How to Increase Your Odds of Landing an Agent


Post written by Katie Wall.

For writers who dream of being published traditionally, the querying process can feel like a heady mixture of overwhelm, anticipation, frustration, and anxiety… plus hope.

That the rejection rate of manuscripts in agent slush piles is incredibly high is well known. But did you know that there are some things you can do to increase your chances of receiving an offer of representation from an agent? Each of the steps I list below can all be boiled down to the following mantra: be prepared. Keep reading to find out what I mean.

Ready Your Materials

It's amazing to me how many authors send off a query without having anyone give them feedback on their query letter, synopsis, or even manuscript! So let's chat for a minute about those materials.

Your Manuscript

If you haven't had anyone else read your novel, you aren't ready to query. Instead of rushing, before you query you need to make sure your novel is in "good enough" shape that you can immediately send it if an agent requests it. This makes you look professional and like a more desirable person to work with! Make sure you've revised your manuscript on your own (multiple times...) and/or gotten professional eyes on it to make sure it's the best it can be.

Also make sure to spend extra time making your manuscript's first pages are super polished. The opening of your story is crucial for catching an agent's attention. Do your first pages have the six key elements agents are looking for?

Your Query Letter and Synopsis

Learn how to write a query letter and synopsis—like with resumes and cover letters, there are conventions to follow for these documents. And, just like a job interview, you want to make sure you are ticking all of the boxes for the interviewer… err, agent. And this brings us to the next piece, which is to do your research.

Do Your Research

Did you know that agents have specialties? This can be related to genre or other aspects of the publishing process. Some agents have experience with selling rights for film and television in addition to selling books to publishers. Some agents work for large agencies and others work for boutique agencies. It's vital to know what you are looking for in an agent relationship if you are working toward having a career as an author.

Likewise, it's important to research what each agent looks for! If an agent is primarily looking to expand their list with adult contemporary fiction and you are querying a YA horror, then that's basically going to be an automatic rejection. It truly is astounding how many writers don't understand the importance of checking:

  • That the agent is actually accepting queries at the moment.
  • That the agent is looking for books similar to the one you want to send them.
  • That the agent works with the age group your book's intended audience falls into.

If you're shotgunning your query out to every agent you see, you aren't only decreasing your chance of getting interest, but you're also clogging up the system and decreasing the chances that others' books will be seen in a timely fashion. So take the time to do your research. Please. Or if researching this feels overwhelming, hire me to help you to ensure your manuscript is query-ready and to tackle this process so you can move forward with confidence.

Follow the Guidelines

In a similar vein, it's important to follow the guidelines. Which guidelines am I talking about? There are several categories.

Genre guidelines

First, know your book's genre and the expectations readers have of this genre. This includes the accepted word count ranges for the genre. While it's (unfortunately) common to see "don't worry about word count" advice in social media groups for writers, the truth is that agents use word count expectations to evaluate if they even want to read your synopsis and/or sample. If they peek at your query letter and your word count is well below the expected range, they will assume your story is not well-developed. If they see a word count that is above the expected range, they will assume that your novel is bloated/overwritten and will require a lot of revision before it could be sold to a publisher. In either case, being outside of the expected word count range hurts your chances.

Second, know the genre you are actually writing in. If you classify your book as an epic fantasy but it's really paranormal romance, for example, the agent will read through your query materials and shake their head before passing on it. This doesn't mean that you can't have elements of multiple genres—e.g., "paranormal" + "romance"—but you do need to know how your book fits into these categories. Another way to think about this is to consider what books yours might sit next to on a shelf (and perhaps that will help you think of comp titles, too!).

Agent guidelines

Every agent has their own specific guidelines about how to submit query materials (email or website form, for example). It is incredibly important to follow these guidelines to the letter. Why? Because if you don't you are showing the agent that you don't care about the details, and/or that you don't respect them! Since your relationship with an agent is a business relationship, that's not going to make them want to offer to work with you. Make sure you put your best foot forward by following the submission instructions.

Ready Your Mindset

Querying is not easy, but your mindset is crucial to getting through this process in a constructive way. Before you start to query, remind yourself of why you write. Do what you can to be prepared, as I've outlined above. Then, once you hit "send" on those first queries, start a new project or take some intentional time to fill your creative cup. Waiting around to hear from agents will only bring you down, so take stock of what you need creatively and do that instead of twiddling your thumbs and refreshing your email every two seconds.

Remember, you don't have to do this alone!

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