What Do Literary Agents Want?

So, you’ve written your book manuscript and you think it’s amazing. Or maybe you just have an idea for a book that you think is amazing. What do you do next?

Back in the day of the renowned editor Max Perkins, you could throw your rough pile of brilliance over the transom of the publishing house, and your in-house editor would make it into an equally brilliant published book.

Times are different. Now your brilliant manuscript (or proposal) has to be polished-perfect to even be considered. And . . . if you want to get anywhere near one of the big publishers, you have to go through a literary agent.

So, once you’ve gotten the feedback and guidance of a professional freelance editor or writing coach and you’ve rewritten your manuscript and/or proposal (as many times as necessary), the next step is to search for potential agents. (Where and how to search is for another post.)  But once you are ready to make your submission, what do agents want to see?

This article in the online Writer’s Digest does a pretty good job of covering the basics.  (The one important piece that’s not covered, other than a passing mention, is how to prepare a proposal. But there are plenty of other resources for that online.)

Also, be sure to read each agent’s submission guidelines on their website.  Every agent has a different set of requirements for what they’d like to receive from you (e.g., query letter first, synopsis, first ten pages, first fifty pages, etc.). And be sure you’re pitching to an agent who has interest in the type of work you’ve written.

I invite any of you to share your own wisdom and experiences (or pitfalls and pratfalls) in submitting work to a literary agent.  Just add a comment!

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How to Write Your First Book

Check out this great interview with twenty-one successful authors about the experience of writing their first book—from how they made a living before they sold their first book to the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page.

How to Write Your First Book

Writing a Query Letter for Your Novel

 

Back in the day, a writer could drop the full manuscript of his or her novel over a publisher’s transom (thus the term “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited, submission). . . . The prospective editor would then read the manuscript, love it (or hate it), and a novel would be born (or die). Publishing was simple. Life was simple.

Life is not as simple these days, and neither is publishing. Editors at the publishing houses get so many submissions now, if they were still to accept over-the-transom manuscripts, they wouldn’t be able to push open the door to their building in the morning, let alone read all the manuscripts blocking their passage.

Today the proper route to take is to first find an agent (unless, of course, you’re planning to self-publish, but that’s for another blog post entirely). And don’t even think about sending a full manuscript off to an agent unsolicited.

But how does a manuscript get solicited?

The simple answer is: the query letter.

There are many styles of query letters and numerous how-to books telling you how to write one. But if you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start, try getting your feet wet with some simple guidelines laid out by my colleague at the L.A. Editors and Writers Group: Kristen Weber on How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.

Good luck and keep the faith!

Do You Have to Write a Book Proposal?

 

Many new writers are daunted by the prospect of writing a book proposal. And not without reason. A good proposal requires a substantial amount of work. But if you do it right, you’ve also done some of the hard work of writing the book itself. You’ll end up with a solid, detailed outline, a polished chapter or two, and a clear sense of what your book will look and feel like, as well as who your audience is. You’ll even have an idea of what you need to do to sell your book.

Sell your book? Won’t the publisher do that? Yes and no. Even if you do get a publisher, rather than publishing your book on your own, you will need to do a lot of the promotion. And much of that promotion will begin long before your book is published. In fact, the promotion should begin even before you approach an agent; this early “promotion” is called building a platform.

Are there ways around writing a book proposal? Well, first of all, book proposals are primarily for nonfiction (though many agents are now requesting query letters, which are a sort of mini-proposal, for fiction as well). The only way around writing a proposal for a nonfiction book is to independently publish, which is now a viable and respectable alternative (but is itself a lot of work, since you’ll be the sole promoter).

To find out more about writing a proposal, including what kinds of information you need to include, check out this article by my colleague Christina Blackett Schlank.