How to Approach a Literary Agent for Representation

– by Tim Beals, Credo Literary Agency

After writing a book proposal that includes two or three sample chapters, make a list of agents that seem appropriate for you and your work, using the resources provided above. Do not send unsolicited proposals or manuscripts to agents; send a query email first. A query is a message to an agent that describes a piece of writing and asks if the agent would like to see it (see “How to Query an Agent” below). Make your inquiry by email. No snail mail or blind phone calls. You may write to as many agents at a time as you like—eight to ten is typical—but send the emails individually, not to a group list. Address the recipient by name.

Expect responses in one to six weeks. Be wary of agents who take longer than six weeks. If an agent does not respond to your query, which is common, forget about them. You may assume you are being deliberately ignored.

Send your book proposal only when requested by an agent. If several agents ask to see your work, email it to the one you like most, along with a brief note thanking the agent for their interest and reminding them of their request to see your manuscript. (If an agent requests your project while another agent is looking at it, say so straightforwardly and offer to show them the piece if you cannot work something out with the other agent.) If an agent turns down your query or proposal, merely thank the agent for his or her time and consideration and move on. Continue this process until an agent agrees to represent your project.

How to Query an Agent

Here are seven tips for being professional, friendly, and effective when making that all-important first contact with an agent.

  1.     Write to an agent by name, or by name and title (for example, Karen Neumair, Senior Agent), not merely by title or agency.
  2.     Do not use Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss unless you are sure of the person’s gender, marital status, and preference. Instead, write “Dear Karen Neumair.”
  3.     Make your query brief. It may be (and should be!) as short as two or three paragraphs. No more than one page if submitted as an attachment; no more than two page views if included in the body of your email.
  4.     Begin your query by introducing yourself. Include any relevant information about yourself, your credentials, and your writing—any significant writing awards or fellowships you’ve received, any significant and clearly related advanced study in writing, and your previous publications on the same topic. Be sure to list your previous relevant sales and publications; if you have several, stick with the major ones. In either case, only mention the ones likely to impress the agent.
  5.     In a separate paragraph, explain your project. Mention the title and a few words of description. If it is nonfiction, explain its theme, audience, approach, purpose, overall content, and how it is distinctive from other books on the same topic. If it is fiction, write a very brief plot synopsis. Be sure to explain what makes your piece unusual or what special experience you have had that informs it.
  6.     Do not mention any of the following in a query:
  •  Who has read and rejected the piece.
  •  What anyone else has said about the piece (unless it is a well-known published author).
  •  How long and hard you’ve worked on the piece.
  •  Acknowledgment of others for their assistance.
  •  Any admission that the proposal and samples are in less than ideal shape. (If they still need work, don’t send queries to agents yet!)
  •  A request for comments, criticism, advice, or instruction.
  •  How thrilled you would be to see your work in print.
  •  Anything about your life not strictly relevant to your submission.
  •  The rights you wish to sell.
  •  How much money you want for the piece (or any discussion of price or payment).
  1.     End your message by asking if the agent would care to review the proposal, and thank them for their time and consideration.