Landing a Literary Agent

Achievement Unlocked! I have finished reading my first book on the Kindle Fire!

While David Weber’s The Honor of the Queen waits for me to have a little more free time, I thought I’d talk about what I learned from the book I just finished, Noah Lukeman’s How To Land (and keep) A Literary Agent.

Lukeman writes concisely, without filler, and speaks frankly from his experience as an agent for over 13 years. I appreciate the short length of the book (~200 pages), especially when compared to some of the other How-To tomes out there (I’ve been reading a Guide to Self-Publishing that could use to be about half as long). Crammed into those 200 pages are lots of practical, useful advice as well as encouragement.

What I knew about literary agents before reading this book:

  1. Most publishers will not consider unsolicited fiction unless it is represented by a literary agent.
  2. Literary Agents are used by publishers as a way of sorting through the muck to find decent material.
  3. If I want to get published by a major publisher (or even most small publishing houses), I’ll need an agent.

While true, this information isn’t particularly motivating. As some of you know, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I need an agent, or whether I should just take the plunge and self-publish and I read Lukeman’s book as part of my research in helping me make a decision.

I’ve learned a lot in the last month:

1. Subscribe to industry newsletters – One of Lukeman’s most helpful suggestions was to subscribe to publishing newsletters as a way of learning about the industry. We’re living in a particularly interesting moment, with a third of all American households owning a tablet or e-reader, libraries trying to move to digital lending, and new book publishing capabilities from Apple. The two newsletters I’ve found the most useful are:

2. Submit to lots of agents – Lukeman recommends submitting to at least 50 agents, and cites examples of famous authors who submitted to hundreds of publishers and agents before being picked up.  He particularly emphasizes doing your research though, and submitting to agents who are truly right for your book, and not just a blanket list.

3. Agents want a relationship with an author – I have been thinking about an agent as a sort of amorphous concept, without really thinking about the person involved. If I find the right person, it will be someone who is as excited and passionate about my work as I am, and will hard to make sure it is placed before the correct editors. It could be a relationship that lasts for many years and many books.

4. Being rejected by 50 agents does not mean you have been rejected by the entire publishing industry – It means you have been rejected by those 50 agents or those 50 editors. This is helpful because even though I am a fairly stubborn individual, I know that being rejected will be a blow at first. It helps to be reminded how subjective the industry is, and the book could still be good it just may not have arrived at the right moment.

5. I need to pitch my book to an agent who has sold a book like it – I haven’t really done a lot of thinking about what authors are out there that have published work that is similar to mine, but I know I need to start, and be thinking about it for the book I’m revising as well. If an agent can equate my work to a book that has worked for them in the past, then I stand a better chance of landing a contract.

6. I need to build my bio – Probably the biggest change to my writing plan has to be increase my emphasis on writing and reading short stories, and becoming familiar with the magazines that would be the best fit for my work. While I can pitch my novel to an agent without having a bio, I will probably stand a better chance of not getting rejected if I’ve convinced someone else to buy my work first.  (Note: This is something my wife has encouraged me to do for a while. I like working on longer projects and so I haven’t spent much time honing my craft in short fiction, but is definitely something that is on my radar now).

7. I need to think of this as a writing career and not just one book – Whatever happens with this particular mystery, whether self-published or agented fiction, the important thing is to always be working on something new. While it would be a bad idea for me to pitch more than one idea at a time to the same agent, it is a good idea for me to diversify my efforts, keep honing my craft, and continue exploring all of the potential channels for my work. Lukeman’s main message is that if you are persistent, and keep working at it, in the long run you will be published.

What books have you read lately that have helped to shape your current goals? What are you reading for fun?

Additional Note: The Kindle edition of this also includes Lukeman’s ASK A LITERARY AGENT – YEAR ONE and HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER. If you don’t own a Kindle you can get these two books for free here.


Filed under Internal Debate 42, Writing Goals

2 responses to “Landing a Literary Agent

  1. Okay – you cannot call a post “Landing a Literary Agent” and then have the first sentence be “Achievement Unlocked!” You had me very excited for a second there. :-O

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