Querying an Agent
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
So, you have a book! Or, maybe you have a proposal, idea, etc.
There are thousands of agents across the globe who might be a great fit for you as an author. But how do you find the right one? How do you convince an agent to take you on as a client? Do you even need an agent?
For folks outside the publishing industry, agents might seem like an unnecessary step in getting your book published. They take a commission on your sales and may conjure up images of a shady middleman. After working directly with dozens of agents across genres and agencies, I'm confident that is not the case.
What does an agent do?
On a basic level, agents are connectors and advocates. They are also salespeople, therapists, and business managers, but let's stick with the basics.
When you send your work to an agent and they take you on as a client, a few things happen:
1. They might give you editorial feedback on your material. Good agents only feel comfortable "shopping" a manuscript to editors once they are confident that it's in the best shape possible.
2. Once your proposal or manuscript is ready, your agent will put together a submission letter to send to potential editors. This will include a hook about your story or idea, a summary, biographical information about you, the author, and an attachment with your material.
3. After your submission package is ready, your agent will assemble a list of editors and publishing houses that would be a good fit and "go out on submission" with your work.
4. With some luck, the right editor (or multiple editors) will make an offer for your book and your agent becomes a fierce dealmaker, managing the auction and negotiating the best advance and royalties possible.
5. Once the book is sold, your agent acts as your advocate, liaising between you and the editor, publicity staff, and marketing coordinators. They also manage the financial aspects of your book and process any advances and royalties.
Can't I do all of that myself?
While there are good agents and not-so-good agents, a good agent will be well worth their 10% or 15% commission.
Agents are a direct line into the world of publishing. They spend years cultivating a network within the publishing industry to build relationships with publishers, editors, writers, other agents, producers, photographers, and ghostwriters. While you might be able to research editors or publishers to get a general idea of what they're looking for, a good agent knows exactly what deals an editor has made recently and what they need on their list for the upcoming seasons.
If that isn't reason enough, it's also worth noting that agents don't make ANY money until they actually sell your book. So, an agent might like your work, take you on as a client, and then spend months to years working through an edit with you, all at no cost to you. The submission process is lengthy and very time-consuming, but agents don't make a penny until they get you a deal. Therefore, agents have a massive incentive to sell your book to a publisher who will do a great job editing, publicizing, and getting copies of your book into the market.
So how do I get an agent?
Authors find agents in a variety of ways (personal connection, online, through a recommendation) so there's no one right way to do it. To get started, check out these 10 Tips for Finding the Right Agent for You.