For any writer, the ultimate dream is to write a bestselling book. But before that can happen, you must find a publisher who likes your book enough to buy and publish it. And before you can do that, you normally have to find a literary agent. One of the most common pieces of advice I give to aspiring writers/authors is that publishing a book isn’t even the bullseye you’re trying to hit, it’s finding a literary agent. After all, there’s no point in daydreaming about hitting a home run if you can’t even get into the ballpark.
Like anything in life, the path to success is made up of stepping stones, and this is especially the case when publishing a book. The first big stepping stone to being published by a traditional publisher is finding a literary agent. For many, the task of attracting a literary agent—whose job is to represent your work and get it in front of publishers—seems incredibly daunting, if not impossible. I remember being a young, aspiring writer and watching movies where authors had slick-talking agents doing deals for them and thinking how “big time” an author has to be to actually have an agent. I now have a literary agent of my own, and here are some quick tips on how to make it happen:
Hone Your Craft
First things first: you’ve got to be a good writer. There’s only one thing that will grab the attention of a literary agent, and that’s good writing. So, write every day, write when you don’t want to, and write a lot. Even if you think it’s bad, at least you’re refining your writing skills. For fiction writers, once you get moving with a particular story that makes your heart burn, keep going and don’t stop. For nonfiction writers, dive deep into that topic you’re so passionate about and start typing. I’ve found that there are really only two ways to attract an agent: have a solid body of work across several notable publications or one impressive offering sent right to their desk that sells them on your talent.
Invite Yourself to the Party
When you’re just starting out, looking at publishing a book with a major publisher is like standing at the summit of Mount Everest. If you’re not in a position to make that quantum leap just yet (few are), then don’t worry about it! Platforms like IngramSpark allow writers to publish their own work, get it out into the world, and start making a name for themselves without any gatekeepers standing in their way. When I decided to self-publish my creative manifesto, Create Rebellion, in 2015, I knew I would incur all the costs and the sole responsibility of marketing it. I set out with a dream and didn’t stop. I reached out to every local news outlet to interview me about my book, created an Instagram page for it, filmed a book trailer on YouTube, etc. Slowly but surely, I started appearing on local morning news shows, getting art blogs to post reviews of my book, and appearing on podcasts. With my first self-published book, I created buzz and grew a loyal following to get my name out. If you want people to take you seriously as an author, act like one. The old adage is as true as it ever was: fake it ‘til you make it.
At the end of the day, so much of your success in landing an agent will be based on who you know. Go to events, attend readings, and engage with people in the industry on social media. Tell them about the book you self-published and how it's been successful. I didn’t find my agent out of the blue; I was referred to her by another agent. This agent had passed on representing my book proposal herself but believed in it enough to point me in the direction of another agent she knew would like it. Publishing is a very small world, so be nice and make friends.
The Shotgun Approach
After you’ve self-published and gotten some momentum behind your name, it’s time to start thinking about your next project. When your manuscript or proposal is ready and you know it’s time to get an agent to represent it, the only method is to start emailing like crazy. It’s not impossible to attract an agent from a major agency right off the bat, but highly unlikely. Start by compiling a list of smaller literary agencies and be sure to do your research on which agent represents which genre. The worst thing you can do is waste time and energy sending your fantasy fiction YA novel to an agent who only represents nonfiction memoirs by YouTube stars. Create a warm yet professional email template to copy and paste, and then fire away. Email as many agents as you can find until you find the one who is just as excited about your book as you are.
Finding an agent who is genuinely excited about helping you reach your dreams of getting a book published is a fantastic feeling for a writer. Believe in yourself, create your own opportunities, build your audience with your self-published book, and then keep pressing forward until you get where you want to be.