How to get an Agent: The Cliffnotes Version

writerI signed with my awesome agent Natalie in June of 2014. She was the best birthday present I could have ever hoped for! Especially after the six months it took to land her. New Year’s Day, I made the commitment to myself to find an agent for my work in progress novel. It had already been given the thumbs down by several agents and I was feeling defeated. But that year, I adopted the persistence to resistance approach on life and worked up a plan. Here are some of the basic steps from my plan you need to follow if you’re looking for an agent:

1) Check Yourself

These harsh realities will hurt: If you haven’t finished writing your book, you are not ready to be an author. If you are only on draft one, you are not ready to be an author. And if you are not willing to reach out to at least 100 agents, you are absolutely NOT ready to be an author. Walk away from this post and come back when you’re ready.

2) Visit Your Ideal Genre in a Local Bookstore

Oh good! You’re back!:-)

2016litagentNow it’s time to research! Once you figure out what genre you belong in, sit with books that your book dreams of being one day. I sat in the YA section of Barnes and Nobels in Union Square for four hours pulling books in the same vein as the one I wrote. I flipped to the acknowledgment page of each book then wrote down the agent’s AND editor’s name. This is important. Yes, you want an agent, but you also want an editor who would be interested in your book. Sometimes agents will ask, “where do you see this book going” and you better have an answer ready. It shows you’re serious. You should walk out the bookstore with at least 40 agent’s names. The rest you find on the interwebs OR in the Writer’s Digest yearly Guide to Literary Agents.  

3) Make a List, Check it Twice

I work well with grids so I made my list in Excel. Give each agent a rank and break them up into levels. (i.e Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3). List the agent’s name, their company, their website, their email, and their submission requirements.

Tip: Go to each website and make SURE the agent still works with the agency. Agents move around all the time and some leave the game altogether. You don’t want to query a ghost.

4) Be a Stalker

Stalk their twitter feeds, check which conferences they’ll be attending, stalk their clients twitter feeds and books. You’ll learn if you actually want to work with them or not. How they treat their clients is ultimately how they’ll treat you. Stalk their LinkedIn, see if you have any contacts in common that can potentially forward your book.

Tip: Create private lists on twitter with agents you’re targeting so you can follow their feed easily.

5) Get Organized

You should have your website, twitter and facebook accounts up and running. Agent research too. You should also have six PDF files of your novel, properly named, saved, and ready to go at all times.

-First Five pages

-First ten pages

-First twenty-five pages

-First three chapters

-Half the Novel

-Full Manuscript.

Example naming convention: TJackson-Allegedly-5pages.pd

Sometimes they’ll want you to cut and paste the first pages into the body of an email. Formatting can become screwy in emails so test this by saving a draft and emailing it to yourself so you’ll have it set up and ready to go.

6) Query

Submit to agents in waves of tens or twenties. Too many and you’ll get confused. Keep a log in your checklist of dates you sent your queries. Unless noted on the site, or via automatic email, mark in your calendar three weeks later to know when you should send a follow-up email. Wash, repeat. By the third follow up, if there has been no response, cross the agent off your list. Keep a detailed record of responses.

7) Set a Goal

I know I mentioned if you’re not willing to reach out to 100 agents, then you’re not ready. But I also believe in mid-way goal checks. Set a goal for how many agents you’d like to query to before you regroup. Notice, I didn’t say give up, I said regroup, re-think strategies, take another hard look at your novel. Maybe it needs a polish, a line edit, or a developer. Maybe the market isn’t interested in your vampire teenage love story this year. Maybe it needs a new title. Are you 100% sure you’re in the right genre?

Happy Hunting Writers!

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Tiffany D. Jackson is a TV professional by day, novelist by night, awkward black girl 24/7. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Film from Howard University and her Master of Arts in Media Studies from The New School University. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves with her adorable chihuahua Oscar, most likely multitasking. Her debut novel, ALLEGEDLY is due January 24th, 2017 through Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.

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This article has 1 Comment

  1. I’ve read lots of tips on how to get an agent and what will get you rejected. Your article had more practical hints on how to manage the process and persist through rejection than most of what I’ve read. Thanks, Tiffany!

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