Advice from a Literary Agent

I was cleaning out old files this week and came across a tip sheet from a literary agent. Some of the tips are so obvious (use quality paper, write a clear letter, enclose SASE–self addressed, stamped envelope), but others are a bit less elementary.

When approaching a literary agent, do:

  • Present one project at a time.
  • Submit in standard manuscript format (double-spaced, one-inch margins, Times New Roman font, your name and page number on each page).
  • Provide your project’s word count.
  • List your published works.
  • Provide pertinent information about yourself–experience, for example.
  • Expect to wait up to 120 days for a response.

When approaching a literary agent, don’t:

  • Offer an unprofessional presentation (no typos, spelling or puncutation or grammatical errors please).
  • Send your only copy of your proposal.
  • Use cliche characters when writing fiction–instead make them memorable.
  • Use exclamation points or unusual fonts–let your writing create the excitement instead.
  • Claim to be better than best-selling authors.
  • Act paranoid that everyone’s out to steal your work.
  • Use the opinions of those who love you (family and friends) as confirmation of your work.

Here are some things I’ll add to help you increase your chances of success.

  • Follow the conventions of the kind of work you’re proposing (genre fiction is formulatic, so follow the formula).
  • Do your research (both fiction and nonfiction writing require research). You also want to research your marketplace and find a literary agent who represents what you write.
  • Read as much as you can in your field.
  • Realize that publishing is business and if anyone says it’s about fulfilling your dream, run as fast as you can. There’s something not quite right going on.
  • Join writers groups. Be mindful that any critiques you get aren’t very helpful unless the one giving them regularly reads the type of writing you do. For example, a critique on a romance isn’t worth much from someone who doesn’t read romances.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Publishing is business and rejection only means that what you’re offering isn’t a good match for what they’re needing.

You might want to print these tips off and keep them handy for future use.

Happy writing!


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