by Diane Eble
If you want to paid to publish your book (through a traditional publisher, as opposed to self-publishing and paying all the costs yourself), it helps a lot to get a literary agent. The Big Six New York publishers won't even consider a manuscript unless it comes from a reputable literary agent.
Trouble is, it can be as difficult to find a reputable agent to represent your work as it is to get a publisher.
Not to fear, however. You do have a chance! I just talked with an editor who affirmed she is looking for new writers who have a "hook" that will offer fresh talent to their book line. Editors are always open to finding new talent, and so are agents.
Here's where to start:
1. Look online at The Literary Agents web site (http://www.literaryagents.org). There you'll find free resources and tips for finding agents, a template you can use to write a cover letter to an agent, and links to literary agency listings. Some agencies require you to fill out an online submission form, and others ask you to e-mail your submission.
One author I know sent out 10 identical submissions via e-mail to 10 literary agents. In the e-mail, she wrote that she had just written a book and gave a bulleted list of topics covered in the book, and said she was looking for a literary agent. Less than two hours later, she received an e-mail from a literary agent who represented top authors such as Jack Canfield of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. The agent took on my friend's project, and sold it to a New York publisher only a few months later.
2. Visit a bookstore and look at books similar to yours. Read the acknowledgements page; usually authors mention their literary agents there. Make note of the agents and look up the agency online or from Literary Marketplace or Writer's Market. (If you don't own these books, you can find them in the reference section of your public library.) Write these agents a query letter about your book, highlighting your credentials, and bullet points about what your book is about.
Why do I suggest this? Because agents have their favorite kinds of books to sell, and you obviously want an agent that is enthusiastic about your book. In addition, if your agent is listed in a published book, you can be sure he or she has actually sold at least one book to a publisher.
Another way to find an agent is to use your network. Ask other authors whom they use and if they're happy with their agent.
You'll want to investigate more about the agents you're interested in, as well. Google search their names and look at their web sites. Do they seem well-established? Do they have any best-selling authors on their client lists?
Is your potential agent a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR)? This would be ideal. There may be a good reason why an agent isn't a member, but I'd steer clear of someone who's not unless you have a personal recommendation of the agent from someone you trust. To search for agents and view the AAR code of ethics, visit http://www.aar-online.org/mc/page.do.
3. Contact your potential agents. Try to get a list of at least 3 people. Send them your query. If they respond positively, set up a time to talk, if you can. Agents are very busy people, but if they're too busy to answer a few of your questions, they may be too busy to do a good job selling your book. Just use common courtesy and respect their time, but make sure you get a chance to know whether you "click" with the person.
As with any working relationship, you want to choose the person carefully. A bad agent is a nightmare. A good agent is a great asset—someone who could open doors you could never enter on your own.
Diane Eble has 28 years experience in the publishing industry as an editor (magazines, fiction and nonfiction books), author (11 published books, more than 400 articles), and copywriter. She is now a book publishing coach as well, helping people to write, publish, and make money with books and other information products. This article was excerpted from her free "Your Book Publishing Coach" newsletter. Diane's latest book is the downloadable coaching session, Jump Start Your Book: 12 Questions You Must Answer Before You Write Your First Word.
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