In part one of this series, I covered how to write a query letter—which is the first step in beginning the journey to traditional publishing. The next step is to reach out to literary agents and editors.
Why You Need a Literary Agent
A good literary agent brings many advantages. Most have contacts at top publishers so they can easily reach the right people to pitch your book. An agent also acts as your advocate, helping you negotiate the best terms for a book contract. And though you can pitch some small and mid-size publishers directly, the major publishing houses won’t accept pitches from authors directly—a pitch must come from a qualified agent.
An agent will take a 15% commission from your earnings, including any book advance paid. However, that this is a small price to pay to have an advocate on your side. Publishing contracts can be long and complicated. Agents have the experience needed to navigate important terms and help you get the best possible deal.
How to Find a Literary Agent
The easiest way to get started is to visit the Association of Authors’ Representatives online and search the member directory. This is the top association for agents and requires members to follow an ethical code of conduct. You can search the directory by genre to find agents who work with your type of book. Note that this is a very important step! There is no point in pitching an agent who specializes in teen fiction if you’ve written a business book.
Most agents list a website with their profile so that you can go learn more about them and what kinds of books they represent. You should locate Submission Guidelines and find out where to send your pitch (query letter) and if there are any special requirements to follow. The standard practice used to be to send queries via snail mail, but these days most agents accept queries via email.
Another option is to search Google for “literary agent” and <genre>. There are also several books available that list literary agents.
I met my agent at a writer’s conference years ago, and I still believe this is one of the best ways to make a connection. Many conferences feature agent pitch sessions and other opportunities to meet potential publishing partners. Provided you make a connection and follow up in a timely manner, many authors find book deals as a result of attending writer’s conferences.
How to Pitch to Editors
In addition to pitching agents, you can also send your query directly to many small and medium-sized publishing houses. To find out which publishers would be a good fit for you, look for similar books in your genre and find out who published them. Then, go to the publisher’s website and look for submission guidelines. Yes, it really is that simple.
Getting to Yes
Once you begin sending out queries, pay attention to the feedback you receive. While many agents and editors send out formulaic rejection letters, some will take the time to indicate why your book isn’t right for them. This feedback can be valuable in helping you learn what you need to improve before you send your next query out.
Publishing is a numbers game and it’s all quite subjective. Most authors can expect to send dozens of queries out. But ultimately the goal is for an agent or editor to request a full book proposal. If they like what they see there, you will begin the next steps. With an agent, you would sign a contract for representation. Note that you should never be required to pay any fees up front. The agent will work with you to get your proposal ready for pitching, and then will begin sending it out to potential publishers. If you’re pitching to editors directly, they have the power to offer you a book deal once a proposal has been reviewed by the internal acquisitions team.
It takes patience to pursue a traditional book deal and just about every author will tell you that they received many rejections before finally getting an offer. Plan to be patient and persistent and listen to the feedback you receive along the way. There are plenty of opportunities out there and with the right amount of effort, you can make this happen.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit with templates, worksheets and checklists for getting traditionally published. Check it out!