Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!
In today’s market, finding a literary agent is no longer an option, it’s an essential. A good agent is your advocate, the person who represents your book ideas to potential publishers and aims to get you the best book deal possible. He or she negotiates the deal in terms of advance, rights and royalties.
So, how do you find an agent? First, know what you are looking for in a potential agent. Some agents specialize while others are more generic in the types of manuscripts they are looking for. For instance, an agent may work only with nonfiction. If that’s the case, and you write novels, then you will need to find an agent who deals with fiction authors.
As you connect on the phone or in person, ask yourself if this is someone with whom you want to have a working relationship. Finding the right agent is about “fit” as much as it is about business because you will be working with this person for years to come.
Second, know what agents are looking for in a potential author. You can’t just hire an agent; they select you if you are right for their client list and objectives.
Alice Crider, an agent with WordServe Literary, provides some helpful insight: “Agents (and publishers) are looking for these three elements from an author: excellent writing, remarkable content, and a strong platform. If you have two out of three of these, your chances of landing an agent who can help you land a contract with a traditional publisher are good. If you have all three, even better.”
Alice continues, “Writers these days need to do a lot of groundwork to build a platform and a lot of homework to know their market. They may also have to spend a great deal of time working on their craft in order to stand out above the competition. Above all, agents are looking for authors who are ready for publication–those who can deliver a message or a story that masses of people can access easily, relate to, enjoy and share with others.”
So, you’ve honed your craft. You’ve written a query letter. You’ve written your manuscript or at least part of it, and you’re ready to find an agent. Here are some of the best ways to look for a literary agent:
Ask your writer or editor friends who they know, or whom they would recommend for a literary agent. You’d be amazed what can happen when you simply start asking around.
Consult the Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Jerry B. Jenkins. This comprehensive resource is reprinted annually (so be sure to have the version for the current year). In addition to listing book publishers and magazine publishers, there is also a section listing, by state, some of the literary agents in the CBA market.
Obtain a free list—sent directly to your email inbox. Terry Whalin is a former literary agent and acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He provides a Free List of Literary Agents online when you submit your first name and email, you can receive a list of more than 400 agents agents, names, addresses, websites and phone numbers. “A great research tool for any author,” says Terry.
As you commence your quest to find the best literary agent for you, remember these two important things:
1) Agents do not charge you a fee. Literary agents who represent traditional publishers get paid the industry standard 15% (and this is paid by your publisher after you have a book deal, not by you).
2) Follow the agent or agency’s submission guidelines. Generally, they are listed on the agency website.
My hope is that by following these helpful ideas, you will have a long and successful career as a published author—and your words will bless others in ways unexpected.
P.S. Check out the new FaithHappenings website for events, conferences, concerts, blogs and other Christian resources. For authors, it will soon be a place where you or your publisher can promote your events and books.
Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. She also helps writers as a book publishing consultant. Previously, she worked at the premier literary agency, Alive Communications, and the CBA-publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe, or website for more information.