Monday, March 5, 2012

How To Get Your Book Published (or at least how I did): Part One, Literary Agents

Since announcing that I have a book deal (YAY!!!!!!!) I’ve been asked a lot of questions as to how I went about getting an agent/my book published. And while I love answering these questions, (seriously, I do!) I thought it was about time I devised a more coherent, non-rambling answer to them.

Disclaimer #1- In no way am I saying that if you follow these steps, you will get a literary agent/sell you book for millions/that there are no other, just-as-good ways to publish your book/that I even come close to knowing everything about the process. These are entirely my own thoughts. 

Disclaimer #2- I ramble. The short answer is this: I got an agent, my agent submitted my book to editors at publishing houses, an editor made an offer my agent and I both loved, we accepted the offer. You will find all the details of this answer (more than you ever wanted, probably) below. I will have to break this up into several posts due to ramblage. Today I’m focusing on the literary agent aspect.


To submit a book to a publishing house, you will need a literary agent. In the past anyone could submit to a publishing house, agented or no, however most big companies no longer allow unagented submissions (also known as unsolicited submissions). You can ask someone else why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the sheer number of submissions, the gem-to-crap ratio, and how time-consuming it is to weed through the crap to find the gem—now that job belongs to literary agents). Some small and “indie” presses still allow unagented submissions, and of course there’s self-publishing, but right now I’m talking about traditional publishing with established publishing houses.

There are tons and tons of amazing literary agents out there. It's a reputable profession, even though some people will try to convince you that literary agents are going to steal your book, swindle your money, and do other evil things like clean the toilet with your toothbrush (Okay, so maybe not that last one).

My agent is amazing and I don’t know where I’d be without her. Also, no you can’t have her, she’s mine! Mwuahaha!

Having said that, there are some shady agents out there. It’s rare, but true. 

Signs an agent is reputable:

-They do not charge you up-front fees. Reputable literary agents are paid only when you get paid (usually 10-20% commission of the sale of book rights to publishers). They don’t charge you reading fees, they don’t charge you up-front for supplies to do their job, and they don’t refer you fee-charging editorial services

-You’ve researched him/her extensively and have heard mostly good things.

-The agent has sales under their belt (It’s important to note that not having any sales isn’t a direct sign of a non-reputable agent, as everyone starts somewhere and an agent may just be new to the job, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, right?)

So how do you find an agent? Where do you even start?

To find an agent, you have to do your research. Trusted sources include The Writer’s Market, available at most bookstores, and The Literary Marketplace, found at most libraries. I preferred the Internet, myself. A website I found very helpful was AgentQuery.  Here you can enter your genre and have a list of agents who meet your criteria generated, as well as read more information about each agent. I also LOVED Casey McCormick’s blog, Literary Rambles, and highly suggest it during research time. 

Following this basic search, it’s a good idea to do more research on each agent’s website re: what he/she is looking for and if you/your writing would be a good fit, as their website will always be the most up-to-date source of information.

Once you have a list of agents you’d like to submit to, you send them a query letter, along with whatever sample of writing they ask for. Usually, it's anywhere from 5-10 pages but can be up to 50 pages or, rarely, more than that. If the agent likes what they've read, they'll request to read more.

It's generally expected and condoned that you submit to multiple agents at once (But for god's sake, people, don't cc agents in one mass email!). It takes days to weeks to months to hear back on the query letter alone, and the response may only be a form rejection, so it's in the author's best interest to query widely. A few agents ask for exclusive submissions; I just clucked my tongue and didn't send to any of them.

So if an agent requests your full manuscript and loved it, they'll either call you or make an appointment via email to call you (more common). This is a great time to do this:

During this call, if you've made it that far, you'll likely be offered representation if you’re not crazy and don’t scare away the agent (No pressure!).

But before screaming YES!! remember it's considered professional etiquette to let every agent who has your full or partial manuscript know that you have an offer on the table, which usually gets your manuscript shuffled to the top of the slush pile. If you're lucky, you may have a few offerees vying for you and get to choose your agent.

I make it sound easy, don’t I? Well, it’s not. I got 29 rejections and only one partial request (which later turned into a rejection) on my first book. And if you’ve been following my blog, you know about the rejections for The Witch Hunter’s Bible. Rejection is par for the course with writing. Getting your book published requires hard work, dedication, and loads and loads of perseverance. Also, a great query letter, which will be discussed next.

Whew!  So there’s today’s huge post. Writerly friends, pipe up if you have something to offer or if you simply want to tell me shut up, already! 


  1. I'm worried. Seriously.

    Were you at my house in October? : D

    Listen to the lady, people!

    1. You ARE referring to the Carlton dance, right?

      Also, no, silly. I wasn't IN your house. Simply peering through the window.

    2. Yes, I was talking about the Carlton dance - but on reflection I only wish I could dance that well : D

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. That was actually very coherent and easy-to-read rambling. :)

    I appreciate hearing about your experiences. I'm probably going to start querying soon and it's good to hear a survivor story from a real person who's been through it so recently...

    1. I'm SO glad you found this helpful, Susan!

  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience. And if I haven't said it before, congratulations! You must be so excited. :-)

    1. Thanks! And also, people read my blog?


  4. Great advice. I particularly appreciate the links to find agents. Great stuff.