What You Need to Land a Literary Agent

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Once you finish your manuscript, it’s time to get it published—a task that’s just as difficult as writing the book in the first place. If you want to land a traditional publishing deal—which is generally the only way you’ll get physical prints of your book in stores—you’ll likely need a literary agent since many publishers won’t consider authors who don’t have one. 

Getting a literary agent is tough. They can’t possibly read every manuscript pitched to them, so how do you get them to consider yours? It is possible, but you need an effective query letter. With a great one, you increase your chances of an agent requesting more: either a synopsis, sample pages, or the entire manuscript. It’s important to have all these documents ready when you start querying agents. Some agents and publishers accept a synopsis along with a query—everyone has their own submission guidelines, so always check first! Complying with the agent’s requirements is paramount because you can be sure you’ll get rejected if you don’t.

If you want that professional touch, get us to create your query letter and move one step closer to being a published author.

The sample

Your book should already be written when you start querying literary agents, but if you are still revising it, pay special attention to the first few chapters as this is the sample you will send in case an agent requests one.

You want to pull the agent into the story quickly (as you would any reader) so they don’t give up on the book. Those first pages are crucial. Don’t start with a long, boring explanation of your world, even if the reader needs a lot of information to truly understand the one you’ve created. Your job as an author is to feed them this information through interesting storytelling. Start with an exciting action scene, an intriguing insight, or something else that hooks the reader from the first sentence.

Carefully review the first scene to determine if it needs any changes to better represent your book. Does it need humor? A sense of foreboding? An element of mystery? Fast-paced action? The first scene should set the tone and atmosphere of the book. You want the agent to get a true impression of what it will be like.

The query letter

The query letter is meant to intrigue a literary agent so they request a synopsis or the entire manuscript. It includes a brief author bio, basic information about the book (like the page count, genre, and any comparable titles), and a short description of the book.

The author bio and information about the book can trip up some writers. You want to submit a short, succinct bio and information without any unnecessary details, and you’ll have to think carefully about your book’s target demographic before you write the query letter. The book description is where most authors struggle. It can feel like too small a space to adequately summarize a book. The good news is that you aren’t providing a detailed rundown of the entire plot. A good description in your query letter starts with a hook and offers a clear indication of what the central conflict is or what’s at stake for the characters.

You’re only providing the most essential information needed to understand the general flow of the story. Run the agent through its most condensed possible version, including all integral plot elements but omitting anything that isn’t absolutely crucial. Also, don’t forget to spoil the ending: It can make or break a story, so the agent wants to be sure that your ending is good.

To overcome the decision paralysis when writing the book description, try a few different versions of it. Experiment with several hooks or ways of presenting the story. Test these versions out on friends and get their feedback on which was the most intriguing.

The synopsis

A book synopsis is one to two pages long and, like the book description in your query letter, it needs to start with a good hook. At each step of the way to securing a literary agent, you have to keep them intrigued until they eventually request the full manuscript. In this sense, it’s like marketing to a potential reader, but with a literary agent, you’re giving away the ending. A good synopsis helps the agent determine whether they are a good fit to represent your book.

The word “synopsis” can be misleading as it doesn’t provide a complete rundown of the plot and shouldn’t be overly detailed. An agent doesn’t need to know every scene or character—they need to know the major plot points and character arcs and understand the heart of the story. Think of it as a more detailed version of your query letter description—you’re still only focusing on the most crucial aspects, but you get to add more this time.

Condensing an entire book into one or two pages is challenging, so approach writing the synopsis from the other direction: Start by explaining the full plot of your story in the most basic way possible and continuously build on that, adding the next most important pieces of information with each iteration until you’ve got a solid one or two pages.

We’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: Don’t fear rejection. Yes, this is way easier said than done, but facing rejection is part of the publishing process and a skill that requires practice. You will need to send queries to many agents, which is normal. Think of the querying process as a quest to find the right agent or publisher for you. Finally, don’t forget that even the greatest writers of our time struggled to land book deals when they were budding authors.

With a great query letter, you can increase your chances of nabbing the right agent. Learn about our query letter package and how we can create everything you need to start querying agents.

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