rank the agencies you like most and start at the top, work your way down and submit to a new agent every time you receive a rejection.

Unless an agency offers to read the rest of your manuscript, stick to this plan. If you receive ten or twelve rejections, there may be something wrong with your manuscript, covering letter or synopsis. True, there may be something wrong with your story altogether, but the best way to find out is to go back, tweak those submission materials and start submitting again.

No matter how downhearted and demoralised you might get, stick to the plan.

Which leads me nicely on to…

6. Accept Rejection

Before you ever send your submission material off, accept one thing. There will be people out there who won’t like your work – and that includes agents.

It doesn’t matter if your work is the most brilliant masterpiece, if the agent doesn’t feel it they won’t want to read the rest. Look at it this way, I didn’t particularly enjoy The War of the Worlds and that is considered a classic piece of science-fiction.

The long and the short of it is that you could have handpicked a particular agent for your work and still misunderstood what they were after. Whether we like it or not, there are any number of things that could be wrong with your submission: the agent might not like your personality in the covering letter, they aren’t a fan or your writing style, they can’t think of a publisher who would want your story, they have someone on their books who is very similar to you already, they were having a bad day when they read it, they might disagree with your thematic approach, the main character may remind them of someone they really don’t like…

The list is endless. But it’s not all about the agent: You may have a typo in your first sentence, you might have accidentally left in a sentence that doesn’t make sense, a character might randomly change name in the middle of your opening chapter, you might have compared your story to a book that isn’t particularly good…

All these things are potential problems that can lead to rejection. The important thing is to not be phased by it. You will not – and I cannot highlight this enough – will not be picked up by the first agent you submit to, particularly if you start by targeting the best. You might be lucky, but it’s highly unlikely: think of J K Rowling – no one wanted Harry Potter to start with and now you can’t find a person in the UK who doesn’t know about her books. Think about her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith – when she started writing crime novels, no one wanted to touch her – to them she was just another new author.

If you put yourself out there, someone will reject you. If you can’t handle that then submitting to an agent may not be for you. The important thing is to keep ploughing on. If too many agents reject you, start to consider changing your submission materials or going down the self-publish route but don’t – and I mean this sincerely – don’t just give up because the first agent you approach doesn’t want to take you on.

It doesn’t mean your story is rubbish. It just means that agent isn’t the right person for it.

So there are my top tips for submitting to agents. If you are trying to find an agent I wish you the very best of luck. If you’re thinking about it then bear in mind these tips – it is hard work, but if it wasn’t then these wouldn’t be worth the time it took me to type them. Remember, organisation is the key. Make a plan. Stick to the plan.

And knock ’em dead.


I want to hear from you.

Are you submitting to an agent? Have you submitted before and been rejected? What technique did you use for keeping up your submission momentum? Were you rejected by agents and found your success in the world of self-publishing?

As always, if you have read this far I’m guessing you like what you read. If so then hit that like button or (if you’re not a blogger) share it about on Face-Twit-Pin-Book. If you didn’t like it or disagree, tell me your thoughts in the comments down below. Anyone can comment and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

All the best.

3 thoughts on “Literary Agents: Top Tips – Part 2”

  1. I did all of these things and kept a spreadsheet similar to yours. Great tips! I have actually stopped querying though . . .after 8 months I could feel it taking too much out of me. I kept saying I would never self-publish, but someone brought up some good points I had not really considered and I decided to do it. I had already spent the year prior working with a coach and editor, and just feel it was time. Time for me to get the monkey off of my back. The biggest factor for me in going non-trad was the idea that I would have control over the content. My story is very personal and I thought it best that I have my hands on it all the way. The rudeness of most agents (not replying after asking for the entire MS) was unacceptable in my book. To not answer a query is common, but to ignore a writer after they followed all of your instructions to the letter on a custom proposal/MS submission is just not nice. There are so many worthy writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a shame you had that experience. This thing is you will always get some bad pennies in any industry – sometimes things get lost in the system, sometimes they just don’t reply for whatever reason. You just always have to remember that things like that are never personal… Unless you annoyed the agent in question that is. Not much of a consolation, I know, but that’s the way it is sometimes. Going the traditional route isn’t for everyone though and – ultimately – you have to do what’s right for you. If that’s self-publishing and that works for you then that’s great – 100% control is definitely a deciding factor for many writers although there is a lot to be said from collaboration with agents and editors in many instances. So I guess you can see it either way… Best of luck with your work though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the encouragement. I believe I was very respectful to the agents who requested materials. I only followed up 6-8 weeks later with a brief note. Oh well.


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