You’ve finished your novel or book and are ready to pitch agents to help you sell the book to a publisher. Congratulations! Most people who say they want to write a book never do, so you’re ahead of the game.
However, getting an agent requires planning, research, and a submission that wows the agent. Here are top tips to getting an agent.
1) Revise your book until it’s the best it can be
First drafts aren’t publishable drafts. During revision, check for the obvious issues such as grammar and typos, but also for plot holes in fiction or confusing or missing information in nonfiction.
2) Have your book critiqued and/or edited
Many authors believe they can send in a subpar book because the agent and editors will clean it up. While it’s true that you’ll go through editing with your agent and later your publisher, none of us want to fix a book that needs a lot of work. Your book should be polished as shiny as you can make it. Authors don’t always see the issues, which is where critique or editing can help.
If you’re in a pinch, you can use a program like ProWritingAid to help you find issues in your manuscript.
3) Format your book
I have formatting guidelines on this site, my agency site, and my Query Manager submission form, yet I still get manuscripts that are not formatted to the correct specifications. If the query and premise are intriguing, I might ignore the incorrect formatting in the sample chapters, but I expect the full manuscript to be formatted correctly. Other agents will reject a manuscript that’s not formatted to the guidelines.
In most cases, agents expect the following formatting:
- Times New Roman in 12 pt font
- Double-spaced with 1-inch margins on all sides.
- Chapters starting on a new page using the Page Break function, not section break
Of course, you’ll need to see the submission guidelines for each agent you’re pitching, but odds are if you format as indicated above, your manuscript will be ready to go.
4) Research Agents who Represent Your Genre/Topic
This is another area in which authors get into trouble. Perhaps they think their book is so good that any agent will want it. However, if you send me a book I don’t represent, I’m not going to read the submission. There is a reason agents represent certain genres or topics and part of it is that they have the contacts in their genre/topics. You don’t want to send your horror book to a romance agent that doesn’t have contacts with horror publishers or editors.
More importantly, sending a manuscript outside an editor’s representation guidelines suggests you don’t know or care about the guidelines, which doesn’t make a good first impression.
Be careful about trying to squeak your manuscript into a genre that it’s really not in. For example, I represent romance and romantic mysteries, but not women’s fiction or cozy mysteries. The latter two might have a romance elements in the book, but they’re not romances.
5) Write a Synopsis
The only thing worse that writing a synopsis is writing a tagline. Condensing your 60,000 to 100,000 word book down to one to two pages is no easy feat. But it’s necessary to sell fiction. Here are tips on writing a synopsis of your fiction novel:
1. Write the synopsis using the same tone and style of the book. If it’s a dark, scary monster story, your synopsis needs to convey that.
2. Get the editor’s attention right off the bat. Don’t get bogged down in the setup.
3. Include character descriptions as part of telling the story. Give their motivations, conflict and goals.
4. Stick to the key plot points. Don’t worry about subplots. Just share the major thrust of the story.
5. Focus on the main conflict and how it’s resolved.
6. Because it’s a summary of the story, it should have a beginning, middle, and end. Don’t leave the agent with a cliffhanger. It won’t entice him/her to contact you for more information. Trust me on this. If you send a synopsis without the ending, it will be rejected.
7. Use strong, active verbs. You have a lot to say in few words, so choose them carefully.
8. Write in the present tense.
9. Polish and edit until it’s tight and compelling.
Sometimes it helps to read other synopsis, so check out this Masterclass article on writing a synopsis, which includes two samples.
6) Write a Query Letter
The query is the first chance you have to hook an agent’s interest. No pressure!
The query doesn’t have to be long. It needs to tell the agent about the book and you.
Start your query by addressing the agent by name, and how you came to query them. If you met them at an event or were referred, share that. If you’ve never met, let the agent know why you chose them, such as they represent the genre of the book you’ve written.
Next, give a short blurb about your book. This isn’t the synopsis. It’s a few sentences that describe your book in a way that will compel the agent to want to read your sample chapters. Focus on the character and conflict, as well as the plot (where the story is going).
Harry Potter thinks he’s a normal eleven-year-old orphaned boy until one day he’s invited to enroll in a school of wizardry. There he discovers a world of magic that is both fascinating a deadly, and that he’s at the center of prophecy that could determine the fate of the wizarding world.
You could include a few more details here, but the point of the query is to give enough information to lead the agent to read the chapters.
Your query should also include the word count, and subgenres, if there are any.
If the book hits on themes or diversity or other characteristics that the agent should know, mention it as well.
Finally, tell the agent a bit about yourself, and how you came to write this book. If you have previous writing credits, even if they’re in a different area, include them. If you have a hobby or interest that led you to write the book, share it.
If you’ve submitted the manuscript to other agents or publishers, let the agent know that.
7) Prepare the First Three Chapters
If your instinct is to send different chapters than the first three, then your book isn’t ready. Books need to grab readers from page one and keep them engaged. If you don’t think your early chapters are as good as the later, then you need to work on them.
Depending on your book length and genre, your first three chapters should introduce the characters, their goals, the conflict, and perhaps the inciting event that leads them into the thrust of the book. You have about half a page, maybe a full page, to grab the agent’s interest. Then you want to hold on to it for the rest of the three chapters.
- Be careful about prologues. If it’s there as a backstory info dump, that could lead to a rejection.
- Don’t dump backstory in the opening chapter, either. You can provide hints of it through the actions and thoughts of the character, but don’t stop the story to tell us the character’s life history.
- Avoid too much set up. Huge amounts of exposition, particularly in the beginning, are boring. While the first beat of a book (the opening) is usually a “normal day” we don’t need to go through waking up, brushing teeth, having breakfast, etc. Get to parts that set off the story quickly.
Format the chapters per the guidelines provided by the agent. If the agent doesn’t provide formatting guidelines, use New Times Roman 12 pt font, one-inch margins on all sides, and double space. (See format your book above).
Note, if you’ve been self-publishing, your manuscripts are likely using single spaced and perhaps a different font. When submitting for publishing, agents and publishers prefer New Times Roman and double spaced.
8) Follow the Guidelines on the Agent’s Website
This may be a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many submissions I get that do not follow directions. It might not seem like a big deal, but the publishing process has many hoops to jump through that require authors to follow instructions provided by the agent and the editor, once the book is sold. By failing to follow the guidelines on a submission, the agent might worry that you can’t or won’t follow directions through the process of selling the book and getting it published. No one wants to work with someone who is going to make the process harder by not doing what needs to be done to get their book sold and published.
While the norm is to send a query, synopsis, and three-chapters, not all agents ask for that. Some might ask for only the query and synopsis. Others might want the first 5,000 words. Send agents what they ask for, no more, no less.
9) Submit and Wait
Unfortunately, it can take some time to hear back from an agent or publisher. Submissions fill their email boxes daily. While you’re waiting, you can work on beefing up your manuscript or start working on the next book.
If you get a rejection, don’t give up. Submit to another agent. There are many reasons an agent might reject you work and not all have to do with not liking your book.
If you get a lot of rejections, revamp your query, synopsis, and/or three chapters. If you haven’t joined a critique group or writing club, do so as the members can offer you feedback on your work, and advice on navigating the query process.