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The Path to get a Literary Agent

This is the fun blog where we look at stats and excel files full of my rejections, in hope that we can learn from them. Because failure is important! Read my previous blog here to understand why I'm eager to share my failures with the world.

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If you're wondering: how hard is it get a Literary Agent? Then, this blog should give you a good idea. It's time to tackle the big question:

How to get a Literary Agent?

Your novel is ready. The manuscript has been completed. You have edited your novel, and it is as good as you can make it. Then, it might be time to find an agent, but just how do you find a Literary Agent?

For me, the path to get a Literary Agent was a long one. Much longer than I had anticipated. It wasn't always a dry trail through the desert, but it certainly was not as easy as I had anticipated either.

I went into the adventure of finding a Literary Agent with my eyes open, I thought.

I knew that published writers often talk about how much they struggled to find representation for their novels, I just did not think that I would struggle. At least not to that extent.

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For more than a year I sat deep in a pit of rejections and near-misses.

I would sigh as non-writer friends helpfully pulled out the one stat that they all somehow know: "J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers before she found representation — and look at her now! Don't give up yet!"

They say this meaning to help, and meanwhile I'm thinking: "oh how nice it must be to only have been rejected 12 times."

Now, before we get into the excruciating details, let me lay something bare:

Contrary to common belief, it is not the rejections that make the querying process excruciating.... it is the wait for an answer.
Old man clocks walking cracked time waiting indefinitely for an answer how to get a secret literary agent publishing publish your manuscript

Perhaps this is just my own lack of patience, but considering the stories of other writers I know, I don't think it's just me. The wait discourages many of us from continuing to try.

Sometimes, there is no end to the wait for an answer from a literary agent, because a lot of the time, they won't give an answer.

Agents are busy and get hundreds of queries, they can't reasonably be expected to answer them all and also do the required work for their current clients.

But let's roll it back. So you're ready to query but where do you start?

If you're here, I'm going to assume that you're talking about unsolicited queries. Meaning that you don't magically happen to have a friend who is a literary agent or a friend who knows a literary agent and can make the introductions. Because, sorry to say, a lot of people I have known have gotten agents in that way.

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There are people who have signed with an agent by attending the right party at the right time and meeting the right person, people who have been introduced to an agent by family or friends or teachers. People who have just had a lot of luck from the get-go.

That was not my case, and yet I did have more luck than most. I had already met a few agents. I had attended university to study Creative Writing and through that I had received some contacts and was even at a party filled with agents, but nothing definitive came from that, for me, just a lot of hopes crushed.

I was already a bit beaten when I googled: literary agents in the UK

(I was based in the UK and I figured it was best to start there)

Yes, google is your friend to find secret agents.

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Pretty soon google-ing got overwhelming for me. So, I followed some advice I had received way back in the day before I was ready to query, and I bought myself a copy of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.

The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is basically a phonebook (for those of us old enough to remember what those looked like, for the rest, that's a contact list) of agents and publishers. Everyone who appears in the yearbook, which comes in a new and updated version each year (surprise), can be trusted not to scam you.

Armed with this book, my quest began.

I went through the names of Agencies, starting from A and working my way through the alphabet, one agency at a time.

Before doing anything else, I would check that the agency took my type of literature (SFF), as every agency will not take all genres. Next, I would look at their websites and see if they might be a match for me, and if they were, I added them to my query list.

PLEASE check before you send a submission to an agency. If you write Mr. to a Misses, or misspell the agent's name, or don't submit what they're requesting, that's a sure way to be dismissed without being considered.

Ideally, my goal was to send two queries a week.
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Ideally, because only two weeks later, I was miserable! My high hopes had been swept aside by crippling self-doubt and worry.

My days were ruined because all I could think about were the queries and I would check my e-mail constantly, waiting for replies that rarely came.

Whenever I looked at an agency, I imagined how good a fit they would be for my novel, and then when they did not respond, or rejected me, I was gutted.

In other words: I was too close. To me, my manuscript was not just a product, it was my dearest work, my blood, sweat and tears, and my very soul!

So, I handed off the querying process to someone I trusted!

More accurately, my supportive mother suggested that I let her query in my stead. She would send off queries (a minimum of 2 a week), and I would handle the rejections and responses.

how to get a secret literary agent publishing publish your manuscript Gigi says hi sleeping hat musical gif

Taking steps to distance myself from the querying process helped hugely. The process is stressful enough as is, but being so close, made it impossible for me to stay optimistic.

To all writers out there going through the tough process of querying and feeling overwhelmed, I urge you to consider to hand the process off to someone you trust.

Don't hand it off to just anyone, but someone you trust both to have your best interests in mind, and who will uphold your professional standards. Who around you is responsible and invested in your writing career? It can be a family member, a sibling, or even a friend.

Maybe you can swap queries with a writing friend to help each other out.

Alone, it can be difficult to represent your manuscript accurately as a product (I had several people read my query letters, and I still think I could have done better). Also, distancing yourself a little from the process, can give you the breathing space you need to keep trying.

Having someone close by to cheer you on, someone who will keep trying their best on your behalf is also hugely encouraging. It certainly saved my writing career.

how to get a secret literary agent publishing publish your manuscript excited woman with peaceful gorilla monkey

With my mother sending off e-mails, my querying continued —much more successfully.

So, how long did it take me to get an agent?

How many agents did I query?

It's time to look at the stats...

Each week a sent a minimum of two submissions out. By the time I got an agent, I had sent out 61 queries.

Of those 61 queries, 31 responded with rejections.

I received 9 personalised rejections,

2 of which included feedback, and

22 standard rejections.

3 of those rejections, I received AFTER I had signed a contract with an agent and had informed everyone else that I was no longer looking for representation. The last response I received came half a year after I signed with my agent.

25 NEVER replied.

Let's remember that most agents receive hundreds of unsolicited queries a week. It takes a tremendous amount of time to get through this pile and then they also have to act as an agent for their current clients and meet with publishers, and solve issues. They're swamped.

So, I do NOT share these stats to shame agents! On the contrary, I share these stats to help querying writers get a feeling of what might be standard. At least of what someone else has been through and what they might reasonably expect.

This is how long it took me to find representation but for another writer it might take less time or longer, however, as you query, or watch a friend of yours query literary agents, keep in mind that there are thousands of literary agents out there. Don't give up after 10 submissions - that's just the start.

The door to the future is ajar, but you have to dare to push it open, and keep doing it.