Outsell James Patterson

5 steps to securing a literary agent

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series How to Win at Authoring

Like a deal with the devil, you handed over a considerable chunk of your life and, in return, got a completed book you’re not quite proud of.


Look, there’s no need to be a Debbie Downer about this. You’ve done something few people could ever do, and I don’t just mean calling your mum a dried up old hag and throwing a bucket of KFC at her face.

I mean, you’ve come up with an idea and populated it with a load of characters of your own creation. You’ve spent ages on a plan and tossed it away as you raced through your first draft. You’ve edited that book until it’s perfect, had a load of beta readers tell you the exact opposite, and ignored them completely.

And finally, you have a finished book.

Now, in a perfect world, at this point you’d lean back in your chair, shout ‘finished’ at the top of your lungs, and your MP would come in trailing a load of beautiful people and hand you a massive cheque.

But life is not perfect. So sadly, your journey is not yet over.

With your novel finished, it’s time to face the next dreaded hurdle.

Finding representation.

Literary agents are like estate agents or recruitment agents. You shouldn’t need them but you do. Also, they’re not human.

As such, the normal tricks you use to win people over (usually in the pursuit of a night of meaningless sex that’ll plug the massive hole in your heart, at least for a couple of minutes), will not work.

If you’re going to secure yourself an agent who might help you sell that pile of crap you’ve spent the last year of your life working on, you’re going to need…

5 steps to securing a literary agent

1. Research your prospective agents

Stretch your mind way back to our very first lesson – generating ideas. 

You may remember one of the tactics here involved stalking, hidden cameras, and discovering everything a strangers life. 

Well, a lot of those tactics can be reemployed here, with your prospective agents. 

In fact, do it right and you can sign yourself an agent and get the idea for your next book. 

How cool is that?

The idea here is to learn everything you can about all the agents you are interested. Their favourite food, hobbies and interests, what their wife/husband is like. Etc. Etc. 

So bust out your cameras, get real close to 5-10 agents, get to know them and then…

2. Craft the perfect cover letter

Literus Agenus are a sub-species of the vein Middelus Manegus and as such, flattery will be a huge help in securing your agent.

Of course, the submissions page will say your cover letter needs to talk about your book, and any previous experience and future plans you have. You’ll see this a lot, which is why it’s important to remember Middelus Manegus are also notorious liars.

So, when you sit down to write your cover letter, forget your book, and try something like this:

Dear [Agent name],

[It’s important to personalise your email. See, literary agents are stupid, so if you say their name, they’ll think you must know them personally, and will begin to trust you. Big mistake.]

I am seeking representation for my novel [novel name] which is as close to complete as it’s ever going to get, I guess. I’m quite disappointed with it, if I’m being completely honest, but hey editing is hard and there’s a load of new box sets on Netflix, you feel?

{The problem with liars is they expect everyone else to be like them. So, when you go in on your own piece of work, they’ll assume your lying, and think it must be great. Of course when they read your sample, they’ll know the truth, but we’ll get to that.]

Anyway, I know you’re supposed to send your novel to multiple agents at once but I saw your agent profile and I just knew, straight away, it had to be you.

[Here we go, playing on that vanity]

I wouldn’t call it love, exactly – not in front of my wife, anyway. But I can just tell you’re the best agent to ever exist ever, and I do believe in representation at first email.

[This is good stuff, I’m tearing up. I’d represent myself].

As per your submission guidelines I’ve attached the first three chapters and my synopsis to this email. 

[no need to actually read the submission guidelines. They all say the same thing.]

Thank you for taking the time to read my submissions. Hopefully, you’d to offer me representation without requesting the rest of my book. After all, it would be really awful if some bread crumbs found their way into your husband’s next dinner, given how allergic he is.

[I think this section speaks for itself]

Kind regards and best wishes,

[You’ve just threatened them, try and nullify that a little with some polite words.]

[Your name].

[Please please put your actual name, not “[your name]. That would be super embarrassing.]

3. There are very few good synopsises out there – use one of those

Hey, look, we’re writers okay not, uh, synopsisers.

Truth is writing a good synopsis for your novel (usually in 500 words) is impossible and we’re not in the business of miracles.

Though, if you sell this piece of crap novel that would pretty much be a miracle, am I right?

What you need to do is head over to Wikipedia, find the synopsis of a book that roughly equates to yours, and change the names, places and titles. 

Will the agent notice what’s happened?

Probably not, and if they do, they’re too clever for their own good, and you should use someone else anyway. 

4. Perfect your sample

Writing novels is hard. 

Editing is hard. 

It’s all hard, and time consuming, and why even bother and is it even worth it?

Not really. Not when so few authors are making money and the competition is fiercer than ever. 

What you need is a way to spend as little time as possible on a project, while increasing your chances of getting represented. 

Writing the perfect cover letter and stealing the best synopsis has helped with the latter end of this problem, but what about the former?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. 

A powerful secret. 

So powerful, in fact, you’ll wonder why I didn’t tell you in week one of this course. In the introduction even. 

The answer to that is two fold. 

First, you don’t get to know it until you’ve proved your commitment to the course and the refund period has expired. 

Second, because I only just thought of it and I’m making this up as I go along. 

The secret is… 

People purchase your work on the first couple of chapters. 

What this means is, if you can get your agent to agree to represent you without them reading the whole book, then your golden. 

They’ll go on to sell the book to a publisher on the strength of those first few chapters who will go on to sell it to bookshops on the strength of those first few chapters who will go on to sell it to the consumer on the strength of a sexy cover, a decent blurb and a decent opening line. 

So rattle out any old shit for most the book, but take a good old time perfecting the first few chapters. 

Do that, and you’ll be on the best seller lists before anyone knows you’ve sold them a dud. 

After that, it won’t even matter about the first few chapters. You’re a best selling author. Churn out crap for the rest of your life and collect the pay cheques, you’ve made it. 

5. Chase

Like children, agents tend to be slow, and you should chase them. 

Most will tell you they’ve got an eight week turn around time but that’s no good, is it?

Every day they take to read your book is a day you’ve not selling any books. 

Don’t let them mess you around. 

Obviously, you don’t want to seem desperate, so, after sending your initial query I would leave it a good four or five hours before chasing. 

After that, don’t call more than eight times a day but also never less than three. 

You mustn’t let them forget you so keep calling and, if that doesn’t work, visit. 

A trick I often find works is visiting them in person, maybe during dinner time. 

If they turn you away, no problem, just sit on their porch and cry loudly until they let you in. If they don’t, follow them when they take their kids to school, when they go to work, when they use the toilet. 

You may think you’re above screaming and begging, but don’t be. 

Persistence is the key to any relationship, so don’t give up. 

After all, this is your life their messing with. 

So go get them. 

Series Navigation<< 5 steps to getting the most from your beta readers5 steps to preparing for self-publication >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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