How Does an Unpublished Writer Get an Agent?

Having an agent can vastly simplify the task of finding a publisher, or a producer for your writing. Whether you are a poet, a novelist, a screenwriter, a playwright, a non fiction author or any other kind of writer, an agent will send your work into the world, and hopefully to the right people.

An unpublished writer can find an agent by sending a query letter to an agent, being as polite as possible, entering writing competitions, gaining an industry referral, and reaching out to agents via social media and public events. Read on to learn more about each.

How Does an Unpublished Writer Get an Agent?

Should I Send a Query Letter to a Literary Agent?

You should send a query letter to an agent. On your first approach make sure to include some biographical information, possibly a CV or a biographical statement. The statement can be written in third person, and just give a more relaxed summary of the highlights from your CV.

If you have composed works you would like the agent to help you to sell, perhaps include the logline and one paragraph synopsis of each. 

How Should I Approach a Literary Agent? 

When approaching make sure to be as polite and professional as possible. Even a rejection can be turned into a win if you thank them for their time, and perhaps follow up to ask if any other agents they know are currently looking to take on clients, or if they have any other tips.

Don’t follow up more than once, you might risk damaging your professional image and reputation. As Cassio says “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!”

Do Literary Agents Care About Competitions?

Competitions are a great way to catch an agent’s attention. Sometimes agents will even reach out to competition winners. Even if you get longlisted or shortlisted for an award this can help to improve your CV.

One problem is that competitions are sometimes expensive – and the average screenplay comp can set you back close to $100 – so keep your eyes out for free or cheaper ones!

How do I get a Referral to a Literary Agent? 

You can get a referral by asking for one from an industry professional. Most agents in my experience operate ‘by referral only.’ They will say ‘our books are not currently open.’ For many agents, the books are never open, because they are already operating at capacity.

Referral can come in a number of forms: sometimes it’s an in person recommendation from someone the agent knows and trusts. However, if you include a letter of recommendation in your email from someone that the agent recognises as being involved in your field (publishing, or the screen industry) then that can work too.

It’s all about trying to make a personal connection with an agent, and to have recommendations from people they trust / respect.  

How Can I Meet Literary Agents?

You can meet literary agents by attending public networking events. Since working with an agent is a personal relationship, they will often want to make sure they get on with you on a personal level before entering a professional relationship.

That’s why meeting in person can really help. Writers’ festivals, special one off reading events, book launches, and writing societies are all excellent places to mingle and try to meet and impress literary agents. 

How Can I Get in Contact a Literary Agent? 

You can often contact a literary agent via social media. Follow as many agents as you can on their public social media pages. Don’t follow their private accounts though unless you are friends obviously.

Agents will often seek to promote their clients online through social media, and will have active accounts.

See who they are working with, what kinds of work they are producing, and then perhaps reach out with an approach that shows that you have done your homework on their agency, and the reasons why you think your work would be a great fit for them.

Do Literary Agents Ask for Money?

Good literary agents do not ask for money. Good literary agents usually charge between 10%-15% commission on any work that they bring to you. For instance, if an agent contacts a publisher, and then negotiates your contract and payment, then they will take 15% of the fee.

Do Literary Agents Cost Money?

A literary agent should never cost you money, they should only take a percentage of your payment in exchange for their role in acquiring and negotiating your contract. You should never be out of pocket. Bad agents might ask for upfront payment, this should be avoided.

What Happens After you Sign with a Literary Agent?

After you sign with a literary agent the agent should start trying to contact publishers or producers who might be interested in working with you. Once they find someone who wants to pay you for your work, a good agent will then have the skills to negotiate your legal contract.

Can you Have a Literary Agent in a Different Country?

You can have a literary agent in another country, it happens all the time. One thing to consider is that a work might be best suited to a particular market. For instance, a novel set in Britain might especially appeal to the British market, so having an agent in Britain for that work might be ideal.

How Long Does it Take for a Publisher to Respond to an Agent?

It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks up to several months, or perhaps even longer. You have to remember that reading a full length work takes many hours, and a publishers might have a mountain of works to read. They might also just forget to read your submission.

What are the Odds of Getting a Literary Agent?

There are always more writers than professional agents, so the odds of getting an agent on any given day are low. Ways to increase your odds are explored at the top of this article. Be professional, enter competitions, get industry referrals, and submit your best work.

Why is it so Hard to Get a Literary Agent?

Getting a literary agent is hard because there are many more writers than there are agents. Agents also like to be approached in a specific way, and it can take a long time to learn how to approach them in the perfect way. See the top of this article for tips!

How Long Does it Take to Get a Literary Agent?

It can take weeks, months, or even years to get a literary agent. Some people don’t get one for decades, and some people never get one at all. Even though getting a literary agent is not guaranteed, don’t let that dissuade you from trying. See the tips above to improve your chances.

How Long Does it Take a Literary Agent to Find a Publisher?

It can take years for a literary agent to find a publisher. The people who work at publishing houses change all the time, and finding the right publisher is just about having your work land on the desk of the right person at the right business on the right day. Keep trying!

How Long Does it Take an Agent to get a Book Deal?

If you can work with an agent to interest an producer or publisher in your work, then a book deal should follow. This can take days (in intense bidding wars), or months, or even years if you and your agent have trouble convincing people to come on board.

Should I Copyright my Book Before Sending it to an Agent?

Although we are not lawyers and you should seek legal advice, if you are in the United States your work is likely copyrighted as soon as you write it. If you want to begin legal action based on a breach of copyright you may have to register it further. Seek legal advice.

Should I Copyright my Book Proposal?

You likely do not need to apply for copyright protection in the United States for your book proposal because copyright likely arises in your work as soon as you write it. You may have to register your work further if you intend to begin legal action. You should consult a copyright lawyer for further clarification.

Should I Pay for an Editor Before an Agent?

Yes, you should consider paying for an editor before submitting to an agent. If you are a first time author you will have to bring your work to its highest level of shine if you want to win over a literary agent. They receive so many submissions that yours has to stand out.

You do not ever need to pay for an editor though. You may be able to edit your own work to a very high standard, or you may be able to ask a friend, or an expert you know to edit it for you free of charge.

Is it Possible to Publish a Book Without an Agent?

Yes, you can publish a book without an agent. You can self publish whenever you like without an agent. In traditional publishing, it is possible to reach out to a publisher directly and strike a deal with them to publish your work. However, having an agent makes submitting so much faster.

What to do After Being Rejected by Literary Agents?

After being rejected by a literary agent you should ask them for any feedback on your submission, and then sharpen your application skills and try again. Submitting to agents is a skill that you can hone over years. See the top of this article for some helpful tips.

Have a look at how to write perfect obstacles here.