Hi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about tips for writers based on the manuscripts I edit.

Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

The only way to get your manuscript onto the desk of an acquisitions editor at one of the big traditional publishers (unless you have a personal connection or you meet an editor at a writers’ conference) is to sign with a literary agent.

The Christian Writer’s Market Guide has a list of agents. You can meet them at some writers’ conferences. Or you can get referrals from other authors. Look for agents who represent the kind of writing you do. Avoid agents who charge anything up front. Reputable agents get 15% of the publisher’s royalties … after you’ve signed a contract.

Unless you are a well-known, established, successful author looking for a new agent, don’t pick up the phone and cold-call an agent. Instead, start with a query letter.

Keep your letter short: one page, with one-inch margins, 12-point Times New Roman font, short paragraphs. It should be well written and impeccably neat (with no typos or errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling). You may wish to have your query letter professionally edited or at least proofread.

If you’ve met the agent at a writers’ conference or similar event, or if another author or editor has referred you, mention that right up front.

Give a brief description of your project. Emphasize a “marketing hook” that will pique the agent’s interest. Is your premise likely to attract a wide audience? Do you have a background that makes you uniquely qualified to write the book?

Include biographical information and credentials. Go ahead and toot your horn. Let the agent know if you have a degree in creative writing, know a few popular authors who would write an endorsement for your book, have any publication credits, or if your writing has won any contests or awards. As a Christian, the idea of promoting yourself may not sound very appealing, but you’re going to have to get over that if you want to see your book published. And after you get published, you will need to promote yourself and your book in order to boost sales. Find a balance that enables you to share with people what God has done with the writing talents He has given you without becoming a bragger.

If you are writing nonfiction, credentials are even more vital than with fiction. A publisher will have an easier time selling your book if you have some sort of speaking platform in place. A local column or local radio show is a great start, but a nationally syndicated radio show or column, or a regular lecture circuit that includes large groups across the country, will appeal far more to publishers (and, hence, to agents). An impressive social media, blog, or other web presence is essential. If you don’t have the kind of credentials you need, start small and build from there.

If you write history or biography or other narrative nonfiction, affiliation with a major publication or prestigious learning institution, and published credits on your topic (in print or online), will go a long way toward impressing a publisher or agent.

Agents get hundreds of submissions every month or even week, so if you can make yours stand out in a positive way, you’ll be a step ahead. However, avoid cutesy stuff like graphics of kittens or teddy bears (unless you’re doing a book about kittens or teddy bears). Look professional.

Most agents accept e-mail queries, but some may not. Do your research. If you mail a query or proposal, be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Don’t hesitate to query several suitable agents at a time.

If you don’t hear back in about six months, there’s a pretty good chance the agent is not interested.

An agent can not only get your manuscript into the hands of an acquisitions editor for a major publishing house, he/she can negotiate your contract, getting you more in royalties and/or free copies of your book. A really good agent can help you make decisions that will help you with your future writing career.

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