How to Find a Literary Agent
One of the most daunting tasks facing a novelist—particularly a relatively new and not-yet-best-selling one—is finding an agent who can find a publisher for a book.
As I face this mission on behalf of my new manuscript, The Candlemaker’s Woman, I am particularly challenged because my first agent has decided to break our relationship. It’s not because my last novel, The Rebel Nun, wasn’t successful. It was a #1 Amazon Bestseller, a Literary Hub pick of “Not-to-Miss-Books from March,” and a Buzzfeed Books pick of “Most Anticipated Books of Winter.” It garnered nearly 400 mostly four- and 5-star Amazon ratings and reviews, which indicates many readers engaged with the story.
My agent decided to refocus her efforts on her key genre: self-help and memoir. Historical fiction, she told me is hard.
So, I have that going for me!
Finding my first agent was in some ways a fluke. I sent out only five query letters in 2019 and found an agent in less than three months. But that’s rare. You’ve read stories about famous authors who sent out hundreds of queries before finally hitting pay dirt. I expect it will take far more than five query letters and three months this time. How do I convince a new agent to take on the challenge of finding a publisher for me, especially when my old one has declined to represent me?
(In case you’re curious, here’s a one-sentence synopsis for The Candlemaker’s Woman: A young barbarian woman sold to an abusive Gallic slaveowner in 404 AD survives rape and abuse and blossoms into a smart, skilled leader who saves her migrating tribe from marauding Franks.)
I recently received some advice for finding an agent from a friend in the form of this link: https://pipelineartists.com/finding-a-home-for-your-fiction-manuscript/. I’ll save you the effort of reading it, in case you’re short for time, by summarizing it: “Finding an agent is a numbers game.” The more agents you query, the better the chances. It’s just math. It probably also depends on what readers are buying these days, and how well the manuscript is written. But damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!
The author of the article, Sharon Woodhouse, also provided a link to Markmalatesta.com, which has a list of agents and provides some details about what they are each interested in representing. That database can be searched by non-fiction topics or fiction genre. Very helpful.
This is my plan: I have looked through the 288 agents who have indicated they are interested in historical fiction and have identified the 70 I think are the best fits. Then I sorted through those to pick the 18 I think are the best of the best fits. I didn’t set out to find 18, but that’s the number that rose to the top of the first cull. To play the numbers game well, I imagine I’ll eventually have to query all 70, but 18 is a start.
Now I have written a query letter tailored to each agent, and after the first of the year, when they all return from the holiday vacation, I’ll be sending them out. Of course, each agent wants me to include something different: 10 pages or 30 pages, one chapter or three chapters, query letter or online form, synopsis or bio, etc. So, each letter requires some special engineering. But it’s not hard. Just time consuming.
I have many writer friends who have decided to forego this process and self-publish. That’s a reasonable option. But for those who might want to take a similar journey, I’ve decided to chronicle my efforts. It may turn out to be a bit embarrassing: 288 rejections over the next year. But there’s some virtue in honesty, even in this era of post-truth. Right?
Follow along over the next few months as I pursue these agents and report on what happens. And if you have any additional advice for me, put it in the comments. I need all the help I can get!