How to Get A Literary Agent, or What I Learned These Past Six Months

I HAVE AN AGENT!

I've been waiting to say those words for years. YEARS. Like twenty of them. Sure, when I was ten, the agent I wanted was one for child actors, but the fact that an agent brought legitimacy to an artistic career was something I recognize at an early age.

Sure enough, the minute I got an agent, people who had thought this writing thing was just something I said I did to avoid a "real" employment, started referring to writing as my job. Only "legitimate" writers get agents.

While the concept that only agented writers are legitimate is total bullocks, and while I think anyone who writes is a Big Deal, there is something to be said for the professionalism the steps needed to get an agent take.

To get an agent, I had to take myself seriously as a writer. I had to see my blog as a business, see myself as a brand I was building, and I had to make room in my life for my writing.

Whether you want an agent or not, the things writers have to do to get an agent forces them to think about their book as a complete product they are selling. Not every writer wants to sell themselves, but if you want to pay your bills as a writer, you need to have a polished idea of who you are and what you have to offer others.

The process of writing a book proposal forces you to pinpoint specifics, instead of living in the vague world fo fluffy words us authors often reside. Having a good writing coach or agent by your side will help you refine and build your platform even more.

Plus, it just sounds really cool to say "my agent" to people.

So, how do you get an agent? Heck if I know. I'm still learning this whole publishing world thing.  But here's what I did to get one.

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How To Get A Literary Agent

By Lauren Marie Fleming (and people who know what they're talking about)

Step One: Write Something

2013-06-12 12.23.28 Agents sell your work. If there is no work, there is nothing to sell. So write.

Write like a mother fucker.

Write all the time, as often as you can. Set your alarm an hour early. Go to bed an hour later. Sell your TV. Get rid of Netflix. Download Freedom and Antisocial to keep you from wasting time on the Internet.

Join a writing class, or start a writing group, find something or someone that's going to hold you accountable for setting and meeting word count or chapter goals.

Keep a journalwith you at all times. Get The Artist's Way Starter Kit.

Announce to the world, to everyone you know, what times you write and ask them to not contact you or tempt you away during that time. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb. 

Do whatever it takes to write and write often, because it's the most important part of the publishing process.

Step Two: Create a Book Proposal for "Something"

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I learned everything I know about book proposals from two places.

The first was the Internet. I found 100 million articles swearing to be from the top-most expert in the field of getting a literary agent. Soon, I was overwhelmed and defeated, with no idea how to proceed.

My second source was a lot more helpful. Her name is Brooke Warner and she is my writing coach. Coaches haven't always been my thing. I wasn't athletic, I wasn't looking for someone to point my life in the right direction, so I never had need for a coach before. But Brooke, and the Write Your Memoir in Six Months class I took from her, helped me pinpoint my book's purpose and theme. If you can't take a class or afford a writing coach, Brooke has a book that's also helped me: What's Your Book?: A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Inspiration to Published Author.

While I used Brooke, there are plenty of other amazing writing coaches and blog to book professionals and people out there that have been there and can help you along your way. Find someone, even if it's just a friend, who will help you have perspective and think of this from a business standpoint.

Until you find someone, check out BlogHer's Pathfinder Day transcripts from the Blog to Book and the Blog as a Business sections. I spoke during 2012 and know 2013 has some great information as well. 

To get you started, here are the sections your book proposal needs. You can start working on amplifying these sections now, before you even start your book or are looking for an agent.

The main components of a book proposal are:

  1. Cover page, including the working title of your book, your name and contact information
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Overview, about a page of what the book is about and why you're qualified to write it
  4. Chapter Summaries, dedicate about two paragraphs, or half a page, to each chapter
  5. Author Bio, don't be afraid to really self-promote, don't lie but this isn't a place to be humble
  6. Marketing, let the agent/publisher know how you plan to help promote and sell your book
  7. Target Audience, be specific and include numbers, don't be afraid of being in a niche, niche markets are easier to sell to
  8. Competitive Titles, where will book stores place your book, what will be next to it on the shelves or in Amazon searches
  9. Sample Material

If you have a nonfiction proposal, your book doesn't have to be done to be pitched, but you need a full chapter outline and a few sample chapters. If you're pitching a fiction book, it needs to be finished, polished and edited, and be attached with your proposal. Either way, you want it to be as complete as possible, so see Step One.

Step Three: Find Agents in Your Genre/Field/Area

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As advised, I searched Publisher's Marketplace and Poets and Writersfor agents specializing in memoir. I chose about 30 and searched their sites to make sure they 1. are taking new clients and 2. worked with memoirs similar in topic to mine.

Step Four: Write a Query Letter for Each Agent

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Sure, you can use a template, but like a cover letter for a job, you want to personalize your query letter for each specific agency, using their website as a guide. Many agencies had me input parts of my book proposal into forms on their site instead of sending a query letter, so make sure you know how and what to send where before wasting your and the agency's time.

Do your research, read their sites, ask around. My writing coach also suggested some people to query that I may not have found online, including Jane Dystel of DGLM, the agent that signed me.

Here's one big thing I also learned during this: don't judge an agent by their website. The flashiest sites don't mean the best agents.

Step Five: Query Agents and Step Six: Wait Impatiently

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Once you send your query letter off to agents, your only choice is to sit and wait. I was just about to start making my second list of agents to query when I heard from Miriam Goderich's assistant at DGLM asking to see my complete book proposal. I had queried to Miriam, but heard back from Jane and she told me she'd love to represent me. Actually, it went something like this:

Jane: Hello Lauren, how is your day going?
Me: Great! How is yours?
Jane: Absolutely wonderful. It makes my day to read wonderful writing and yours is great, fresh.

At first I thought, I bet she says that to everyone, but then I didn't care.

My writing is great and fresh and I'd worked really hard to get to this point. I tell everyone else they're a Big Deal, it's time I start believing it about myself or this whole book promotion thing is never going to work.

So I blushed and owned it, telling Jane how flattered I genuinely was and how excited I was to work with her and her agency. We negotiated my contract, signed papers and now I'm in the working on rewriting my proposal for publishers.

Most importantly, I'm writing A LOT, because it's all a big circle, one that only works if you keep writing.  

 

Note: This post is a modified for BlogHer version of the piece originally posted on CreativitySquared.com.

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