Finding a Literary Agent

Finding a Literary Agent

Finding a Literary Agent in the UK is time-consuming, and you Finding a Literary Agent in the UK is time-consuming, and you need to do research to find the one best suited to you and your book.

In the UK, the overwhelming majority of literary agents charge authors 15% of any income earned from UK sales, and 20% of any income earned from overseas sales or from film and TV sales. Most of you reading this will realise this is good value for money. You don’t have to pay your agent any up-front fees, and it is in their best interest for you to sell a lot of books. If they don’t find a publisher to accept your book, or if your book doesn’t sell, they make nothing.

Agents are more switched into what’s happening within the world of publishing than you will ever be. They know the trends. They know which publishers are likely to accept new authors, and if there are several, they will know which one is best. Not only will they know the publishers. They will also know the best person to approach within that publishing company.

Thinking more widely, an agent will have other contacts too. They will know who to approach in other countries, and will want to get your book published in as many territories as possible, and they will know who to approach within the film and television industries.

FINDING THE RIGHT LITERARY AGENT

The best way of finding a literary agent in the UK is still the old fashioned way. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is an annual publication listing all the literary agents in the UK.

Some of you may be surprised I’m recommending a book rather than an online list of agents. My experience of online lists is not great. Agencies close, or merge, and online lists are often filled with broken links and agencies that no longer exist, and the website owners rarely have sufficient staff to check everything out. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is updated every year, all the agencies contacted, old ones deleted and new ones added, and it is always up to date when published. My current copy list 182 different literary agencies in the UK and Ireland, and a further 96 in different English-Speaking countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA.

Each alphabetical listing usually includes a physical name and address of the agency, landline phone number, email contact address, website address, fees charged, genres accepted, and whether the agency is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents.

If you do prefer an online list, The Association of Authors’ Agents is open to agencies based in the UK or Republic of Ireland, with members agreeing to abide by a code of practice which commits them to act in the best interests of their clients. Their website provides an alphabetical list of their members.

The Association of Authors’ Representatives performs a similar function in the USA, and also provides an alphabetical list.

It is worth mentioning that some agent list websites I’ve seen try to falsely pass themselves off as one or other of these official bodies, so be careful when searching! It is also worth mentioning there are many smaller agencies who are not members of either of these trade bodies, but who nevertheless agree to work in accordance with the same codes of practice. Both bodies charge a fee for membership, so small literary agencies may not always feel the amount of business they do justifies the joining fee.

THE PROCESS OF FINDING AN AGENT

Armed with your list of agents, the best place to start is with the agent’s website. Let me walk you through an example taken from my copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. For the sake of argument, I’ve assumed I have written a crime thriller.

Going through my alphabetical list, one of the first agencies, Aitken Alexander Associates Ltd., says they are looking for ‘Fiction and non-fiction. No plays or scripts‘. It also lists almost 70 clients, some authors whose names I recognise, and some I don’t. The first thing I notice on the website is that, in common with most agency websites, there are links to ‘Literary Agents’ and to ‘Submissions’.

Clicking on the ‘Literary Agents‘ link displays images of eight agents.

Clicking on the first image takes me to background details of the first agent, after which it tells me she has a large client list and takes on very few new clients (doesn’t sound very promising).

The next agent on the list specialises in screenwriters (still not promising).

The third agent gives little information, says she is looking for captivating storytelling, but no mention of crime or thrillers.

The fourth agent, the only man, is looking for both fiction and non-fiction, and specifically says he would like a proposal from a first-time writer with a fascinating story. However, he seems to be looking for fiction that is experimenting with form or language, and he doesn’t specifically mention crime or thrillers. He’s a possibility, but not a very strong one.

The fifth agent is looking for character-driven and story-led writing powered by ideas; novels that make us feel deeply and think critically. That doesn’t sound like a crime thriller to me.

The sixth agent only deals with non-fiction.

The seventh agent is the first one to mention thrillers, which she says she reads, and she says she is ‘particularly looking for a thriller. I am a huge fan of psychological suspense and stories with killer twists or heart-wrenching hooks but I am also interested in finding a really smart locked-room mystery with a bit of an edge‘. She sounds ideal, but I had to search through most of the others to find her. The whole process has taken a long time, and that was only one agency.

Finding the right agent is not as simple as sending your novel to the first agent you find an email for. Taken at face value I could easily have assumed I could send my novel to anyone in this agency, but I’d have been wrong. A large agency with eight different agents and with lots of authors on their books, but there is only one agent who specialises in crime thrillers. It is important your novel goes directly to an agent who would be interested in it, not to an agent who would have no interest.

SUBMISSION

Having found an agent, it’s time to return to the main menu and to click on the ‘Submissions‘ link. This takes me to a full page of information about how to submit a novel to the agent selected.

The usual process is to submit an email with two attachments, a part of your novel, and a synopsis.

The content of the email is no less important than the attachments. Agent usually read the email to decide whether to open either of the two attachments. We will be posting a separate post about the submission email soon.

The part of your novel is usually required in MS Word format, and you may be asked for the first few chapters, the first few thousand words, or something else. Whatever is asked for, and in whatever format, it is important you comply exactly with the request.

The synopsis will usually be one or two pages long (if they specifically ask for one page, do not send two!). This should be a synopsis of your whole novel, and we will be posting a separate post about the synopsis soon.

SUMMARY OF HOW TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF FINDING A LITERARY AGENT

  • Understand how the publishing industry works.
  • Take time to research a literacy agency.
  • Find a specific agent who is looking for your genre of novel.
  • Send them exactly what they ask for.

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