How to Find an Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I 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! It’s a process, with no shortcuts and no magic. Here are some things you can do:

man with binoculars1. Write a book that people want to read. If your book isn’t marketable, nothing else will matter. You’ve got to have a book people will find interesting, 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.

7. It’s not just about you and your book. Getting an agent is somewhat of a numbers game. It’s an equation of supply and demand. The supply of writers is always greater than the demand. So agents have to choose, and they have to say “no” to some worthwhile, marketable books. (That’s why God invented self-publishing.)

Sorry I couldn’t provide 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 agents:

 

Print resources:

2014 Guide to Literary Agents

The Christian Writer’s Market Guide – 2014

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 

 

Tweetables

Everything you need to know to find an agent! From @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

Agent @RachelleGardner illuminates the secret passageway to finding an agent. (Or not.) Click to Tweet.

Behold! The print and online resources you need to find an agent. Click to Tweet.

 

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36 Comments

  • I’m not yet represented, and have been looking for six years, so I hesitate to say anything.

    But I wonder if there might be two items which can be added -

    * It is as much about the writer as it is about the book, and you have to convince an agent that you’re up to the professional responsibilities required – multiple revisions, deadlines, publicity through social media, etc.

    If you can’t convince an agent you’re capable of functioning competently through that you won’t be very attractive as a client. Is this true?

    * You’ve got to be able to make the agent believe in your work, and believe in the sincerity and integrity whence came that work.

    Perhaps the writer is not, after all, like the widow petitioning the unjust judge, and who is finally given a hearing through her sheer doggedness.

    Perhaps, at least in the best relationship, the writer is more like Jesus (or any Christian witnessing for Him), shining a light with her work that pulls in the agent with an almost Apostlistic enthusiasm.

  • Ah the struggle…and I am still plodding along. I have been attending one writer’s conference a year since 2004 and have been pitching to agents and editors every year since 2009. I must be getting pretty good at pitching because most every year I get a request to send a partial…but I must not be there yet because I don’t have an agent. Here’s to “the process” it is much longer than I ever imagined. But I love to write…so this is what I do.

  • Rachelle, I agree with everything you have listed. If I had to boil it down to one thing, I’d quote the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”
    I was told early on in my road to writing that persistence was the most important thing for a writer, and I have to agree. Learn the craft, keep writing, keep knocking on doors. Everything else comes later.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • To have an agent is wonderful, but we should be grateful for our unagented days.

    For it is within their bourn that we are able to develop and explore, not beholden to the interests and directions of another, however beneficial those may be in the long run.

    It is like C.S. Lewis’ description of a life in Christ; at the beginning, we are as children playing on the seashore, but as we grow, we are taken in hand and taught to cross that sea as voyagers.

    But we should be grateful for the days we spent, pail and shovel in hand, playing and dreaming.

  • Rachelle,
    I agree with this very straightforward list. There is no “secret handshake or code-word” for sure! In this writing journey, the first goal is not to get an agent. Learn (attend conferences), practice the craft (be the best writer you can be), and network. The rest will come.

  • Persistence. That sums up writing greatly … being teachable – being persistent in all aspects of the process. After watching Miss Potter last night, I cried like a baby for the second time through that movie. What encouragement!

    “Let me teach you how to dance ….”

    • Shelli, thank you for mentioning that movie. I loved reading her books to our children. Now I want to see Miss Potter.

      Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

      • Certainly, Wendy. My youngest daughter has been reading her big collection book … so she wanted to see the movie. I’ve been listening to that precious little jewelry box song all day. So beautiful. See it! :)

  • Jim Lupis says:

    Rachelle, thank you for this very clear road map on how to find an agent. Every journey begins with the first step, and writing a “book people will want to read” is the best way to start.

  • Michael Eddy says:

    Thanks, that is good advice. I understood most of that already but it’s good to read again. I feel it’s in God’s hands so I don’t fret it much. All will happen as it should.

  • It feels rude to ask authors I know for recommendations. Sounds like I just need to suck it up buttercup. Especially when they offer too….

    2 fears I’m working on getting over: agents and book proposals. Submissions for articles? Now- no problem. Met my first agent. Now less afraid. And submitted my first proposal. Also, now less afraid.

    I think it’s a process. And I’m just ready for the next steps:)

  • (In my brain agents were a little like the keeper of the key in ghostbusters…..)

    Not so much in real life:)

  • Finding an agent, or publisher, is all about timing and persistence. Write a great book, be willing to put in the work, and the pieces will fall into place. In as much as we all like to think our work is the best out there, publishing is a business and sometimes we have to wait till the market is ready for our particular voice. But, the fun is in the chase!

  • Linda Gillis says:

    I self-published a book with WestBow. Am satisfied with the results. I have not had success getting attention on the Internet and the only time I sell books is at conferences in which I speak. I am wondering if I should change the name of the book and republish it to attract more attention. The book is titled “The Donut Theory–Inspiration and Encouragement for the Church Office.” Should I change it to include the words Church Secretary?

  • Roger Floyd says:

    You left out one important factor: previous publications or experience. Having a few stories or articles under your belt will help quite a bit. An agent is going to be much more impressed by someone who has published before than he/she will be by a novice, no matter how good the novel the author is pitching, unless it’s really fabulous. Which is unlikely. An MFA also helps. Winning a contest helps. If all you are doing is pitching to agents, you’re already way behind. Publish first. It’s generally publish or perish.

  • For me, it was do the work, do the work, study ,do the work, listen to the advice of agented and pubbed writers, stay hungry, do the work, being a regular presence on agency blogs and getting to know people, and attending a conference was HUGELY important to making the personal connection.

    That being said, following God’s will and timing were and are crucial. I didn’t go anywhere until I got on my knees and gave it all up.

    It took me well over a year and maybe more, and several rejections. But the rejections were part of what sharpened my desire to hear the sweet words “I’d like to offer representation” from Mary Keeley. And what made those words all the sweeter, and priceless.

    If an agent says “I have no idea who I’d sell this to” or “have you thought of writing this as a YA?” then you do not want that agent. You want an agent who is as determined to bring your words to the world as you are. I had both those phrases spoken to me and both times, I heaved a sigh of relief that neither of the agents offered more than a “best wishes”.

    Tip: My advice, and Mary’s as she’s said it here…ladies, wear waterproof mascara when you meet with an agent.

  • Thank you, Rachelle, for generously encouraging us to run the writer’s race all the way to the finish line. I appreciate that you’re also respectful of the self-publishing route.

    I don’t want to run alone, but it’s nice to know that after all the doors (may) have been closed there is one that remains open. It gives hope.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  • Thanks Rachelle. Great advice, and I appreciate the list of resources at the end!

  • Linda says:

    Thank you Rachelle. This is so timely. I’m working away (with a writing coach) on my query letter. I sometimes think I’d rather write another book, but I know how important this is. Thanks again for such good advice.

  • Susan Sage says:

    My favorite lines were, “Sorry I couldn’t provide 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.” As humans living in N. America, I think we’re always looking for the shortcut and the easiest way. Thanks for the reminder that it’s about hard work.
    Quick question, when I tweet things from you, like when I use your “Click to Tweet” button (I’ve got to get one of those!), are you notified? I’ve quoted you often as tweets and just wondered.

    • Susan, I’m guilty of wanting to rush the process far too often. When traditionally published authors blog about the timeline of their writing journey, I’m amazed at the hard work and patience they put in sometimes seemingly forever before they’re published. This is a writing career, and the small successes along the way show that progress is being made. It’s not all about ‘arriving’.

  • This community, and the encouragement and reality it provides, is one of the best places to start. First, I lurked. Then I stuck my toe in. But once I began to ask questions and get honest answers, and interact more fully with the friends I made here, I ventured out to my first conference.

    After my first year at Mount Hermon, I felt like a deer in the headlights and a sponge that couldn’t absorb a single drop more of information. But I met Janet and Wendy, and so the relationships that started here continued to grow. I also met friends in every stage of the publishing process, and now we see each other at local ACFW meetings.

    Over the next two years, I entered pages in a few contests, worked with critique partners, and made numerous editing passes through my novel. I considered not going to Mount Hermon in 2014, but I’m so glad I did, because Wendy Lawton offered representation. Blessed beyond measure.

    I know I have much room for improvement, and so the work continues. My skin is getting thicker, and I regularly have to gird myself with diligence when I feel discouraged. But coming alongside an amazing agent and friends who can commiserate, as well as encourage me to buckle down, makes this a joy filled journey.

    • Jenni, I can’t wait to go to my first conference. I’ll have that deer in the headlights look and feel, I know. Financially, I keep thinking I need to wait until I have something worthy to present (“write a book that people want to read”) … but I am so antsy to see everyone in person I’ve met through this blog.

      • Shelli, if you’re introverted like me, you’ll find it to be exhausting and energizing all at once.
        Since I know you write both NF and fiction, which conferences have you considered?

      • Jenni, I’d love to go to the ACFW conference and the one you mentioned, Mount Hermon. I’d love to sit through classes. After my non-fiction, I didn’t think there would ever be another book. Now, I have this middle grade work. I’m trying to find my direction … please keep me in your prayers. All I know is that I love to write and want to be where God leads.

      • Jenni … I just saw there might be a ACWC in Dallas this next year. I’ll have to check into this.

  • Great article, Rachel. Lord willing, I’ll make it to the ACFW conference one of these days.

  • As I juggle writing/working/family I struggle over visiting agent blogs. I always learn something from you, but it takes precious time away from writing. I can see why it’s important to be recognized, but I also noticed your #1 was “Write a book people want to read.”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and links. You’ve lessened my stress.

    Have a great day!

  • Preslaysa says:

    A great list of tips, Rachelle. And the links are super helpful!

  • Teresa says:

    So happy to have come across your profile on Twitter’s “Who to Follow” list. As a writer pruning her first manuscript, I’ve got a lot to learn. Appreciate the straightforward tips!

  • Dave Clark says:

    I find that one has to pack a load of excitement into that teeny one-page query letter. Without sending a sample, you have to wow the agent into looking at more, and if you’re really worth something, they can then tell from there you’ll be a valued client. Just getting past the first step causes coast-to-coast head-banging out of frustration. You go nuts trying to sell them on the next step. Unfortunately, reading all the hard work agents promise on their websites turns a bit deceptive, and we try to counter that by blowing out a storm of queries, possibly for nothing. I liken the process to a company advertising for an opening (that’s the writer) and getting a swarm of replies from well-qualified potential applicants (agents), all telling why they don’t want the job.

  • Christalee Froese says:

    Thank you for the enlightening post Rachelle. While I was reading, I returned to your first point more than once – write something people will want to read. As I move forward on this journey, I will treasure that piece of wisdom.

  • Natalie Monk says:

    Hi, Rachelle. I think the hard thing about finding an agent is waiting, which sounds silly of me to say, since I only just entered the query process this summer. But I have had some interest in my manuscript, especially since collecting a contest final, a placement and a win, so I’m trusting the wait will prove worthwhile. Another hard thing is point #7–not knowing when the demand for your genre or book subject will go up, and wondering when to consider self-publishing if the MS gets only rejections.

    Thank you for this excellent post. Great tips, here.

  • Sidney Ross says:

    That was too, too easy; how might I somehow persuade agents of distinction to make the process a little more difficult? Just saying.

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