You’re working on a book and, after insane amounts of introspection, you’ve decided that you would like to go the traditional publishing route. To get your book published on terms that actually work in your favor, you know that you will need to partner with a literary agent. Literary agents can’t just land you the perfect publisher, but also advocate for you every step of the way. When an agent decides to accept you as a client, their stake in your book’s success becomes almost as big as your own — so to increase your odds of finding the perfect agent, you need to make sure you are ready.
If you tick all these boxes, you might be on track to start sending query letters to literary agents.
Your book is completely finished
You might be ready to start looking for literary agents if your book is completely finished. Even if, once you find an agent, they may suggest some edits, your manuscript should be done (for now) before you begin to look for a literary agent as a debut author. Yes, that ideally means you will already have had beta readers, and your book will definitely have been reviewed by a professional editor. Unless you are already a published author, fiction writers should never send in a first draft. Non-fiction authors might have more of a chance, depending on their profile.
You’ve written a strong synopsis
Most literary agents will first read your query letter — and if they are still interested by the time they reach the end, they then move on to your synopsis. By the time you are ready to craft one, as an author, you will be truly invested in your book. You are likely to have serious jitters about sending your work out into the world, and after all the hard work of writing your book, you may discover that writing a strong synopsis that represents your book well is far from an easy task. Get feedback from your critique group and beta readers before you finalize your synopsis. They’ll have read your book, but not quite as often as you. That means they’ll be better at conveying what is so unique about it in a way that will convince literary agents as well.
You know your genre and your audience
Literary agents specialize in certain genres as well as target age groups. You certainly wouldn’t be the first author to believe that their book can be meaningful for literally everyone, but that type of attitude is not going to help you land an agent. Before you are even ready to start drafting query letters, you’ll need to be able to describe your genre and target audience succinctly and efficiently.
You’re familiar with the essential elements of a query letter
You aren’t writing another book — the most effective query letters are so short they could almost fit onto a postcard. You’ll know that you need to include:
- Evidence that you’ve done your research. You’re addressing a specific agent you know represents authors in your genre. You follow the agent’s submission guidelines.
- A clear and gripping, but short, book summary that convinces prospective literary agents to keep reading.
- Your genre and audience. Knowing who your target readers are enable the literary agents who read your letter to begin assessing whether they could represent you, as well as kick-starting their process of matching you with potential publishers.
- Your personal profile, as well as your humility. Literary agents need to know who you are to be able to get your book published. To actually want to work with you, they’ll also need to get flexible vibes from your query letter.
You understand what role a literary agent plays
Your literary agent is going to hold your hand through all the parts you, yourself, know almost nothing about — they’ll be your advocate, your counselor, and your friend. A literary agent isn’t just a necessary evil you need to deal with as you try to get your book traditionally published, but a partner who depends on your book’s success every bit as much as you do. If you understand that you might not always like everything your agent says, but they will always have your best interest at heart for the simple reason that what’s good for you is also good for them, you might be ready to start looking for a literary agent.