How do you find a literary agent?

First, a confession. In a sense I’m not exactly the right person to ask. Yes, I’m a professional author with a stack of books under my belt. Yes, some of those books have done well. Yes, I work extensively with authors and literary agents. But … uh, how to put this … when I first tried to get a literary agent I think I did almost everything wrong. Indeed, I only did one thing right: namely, my book was actually quite good. (It had multiple publishers bidding for it and was sold in a six-figure deal.) Aside from that, I messed up.

But you don’t have to. Finding a literary agent is easy – there’s only one tricky part to the entire process. Here’s what you need to know.

1) Figure out if you need to get an agent
You probably do, but you may not. I won’t go in the ins and outs here, because you can just read this blog post instead. That post also tells you in detail what a literary agent does for their money. Oh yes, and if you want to know how literary agents charge for their services, then you can find out here.

2) Write a good book
No, don’t smirk. That’s the only bit in this whole post that really matters. Write a good book. If you do that, and you aren’t a total numpty about approaching agents, then you’ll be fine.

If, on the other hand, you are amazingly good at approaching agents but your book isn’t yet up to scratch, then you won’t get anywhere. Even if, by a fluke, you get taken on by a decent agent, there’s no way you’ll get a publisher. So write a good book. No – scratch that – not a good book. A stunning one. A dazzling one. One that echoes in the consciousness. One that makes a professional reader (ie: agent/editor) sit up late with tears in their eyes. That’s how good you have to be. More on this subject a little later.

3) Sign up with a good online literary agents listings site
In the UK/Ireland, that means you need to visit Agent Hunter, the leading search tool of its kind. In the US/Canada, there are a number of online sites, as well as the venerable Writer’s Market. If you’re from SA / Australia / NZ, then you are probably better off writing to London based agents than NY based ones, but it’s your call. You can go either way.

4) Select your hit list
It’s fine these days to make multiple submissions to agents, and I strongly recommend that you do just that.

How many agents to approach?
My own view is that you should send your work to no more than 8-12 agents, in 1-2 waves of submissions. If you’ve gone out to 12 agents and haven’t yet found someone who loves your book, that’s 99% likely – probably 99.5% likely – because your book isn’t yet strong enough to sell, in which case you need to address your manuscript, not chase after more agents. The one exception: there is a lot of prejudice against fantasy / sci-fi, so I usually recommend going to 15-20 agents. [But, if you’re North American, see Beth’s comment at the end of the article. She’s right, you know.]

How to pick agents
In the bad old days, getting an agent was a more or less random process. Yes, there were books which listed a range of literary agencies (though not a complete list of agencies, even so.) But so what? You’re looking for an agent, not an agency – and how do you find the one that’s right for your genre, your style, your voice?

Fortunately, those problems have now been solved by tools such as Agent Hunter which  for the first time make it possible to search in a genuinely rational way. Either look at this post for more info on AH’s functionality or skip straight along to the site itself to get the info direct.

In terms of how to make use of those search tools, we would recommend:

  • locating agents who accept work in your genre
  • avoiding the ones who are obviously too busy
  • prioritising the ones who seem more engaged with new writers
  • using client lists, likes/dislikes info, photographs, Twitter feeds and other ‘gut feel’ type criteria to make the final selection. Agent Hunter collates all that data in one place, making the whole process as easy as pie.

And do bear in mind …
Do also remember that literary agents are very generalist. My own agent represents crime writers, chick-lit writers, literary authors, dead authors, serious non-fiction writers, popular non-fiction writers … indeed, there’s no category at all he would not represent if the right book came along. Most agents do likewise.

So if you are writing a near-future techno-thriller, you are NOT looking for an agent who specialises in such things. I doubt if such an agent exists in the UK. All you’re looking for is an agent who is open to such work, but who may also represent non-fiction, literary fiction, chick lit, and whatever else. You’re probably eclectic as a reader. Agents are too.

And the results, by the way, prove the point. My agent has recently done a fantastic job selling my crime novel in the UK, the US, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and a fair few other places too, not to mention securing a major TV deal. Yet there’s no way you’d look at his track record and figure him as a crime agent. He isn’t a crime agent. He just loved my book and knew how to sell it. Most agents are the same.

5) Write a good query letter
Americans can make their query letter a little more sales-y, a little more pushy. Brits should make their letters a little more businesslike. But the essence either way is to keep the letter short, informative and well-written. You can see a sample literary agent query letter here. If you want more help, you can get it here.

You also need to check what your agent wants. Do they want a query letter before you send your manuscript? Do they want you to send the letter, three chapters and a synopsis? Do they want a CV (unusual, but some people do)? Do they want submissions by email or in hard copy? Whatever the agent wants, you need to give it to them. You’ll be marking yourself down instantly if you don’t comply with the instructions you’ve been given.

6) Write a good synopsis
A synopsis is a short (1-2 page) summary of your plot. Basically, you are giving your story away, in full. You are not writing a sales blurb. You are not writing the stuff to appear on the back of the book. You are writing something like this.

7) Present your manuscript in a way that won’t make agents scream
Mostly that means writing:

  • in a decent sized font (12 is the standard)
  • in a normal type face (Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond. Arial, if you must. Even Courier, if you really must.)
  • with decent line spacing (1.5 or 2)
  • normal margins – use your computer’s presets
  • single-sided
  • with numbered pages
  • A4 (if you’re a Brit) / letter size if you’re American
  • without too many typos
  • with proper punctuation
  • your name and title in the header / footer of every page

You should not need copyediting if you are not dyslexic and you are a native English speaker. (Copyediting is generally done for free by publishers, so no need to spend money that you don’t have to.) You can get further manuscript presentation tips here.

8 ) Don’t bother ‘copyright protecting’ your work
You don’t need to do it at all if you’re British, and you only need to do it once you’ve got a publishing contract if you’re North American. In the latter case a publisher will do it for you. No need to worry about this issue. It’s a non-issue. Copyright theft is virtually unheard of. Just don’t worry about it.

9) Light candles, tie a black cat into a knot – and go for it
Get your manuscript out there. See what happens.

10) How long to wait?
A really good agency will respond in 2 weeks or so. 6-8 weeks is more typical. Over 10 weeks is pathetic. Personally, I think it’s OK to nudge after 8-10 weeks. Some agents are prickly about being nudged, but if so they shouldn’t have been slow and unprofessional in the first place.

11) What might they say?
There are basically four categories of response:

  • go away, we hate you. Maybe 90% of writers will get a standard-form response from a given agency, one that just rejects your work without giving you any reason why.
  • go away, but we don’t hate you. If agents are interested enough in your work that they ask to see the whole manuscript – and sometimes if your opening chapters moved an agent without quite convincing them – you may get a personalised response which says, ‘I don’t want to represent you, but there were certain qualities in your work which I did like’. That’s a ‘positive rejection’. It’s grounds for encouragement, actually.
  • we’re currently unsure if we hate you or not, so can we have a second date? If an agent doesn’t think your work is saleable, but they are keen to work with you, they may send back some editorial gripes and ask you to resubmit. Sometimes they don’t actually ask you to resubmit but are clearly leaving the door open. In such cases, you’d be nuts not to have another crack at your manuscript and send it back when you’re ready.
  • we love you, we adore you, we want to have your (literary) babies. Or best of all – and this happens to about 0.05% to 0.10% of authors – you may get an agent asking to meet you, which is basically code for ‘we want to represent you’. Which is basically code for wanting to have your babies. In a literary way, obviously.

12) And if I do all this and don’t get anywhere?
If you follow all this good advice and don’t get taken on by an agent … then may I gently suggest that you have not yet completed Step 2 – the one about writing a good book.

Writing a good book is hard. A good agent reviews 1-2,000 manuscripts for each one that’s taken on. Some top agencies review more like 4000 manuscripts for every one they take on. So standards are high. If you approach agents in a professional way, and your work is rejected, then your work is not yet good enough. So get it right. Work harder. Locate the problems and fix them. This CAN be done. And, funnily enough, I know people who can identify the flaws in your manuscript and tell you what you need to do to fix them. The Writers’ Workshop uses only top professional authors and commissioning editors to review clients’ work and our results are exceptional.

Like I said at the start of this article, I was completely useless about approaching agents – but still got a great agent and a terrific book deal. That’s because I messed up everything except step 2. If you’ve done everything else right, but don’t yet have a stellar manuscript, then you’ve some work to do now before you start knocking on doors. And needless to say, if we can help, we’d love to.

 

 

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98 Responses to How do you find a literary agent?

  1. Ron says:

    I love the entertaining way in which you get the information across.

    You said that one of your books was sold in a six-figure deal. Does this mean that you, the author, received over £100,000 from that book? Apologies if this is obvious.

    • admin says:

      Yes, kind of – although the way these things are presented is a bit misleading. Books are (nearly always) sold in two book deals, so a £100,000 deal is really £50,000 per book. And out of that £50 K, you have to pay your agent £7.5K + VAT, and you will have incurred some expenses in writing the book, so the number you actually get in your pocket will be more like £40K. Now that’s obviously decent money, but if a novel is typically a good year’s work, what you have is a nice paying job, not a lottery win. Only when you become a regular top 10 bestseller – and preferably an international bestseller – does the money turn silly.

    • Emberlynn says:

      Never would have thunk I would find this so inidspensalbe.

  2. Beth says:

    This is a great post; it concisely summarizes every important point in the agent hunt. I think that #2 cannot be emphasized enough. Too many writers submit work before it’s ready.

    I did want to comment on one point you made:

    there is a lot of prejudice against fantasy / sci-fi, so I usually recommend going to 15-20 agents.

    Here in the US, if you write sf/f, you approach only those agents who handle sf/f, so it isn’t a matter of submitting to more agents in hopes finding one who will read your manuscript, but rather targeting your submissions to those agents already interested in speculative fiction. And this is true of any genre. There’s no point in sending a romance manuscript to an agent who doesn’t handle romance.

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  7. Ceridwen says:

    I am a Canadian, but my grandparents were all Brit-born. If I have no success with signing a Cdn literary agent, can I get a Brit one? I have plans for a series of non-fiction, that I think is quite topical for today.

    • Harry says:

      Hi Ceridwen. It doesn’t really matter about your grandparents – british agents will take on a book if they think they can sell it, but they will be puzzled that you haven’t found an agent in either Canada or NY. I’d say that one of three things probably applies to you before you should start considering a UK agent. (1) try more agents in Canada. (2) try NY based agents – they’ll be very used to working with Canadians. (3) Your work isn’t yet strong enough to sell. At a guess, it’s item (3) that should be concerning you the most – it usually is! If you want help from one of our editors, then naturally we’d be happy to help.

  8. David says:

    Hi all, I’m in the process of trying to get published after having written 3 trilogies and a prequel all based around the same story line and I have found all of the advice on here very helpful. I do have one question when it comes to the synopsis though.

    The main thing for me is that I have intended to write a story 13 books long with intervals after every three books (except for the prequel, of course) and the only real query I have is whether, in my synopsis, I should tell the story of the first trilogy as that is effectively one long story broken down to avoid a book rivaling the holy bible in size!

    Thanks in advance for your replies :)

    David

    • David says:

      *Correction – when I asked if I should tell the story of the first trilogy, I meant to offer the alternative of “or should I write the synopsis for each individual book?” So far I have written a synopsis of just over 2,000 words which covers all four books (the prequel and the first trilogy) but I don’t know whether this is suitable or whether I should break it down in to individual books, however, this creates the issue of the agent in question not knowing the full extent of the story.

      Thanks again :)

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  11. Dan says:

    Can’t answer your query, David, but I’m kind of in a similar position. I’m writing a debut novel which is going to be the first in a trilogy, and I have already outlined the sequels. When approaching an agent, is it worthwhile pointing out that I have already outlined two sequels to complete a trilogy, when submitting the MS/synopsis for the original book?
    In addition, my book falls into the genre of ‘Comedy Thriller’ with a small element of Sci-Fi thrown in. Should I still write to any of the agents who may like ‘Thriller’ genre, but who state ‘No Sci-Fi’?

    • Harry says:

      It’s OK to mention those sequels, but don’t make a big deal of it – it’ll be down to the kind of book deal you end up getting whether those sequels ever get written. And as for near-sci-fi, it’s worth calling your book a ‘near-future thriller’. That says “basically a thriller, but don’t be scared of a very little bit of sci-fi – there won’t be any laser guns & space ships.’

  12. Harry, your site is a breath of fresh air. I have been driving myself a little scatty seeking out websites with good information, presented well and in a readable fashion, about finding literary agents and how to go about it. Your spreadsheet is darned useful too. Thanks, Patrick

  13. Mary Ann Hunter says:

    Great post with a lot of information. I am almost ready to seek out an agent.

  14. Gatsby says:

    Great article, really useful. To me this seems like the most difficult stage of getting a book published – to be honest I didn’t fully appreciate how necessary it is to have an agent before reasonably recently!

    I have read in a few places about a new website that allows you to search literary agents by genre, whether they are looking for new authors, by authors they represent and so on. It is called LitFactor (www.litfactor.com). Just wondered if anyone had heard of it or knew anything about it. I have just joined and it seems like a useful site.

  15. Jasmine says:

    Great post. I’m sixteen and I’m currently working on my third novel. I’m not intending to try my hand at searching for an agent for a good few years, but it’s fantastic to read such concise information on how to. I love the literary babies!

  16. Chris L says:

    great site. i have written a series of childrens stories based on a canal/narrowboat theme but the only publisher who seems interested was a vanity publisher. this game is really a hard knocks one. the problem is i still can’t find out if the stories are good enough or not,whether to self publish or keep trying for an agent. i recently enrolled on a online writers course supposedly aimed towards childrens writers, but cant get the response from my tutor. feeling very despondent and confused please help.

    • Harry says:

      Dear Chris – we can tell you if your work is strong enough. If it isn’t, we’ll tell you what the issues are and how to fix them. If it is, we’ll advise you as to next steps. Either see info on our “Get Feedback” pages or contact my WW colleagues for more help.

  17. Keith says:

    Hi – thanks for the excellent website, I’m finding it enormously useful.

    A question – if I contact say 10-12 agents, and two or three get back to me saying they are interested (an optimistic scenario, I know!), would it be fair to meet all three of them before deciding who to go with, or would agents not like me talking to other agents at the same time? Just wondering about the protocol.

    • Harry says:

      It’s fine to meet em. I got two agents offering me representation with my first book. Ended up saying no to the MD of a large & excellent agency, just because I wanted an agent with more of a focus on me. Remember, if things go well, you’re going to paying these guys a load of money. You’ve every right to pick the one who’s best for you. They’re not gods. They’re more like estate agents.

  18. Tara A says:

    This is fantastic and has answered many of my queries. I have finished my first novel and just submitted to agents. I am trying to prepare for a barrage of knock backs and any advice on how to deal with rejection would be very much appreciated as by the sounds of it I will need a very thick skin. Any tips?

    • Harry says:

      Gin. In pint mugs. Starting at breakfast.

      Um … and apart from that – just recognise that there’s a process here. Go to 8-12 agents. See if you get taken on. If not, assume there’s something not yet right about your manuscript and use our service (or one like ours) to figure out what that thing is. Then – in due course; you’ll know when – get the thing out to agents again. Preferably meet some of these guys at our Festival. Understand better what they want, and so son. It’s pretty rare that a new writer is taken on in a single bound, so give yourself the liberty of some time.

      • Tara A says:

        I am trying very hard to take on board your advice around whether the book is any good or not. I have had 2 knock backs so far, one of which was clearly a standard rejection letter, the other said the book wasn’t for them but I shouldn’t be discouraged and try another agent. Am I being to self confident to assume then that the book is ok or they wouldn’t have gone as far as saying not to be discouraged? I appreciate that you can’t really answer this but would be grateful for your experience/opinion before I send to more agents. Thanks in advance.

        • Harry says:

          Hi Claire, You can’t read all that much into these responses. Really, you need to get the book out to another 8-10 agents. You can do this in one single wave of submissions. If someone takes you on, then you’re away. If someone is keen but has an editorial reservation that makes sense to you and which you think you can solve, then solve it and get the book back to them. If neither of those things happen, then your book may be good, but it isn’t yet good enough – so come to an outfit like ours for editorial feedback and advice and you’ll find yourself making huge strides with the quality of your work. But for now, just get the book out there. Good luck!

  19. Karen Anderson says:

    I love the way The Writers’ Workshop has been written – easy to follow, funny and very straight talking!
    I’m in the process of preparing myself for the minefield of Literary Agents, but I’m unsure where to start. You see, I’m not one of your many grown-up writers here, but a lowly children’s wanna be author. I’m also illustrating my own stories, so are there Childrens Literary Agents, and, as I’m an author/illustrator, do I need a specialist in this field?
    Discuss…………..!

    • Harry says:

      There are children’s literary agents, yes. You want the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for details. And if you’re illustrating your own work, you do need to make sure that your work is of a genuinely professional standard (ie: you probably need to work in the field already or have some well-recognised qualification.) But have a truffle on our Children’s pages for more info. And if you want feedback on your work, then we’re here to help.

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  21. Sue says:

    I am from Australia and have just completed a fantasy novel. Any ideas where I can search for literay agents?

    • Harry says:

      Try agents in Oz first of all. If that doesn’t work, try either British or US agents using the advice on this site. But don’t go crazy. More than 8-12 rejections probably means you need to reconsider the quality of your manuscript. A critique from us is a good place to start on that, but do try agents first. That will tell you if there is a market for your work.

      • Sue says:

        Thanks Harry.

        I immensely enjoy writing….I get into the skin of my characters…be it a six year old boy, or a 85 year old woman…..I start to to see the world from their perspective…I give my all when I write….however I feel so spent when it comes to searching for publishers or literary agents…do all writers feel this way?

  22. Maya says:

    Hi. I’m an ex-pat living in a non-English speaking European country, so I really can’t publish my book here. Do you think it would be okay to try with UK agents? I only write in English (it’s my native language). Also, should I mention in the query that I am approaching them even though I don’t live in the UK because I’m an ex-pat living in a non-English speaking country, and I can’t publish an English language book here? (Well, I probably could, but there would be no interest, because no one would be able to understand it here hehe.) Thank you.

    • Harry says:

      It’s fine to approach UK agents, and no need to apologise (or overexplain) your position. You’re a Brit; you want your book published; you’re approaching a British agent. Simple! Best of luck

  23. Maya says:

    Thank you very much! It’ll be a while before I start approaching anyone, I’m only revising right now. But I will sure need all that luck! Thank you.

  24. Jess says:

    Hello,
    I’m a 17 year old who is researching agents for when I am satisfied with my novel. It’s a children/young adults fantasy, so I appreciate that not many agents will consider it.
    The novel I am writing has two sides to it, almost. My friend is writing a second novel which is concurrent with mine, from the perspective of a different character. This being so, I was wondering if we’d have to submit the novels as one book (which would be several hundred A4 pages long) or if we could submit it as two different books? I think it would have to be to the same agent, but I am unsure, since I haven’t come across this problem on any other site or book about agents.

    Thank you.

    • Harry says:

      Ideally you’d have the same agent, yes – because realistically these books will need the same publisher under the cover of a single book deal. There’s a major ‘but’, however: it’s insanely unlikely that both books will be strong enough to be published. Around 1 in 1000 manuscripts is taken on by agents, so the odds of two books being taken on are closer to 1 in a million. On the other hand, if your story is brilliant and you and your friend both write wonderfully, it could yet happen … As ever, it come down to talent, work, and the strength of the idea.

      • Jess says:

        Thank you.
        That’s the reason why we’re going to be continually improving them until we’re absolutely certain that it’s the best we can write. I just wanted to get an idea on how best to go about looking for an agent.

  25. Dj says:

    Harry.. have my literary babies! 😀 x

  26. amy says:

    Finding a good agent is such a task. But still, searchign for one is absolutely essential.

  27. Conrad Dosken says:

    Hello,

    As a young writer I’ve been finding your website very useful. Thank you so much for your tips. I have a query regarding ‘copyright protecting’. Firstly, it was apostrophized, which already naturally set me in trepidation, and, secondly, I’ve noticed that only the rights of British and North American citizens were mentioned. I’m an international, trilingual writer, and was planning to write my first novel in English in the near future. However, I have no idea whatsoever as to the entire ‘copyright protecting’ thing. So my question is: If I were to publish my novel in the UK or the USA while not being a legally recognized subject of either countries, how would (or should) I protect my copyrights?

    Thank you.

  28. Moira Please says:

    What a great website, I am really enjoying it. I am working on my 4th book (the other 3 were sort of homework) and think I do need an agent. I shall follow your tips and see what happens. Cheers.

  29. Shirley Muir says:

    Thanks for this straightforward and very informative explanation. I didn’t know where to start and now I’m onto it! Let’s hope the novel really does echo in the consciousness….

  30. JohnnyMagrinho says:

    Harry,

    If I am writing a book which is based on my experience living in another country along with general foresight/opinion on topical/social matters, what sort of literary agent should I be looking for?

    I’ve done some research on books that write about this country but none of them actually seem to have much weight or depth to them and tend to focus on the stereotypes rather than what actually is true, so I’ve found it hard to really ‘check out’ the competition or understand where I should be standing on this one.

    It’s a big enough country and is turning in to some sort of global power so I find it odd there is very little insight into how the country actually is in actual terms.

    Any advice would be great as I’ve been slowly writing this book for over two years (I need to speed up, I know, I just do not like the idea of rushing) and I’d like to make sure I’m speaking to the right people.

    Thanks.

  31. Margaret Kirk says:

    At your excellent Festival of Writing in York last September, I had 2 agent one-to-ones, both of whom requested to see the full manuscript on the strength of the submitted chapter and synopsis – yay! I’ve also had another request in the meantime.

    I sent it off mid-Feb to the first agent, who’d requested exclusivity for one month – after the one month period is up, would you advise a nudging email or just to assume it’s a ‘no’ and send it on to the other two?

    Any advice gratefully received :)

    • Harry says:

      Send it off. In the end, you need to look after your interests, not theirs. If they have their one month exclusive, then it’s absolutely fine for you to move on. And no need to say anything about it either.

  32. Margaret Kirk says:

    Will do, thanks. And if I ever get anywhere with the novel, rest assured I will give the Writers’ Workshop great credit for helping me along the way!

  33. gareth says:

    This is a fab site. Signing up to agenthunter has been particularly useful as well.

    I’ve written a children’s story and sent it to ten agents. One rejection, one positive rejection…then the agent who was top of my list asked for exclusivity. Delighted and impetuous, I agreed to this condition. However, four days pass and a new agency (experienced staff) tell me that they ‘love it’ and would take me on on the basis of the first three chapters.
    To say that I’m excited would be something of an understatement. However, I’m confused. I feel that I should now renage on an agreement. I’m yet to receive an answer from six agents. I’d be particularly interested to ehar from one of them. I realise that it’s a nice problem to have but, uuch… any advice?

    • Harry says:

      I think the best thing is to ask the agent-with-exclusivity to get back to you by Monday morning, as you ‘have keen interest from elsewhere’. Then if he/she does say yes and you’re still interested in exploring your other options, you should do so. You have every right to look out for your interests, every right to encourage competition. In the end, an author may pay his agent a lot of money, so feel free to shop around a bit. Good luck! Let us know how you get on.

  34. gareth says:

    Thanks very much indeed for your advice.

  35. Gareth says:

    They love it too! I’m too excited for myy own good. I need to lie down. I’ve got another six to come. What if they all ‘love it’? Will they all take me out for dinner?

    • Harry says:

      Nah. You don’t get dinner till you get a book deal to pay for it. At this stage, set your sights at a nice cup of tea. This isn’t the film industry, y’know.

  36. Gareth says:

    Ha! Thanks for yiur advice, Harry. It worked.

  37. gareth says:

    Well, here’s an update. The agency who requested exclusivity came back with something along the lines of ‘it’s well written, engaging dialogue, accesible hero…but, it’s not for us’. I was disappointed but not downhearted. I’m think I’m going to sign with another agency next week; they seem to love it. However, there’s one other agent who requested the full MS. If they come back with a yes, I’ll be in a quandary. I’ve had great feedback and feel as though I’m on the right track.

  38. Renee says:

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Cheers!

  39. dangel says:

    Thanks for an informative site. Shame some of your links didn’t work, like the synopsis example.

    I’ve been writing the same novel for 10 years and it’s my pride and joy. Due to my learning difficulties, it’s taken me that long to get so far, but I love it. And my other novels have been read by several over the internet and have been impressed.

    But getting professional advice is hard. In fact, after ten years, I can tell you it’s near enough impossible. Being a polite writer is a curse. You have to do what you can. Raise eyebrows. piss people off. Be impulsive JUST to get seen. Even once you get noticed, there’s no guarantee that your work will make the grade.

    I write because it stops me forgetting how to (part of my learning difficulty) and because it keeps me alive. One day, I hope to spread that joy. If I never stop trying, I suppose I can never fail.

    Thanks again for a good read xxxx

  40. Alice says:

    Hello! I would like to ask you abouth this: I write in English, but I am not British and I am not from the UK, I just live here. Would it be a problem if I want to get published in England? Would an agent want to work with me if he/she considered my book really good but I am not British? And what about copyrights? Will I be protected? Many thanks.

    • Harry says:

      To quickly summarise comments made elsewhere on this site: your nationality doesn’t matter at all. And your copyright will be protected whether you’re British, French, German or Martian. All that matters is that you write a really excellent book.

  41. Lucy says:

    Hi! Could you please help me? I’m a bit confused, since I’ve read on one site that it takes a year to get a response from an agent, what sounds a little frightening. I just would really like to know how much time approximately could it take to sign up with an agent? I know it depends on my work, but still, could you please tell me what do you think about it? Is it possible to wait for a year to get a response? And the other thing I also would love to inquire: after I’ve signed up with an agent, how long will it take my agent to find a publisher? Again, I know it depends, but could you please tell me at least something? Roughly? How much time the whole process of signing up with agent and publisher might take? Thank you very much! Best regards, Lucy.

  42. Lucy says:

    Hi again! I also would like to ask the following: is there a chance to get published if I have around 110 000 words, or do I need to cut it to 80 000? I’m not sure, do they really don’t publish books with word count more than 80 000? Thank you very much!

    • Harry says:

      Easy questions!

      1) How long to get an agent? You should expect a response from a decently competent agent within 2-8 weeks, perhaps a bit more at busy times (Christmas, Frankfurt Book Fair, London Book Fair). It’s OK to enquire at 8 weeks if you’ve not heard anything. If you’ve not heard anything after 10 weeks, then forget it. Either the agent hates your book (possible), has forgotten your book/can’t find it/is too busy (also possible), or is on a one year long drunken bender that involves smoking a lot of opium with Salman Rushdie (highly probable). No point in chasing under any of these scenarios.

      If submissions to 8-10 agents (or, OK, 12-15) doesn’t bring joy, then stop approaching agents. The problem isn’t them, it’s your book – and you need to fix it.

      2) How long to get a publisher? Hmm, not less than 2-3 weeks and that would be FAST. More likely 2-3 months, but if the agent wants some editorial work done and prefers a one-at-at-time pitch to publishers, then it could be a good bit longer. Basically: get an agent, then talk to her (or him) about next steps.

      3) Length. Lucy, m’dear, I don’t know what websites you’ve been looking at, but you should stop looking at them. 110,000 words is perfectly fine (if you’re not writing for kids/YA). My first book was 190,000 words. My third was 160,000. My Fiona Griffiths novels average about 120,000. Anywhere from 75,000 words to about 160,000 is OK for commercial fiction. Just tell a good story at the right length for that story.

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  44. earl lashley says:

    I have a tale I typed, CHANGING LIVES, a 4 part manuscript, I think if published will create controversy.
    I am looking for an agent. How do I go about finding that person?

  45. Harry says:

    Easy! – Just follow the advice in the blog post!

  46. Lucy says:

    Hello again! I’m trying to approach different agents, so far I’ve received several polite rejections, but today I received a reply I can’t really understand. Dear Harry, what does it mean and why does it look so unprofessional and short? I’m quoting: “I’m going to pass, but I appreciate the look.” What did she mean?

  47. Harry says:

    Don’t overinterpret these rejections! It’s basically just a polite no. As for unprofessional and short: (i) you’re not a client and (ii) she’s busy. The professionalism lies in her getting back to you promptly and politely.

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  49. Els Heijnen-Maathuis says:

    Are there agents who specialize in Science Fiction? If yes, how to find them in the UK?
    Thanks for your reply
    Els

    • Harry says:

      The source of all wisdom is Agent Hunter. Few agents specialise in SFF (though there are one or two). You are more likely to find an agent who handles SF as part of a broader portfolio. Best of luck!

  50. New writer says:

    Hi Harry,
    Should I tell an agent or publisher that I have Dyslexia? I currently use a writing aid program to give me all the help I need, but not sure if my work looks bad. I fear that if I tell them in the covering letter they will automatically reject me.

    • Harry says:

      Don’t tell em. If the writing’s OK, it doesn’t matter. If the writing’s not OK, then the agent won’t take you anyway.

      • New writer says:

        Thank you for the prompt reply Harry, I am having a book published at the moment, (not self publishing) and I have a wide genre so thought I would seek an agent, should I wait until the book is out first? Do they favor you if you are already published or look at all submissions equally?

  51. Harry says:

    I don’t really understand your question. If your book is being published, there’s nothing much an agent can do for you: it’s already been sold. If you mean that you want an agent for your continuing career, then go for it. Having a book chugging its way towards publication can only help.

  52. New writer says:

    Well just looked at my comment and now see how stupid I am.What I should have really said was not the following:
    (Should I tell an agent or publisher that I have Dyslexia? I currently use a writing aid program to give me all the help I need, but not sure if my work looks bad. I fear that if I tell them in the covering letter they will automatically reject me.)
    I should have said in the first comment that I am having a book published, I was really asking because I never sent a covering letter with my first MS as find it hard to write a covering letter. I know it looks strange asking for advice, then in the next post I mention a book deal, but having one book published does not mean having more published as it can depend on the subject matter. when I quoted not sure if my work looks bad I was really referring to covering letters that I send to try and get an agent. just thought I would explain so people did not think me mad. Stupid yes

  53. Disobedient characters says:

    Hello there. Just found your amazing site – love it. I have always had a passion for writing. Had some training in freelance journalism some years back, which has proved valuable to me ever since. I had a few news things published in national papers, and have had reviews published in music industry publications. But y’know the saying ‘Earning a living always gets in the way of doing what you really want to do’? I don’t know if it’s a saying, or whether I just said it myself way back. Now I have more time on my hands I am really getting stuck into my passion for writing. I have a few short stories in files but have not got round to submitting them. I end up doing lots of edits in order to not miss even the tiniest mistake. The problem with my ‘now’ writing is that the short story which is on the go at the moment is turning into a book – it just goes on and on. I’ve never attempted to write a book, and I’m just getting to grips with structure. But I have a problem with my two main characters. They will not behave themselves, and won’t do what I tell them to do. In fact, they end up doing things that I hadn’t even thought of yet. Is that a good, or bad thing? For now, I’m just going along with them, but feel I have lost control of their behaviour. One more problem (quickly): My Word 7 is set to English spelling but I keep getting the menacing red squiggle bullying me into using American English. It drives me nuts. I find myself checking the word even when I know it’s correct. Thank you for your time and your great site.

    • Harry says:

      Short stories don’t sell and don’t make careers; novels can do both. So if one of your stories has escaped, then good. Let it go. Just check you have some notion of story arc. It doesn’t need to be much.

      On Word, select the whole document (Ctrl-A), then Review, then Language – that should sort you out.

      Oh, and not missing the tiniest mistake? That’s displacement activity, not writing. But you know that …

  54. Fat Bradley says:

    Hi Harry – just come across the site and procrastinated a whole morning exploring it. Thank you for the great tips, I’m sure I’ll be spending many more a morning here x

  55. Laura says:

    Hi, I am a Frenchie :-)
    I just submitted (well, just isn’t the word – it was 6 weeks ago) my book to 2 Irish agents. I wrote a trilogy in English.
    Do you think an Irish literary agent may find my work so laughable he would think I am not worth getting an answer ? 😀

    Sorry – I am being desperate. Do you think foreign people whose mother-tongue isn’t English hold a chance of being published in Ireland ? :-) My favorite author is Irish.

    Anyway, your summary is very interesting :-)
    Oh and self-publishing is great (if you want to avoid the bother of submitting your work to every agent of the planet).
    Congratulations anyway :-)

    • Harry says:

      Hi Laura – why Ireland? If you want to write in English, then fine – but get a London-based agent, sell your book to a London-based publisher, and the book will be sold in Ireland as well as everywhere else (UK, Aus, NZ, &c). The Irish market is just too small to target directly – and for obvious reasons, Irish agents & publishers do tend to focus their efforts on local talent.

      • Laura says:

        Thanks for your reply !
        Oh, that’s a shame – I am located in France anyway so for me, Ireland or England, it’s pretty much the same :-)
        But you’re right, I’ll give English agents a try as anyway I got no answer (yet) from Irish agents. I just tried Irish agents first after having read a Marian Keyes book where she describes how things work in the Irish publishing world :-)
        Thanks ! :-)

  56. Kelly Martin says:

    Hi there, I was wondering what is your advice for submitting to an agent an already self-published book that is doing pretty well, but needs to get to a larger audience? As you mention a paper manuscript, what about a full book? I also want to forward my second book in the series too.

    • Harry says:

      Just approach agents the same way – but with one book only (and almost always the first in the series.) There are LOADS of examples of agents taking self-pub successes and getting big deals off the back of them – but bear in mind that “pretty well” needs to mean “really pretty damn good”. I’d say that if you’re talking about paid downloads, you need to sell at least 20,000+. If you’re talking about free downloads, the number would be 50,000.

  57. Gemma says:

    Hi, I love this…it’s been so helpful. Thank you.
    I have a few questions though (sorry if the answers are obvious).
    You said: You should not need copyediting if you are not dyslexic
    I am dyslexic but I just wanted to know 1. should I get the query letter and synopsis copy edited also? 2. where should I look to for getting a copy editor and how much do they generally charge (I am currently in New Zealand but I’m a UK Citizen)? and 3. should I mention it when looking for an agent?
    Thanks in advance :)

    • Harry says:

      Good questions. The answers are: (1) Yes. You just can’t afford “silly” mistakes to let you down early on. An agent who knows you can and will make allowances for your dyslexia. Before you get to that stage, just take real care with presentation. (2) You can look for someone locally – just Google it – or we can do copyediting for you. Just send your MS to info@writersworkshop.co.uk and ask for a quote. Unfortunately the job just IS quite expensive, because it’s literally word by word. The cost will depend on the length of your MS and how much work needs to be done. (3) Nope. Just get that first presentation right, then mention it later when you meet. Good luck!

      • Gemma says:

        Thank you for that…bit of a weight off my mind haha😊
        I will definatly be looking at getting a quote once I’ve finished with my own editing.
        Thank you

  58. GRACE PHIRI says:

    Thanks a lot for the information you supplied. I am a published author of educational children’s book titled Once upon the time of times”. Published in 2014. I need to do copyright exchange. Can you help me with that?

  59. Steven Worley says:

    Thanks for a really helpful website.

    It has taken me decades to complete my first novel and now I feel ready to submit it to an agent. I would appreciate some advice on two questions regarding my submission.

    1.The standard advice is to submit 3 chapters of a novel. This not possible in my case as my novel is not in chapters but in six parts ranging from 13 to 139 A4 pages long and the parts vary significantly in their structure.

    There are two protagonists (one female, one male) – the first part of the novel is a first person narrative by the female protagonist, the second, third and fourth parts are a third person narrative from the perspective of the male protagonist and the fifth and sixth parts take the form of a first person narrative alternating between the two protagonists.

    I would like to know if it would be advisable to present excerpts from the novel with the synopsis filling in the gaps in the storyline. This seems the best way to provide a sample of the writing together with an indication of how it all hangs together.

    2. Another piece of standard advice is to indicate a novel’s genre. My novel is definitely a work of literary fiction but beyond that it is difficult to say what genre it belongs to. To pigeon hole it as, for example, a political, feminist or existential novel could create a false impression because it is all those things and much more. Would I be best advised to avoid any mention of genre?

    • Harry says:

      Send the first 5-7,000 words, ending at a natural break. Do NOT just send excerpts from the MS; that will not please agents. And for genre, just say literary fiction, that’s fine. Your covering letter will talk a little more fully about the novel and that’s all you really need anyway. Good luck!

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