Many mainstream publishers no longer read work that isn’t represented, which is where the literary agent comes in. Find yourself a good agent and they’ll use their experience to match your work with the best publishing house, and push to get the best deal for you.
If you’re new to the writing game, these are my five pointers, based on my experiences of the industry (others will have their own tips but these are mine and I'm sticking to them) – for finding yourself an agent:
- Know your writing
By this I mean, consider what you have written. What genre is it? Which other authors' work do you admire? Try to match your title to an agent who is known for the sort of work you are aiming to get published.
- Be as original as can be
You’ll need your own voice if you want to be taken on by an agent, so don’t try too hard to emulate works already on their list. There’s a fine line between drawing inspiration from published authors and a lack of originality! – and it can be frustrating for an agency to receive imitations of the style and tone of their bestsellers.
- Speed read the thank-yous
A quick way to track down an author's agent is to look at the dedication and thanks pages in their books - they normally mention their agent (particularly if theirs is a solid working relationship!)
- Choose your preferred style
Agencies vary in size, location and personal style. Although agents work happily with clients at any distance, consider how easy it would be to get to their offices. Would you rather be represented by a larger agency who has more services 'inhouse' - such as the ability to sell your work abroad, or a one person band, where you might develop a closer relationship?
- Refer to the experts
Use the Writers’ & Artists' Yearbook as a source of agents to approach (it carries a complete listing of all the UK agents you could hope for) as well as further advice from Philippa Milnes-Smith on ‘How to Get an Agent’.
Finally, remember that if you sign up with an agency they should never ask you for money (read our post on vanity publishing vs self-publishing). But they may well suggest your work needs some editorial help, and will either make their own suggestions or recommend a professional who you would pay directly.
(Freelance editorial consultant)