Illustration by Tom Gauld
So … you’ve lifted off, you’ve reclined your seat to a position that is comfortable enough but won’t get a dirty look thrown your way from the person behind you and you’re looking for something to do. The in-flight movie is good, but you’ve seen it a few times before. You have a cheap paperback that you bought in the airport bookstore and started to read while waiting to board, but, honestly, the one-page chapters are starting to grate on your nerves. You boot up your laptop and physically recoil from the number of e-mails in your inbox. You could start reading those mind-numbing memos from your boss, but if you had wanted to sleep during the flight, you would have popped a few Ambien. And then it hits you: Why not start writing that novel you’ve always had gestating in the back of your mind?
If this thought isn’t completely alien to you, then you are similar to the thousands of people who have sent me query letters during my tenure as a literary agent. And if you seriously want to write a book (or have already written one) and get it read by an agent, let alone a publisher, then you’re reading the right article. You can check out the duty-free brochure later. Right now, right here, I’m going to lay out the three simple steps for how to get yourself a literary agent.
You’ll see that I’ve skipped the “How to Write a Book” section. There are plenty of how-to books out there that will help you craft the great American novel or nonfiction proposal. For the purpose of this article, let’s just assume that you’re reading this at the end of your flight and that you used your time particularly well, having knocked out a 200-page thriller during the trip. Good job!
STEP 1: RESEARCH
Like all worthwhile endeavors in life, the first step in securing a literary agent entails getting as much information as possible to help you reach your goal. While there are many resources that can help you locate an agent, a list of them would probably take up most of this article. Instead, I’d like to point you to the website that is (to me) the best resource for all things publishing. It’s PublishersMarketplace.com (and, no, I don’t work for them, and I’m not getting a kickback for mentioning them — though, come to think of it, maybe I should ask for one). For a nominal fee, you can access contact info and sales info for every notable agent in the United States (and, yes, there are agents outside of New York City).
At Publishers Marketplace (PM), you can access all of the deals that are being made in the publishing world (and the book-to-film world as well) on a daily (if not hourly) basis. The “Deals” section tells you the author, the logline (i.e., what the book is about), the editor and publishing house, the agent and sometimes even how much the publisher paid for the book. You can research by specific genres, which is hugely helpful to me as an agent when I’m putting together submission lists for my clients’ books and is a one-stop shop for writers looking for representation.