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Finding a Literary Agent: Things Nobody Told Me, Part One

Back in early spring of 2014, I set myself a two-part writing goal: I would finish novel revisions by the beginning of summer, and I’d give myself a year to seek a literary agent to represent me. I did finish those revisions by May, and I signed with Jonathan Lyons of Curtis Brown, Ltd., by the end of July. In terms of the revisions, well, it’s on any writer to do her best, but I think I had a pretty damn good strategy for finding an agent, and it might be beneficial to others if I blog about it here on SheWrites. This is the first of what I believe will be three posts on the subject.

In terms of finding a literary agent, of course I worked from the advice that everyone hands out in workshops and blog posts and articles and so forth: to write the best book you possibly can, hone it and revise it and edit it, get feedback on it from others, and copyedit it within an inch of its very existence. I knew to strip out as many typos as me and all my friends and family could find, spell-check the crap out of it and then re-spell-check it for common homophone mistakes (there-their-they’re, anyone?). Use a legible font, format it with double spacing, all that jazz. And sure, I’ve just cited all those saws because of course I’m reiterating them. Of course I did all that.

But what I aim to cover in this series of posts is every other thing I did, because in addition to adhering to all of that writerly advice, I tried a few more tactics that I believe helped me and my query and my novel bubble up out of the slush pile. These were things I didn’t find cited anywhere, things I came up with on my own by watching classmates from grad school land agents and noting what those agents then advised their new clients to do immediately upon signing. I figured, might I preemptively follow those agents’ advice, too, and maybe boost my credibility, improve my chances at attracting representation?

Because I had no connections, no secret “in” to get my work read by anybody. I cold-queried. No agent did anyone a favor in taking a look at my work. And yet I had offers of representation within two months.

Let me note here that I’m not saying, “If you do these things, you’ll get an agent in two months.” You have to write a book that refuses to be put down, and you have to accept that some people, some agents you query, will still put it down. That they may never pick it up in the first place. Because that’s another old saw that’s true as true can be: looking for a literary agent involves a heavy helping of rejection, and if you aren’t able to handle rejection of your work, that’s the first thing you’ll want to work on.

You absolutely have to expect that more than half of the agents you contact will never even respond to you, and that most of the ones who do respond will do so in the negative. It may be a form rejection, or it may be a personalized one; it may be harsh or it may be gentle. But again, this is advice everyone already knows: “Rejection is inevitable.” So, on to what i didn’t know, wasn’t told.

The first thing I set about doing was working on my web presence. I’m not talking here about social media (though I do have a Facebook page and a Twitter account—neither of which have massive numbers of followers yet). I’m talking about my digital footprint as a legitimate-looking author in the eyes of the publishing industry—specifically, setting up Amazon and Goodreads Author Pages.

So, you do need some established publication credits in order to set both of these things up, which in my case meant inclusion of my work in several anthologies and the existence of an academic textbook I authored back in 2007. If you don’t have those kinds of credits, start submitting your short-form work to anthologies! Calls for these sorts of volumes appear in the classifieds of Poets & Writers magazine, both in print and online. Much of my anthologized work came from announcements I found there. Often these were serendipitous—someone was putting together an anthology of works set in the town where I went to college and I just happened to have finished a short essay about undergrad, etc.

Amazon Author Pages

Presuming that you do have publication credits such that you're eligible to set up these author pages, for Amazon, you start out at Author Central. (Well, okay, you start out by registering for an Amazon account, but I guess I'm presuming that everyone who reads has one of these at this point.) The caveat for setting up an Amazon author page is, they will only list books that are currently available for purchase firsthand through So if you have publications but the books are out of print, or only available through non-Amazon-affiliated sellers, they won’t appear on your profile, even if secondhand copies of them appear for sale on from third-party sellers. For me, this means that my Amazon author page currently only lists half the books that I've actually had my work published in.

It takes a while to get approved as a contributor to an anthology as well—you have to send them a request in which you document the exact specs of your contribution (title, pages it appears on, and it seems to help if you can point out that you appear in the TOC they have available as a limited preview, if they have that option on the book). It took about a week and a half from the time I started the process to the time I had my author page approved, live, and full of applicable citations.

Goodreads Author Pages

You need to be a member of Goodreads in order to have an author page over which you have a say in content. Sure, there are established, famous authors whose profiles exist on the site though they exert no control over them, but I prefer the idea that I can curate my profile on there and use it as a place where I may interact with readers—hence, staking a claim to my page.

Setting up your author page on Goodreads is a bit easier than it is on Amazon, in that you can add books to the Goodreads database yourself if they don’t already appear there. This is great if (like me) your publishing history includes things like out-of-print anthologies from ten years ago and POD textbooks. If your books do already appear on Goodreads and you aren’t already listed as a contributor/author/editor, you have to join the Librarians group and request that someone with editing privileges add you as a contributor. Again, it helps to cite your piece’s title and the page numbers, to expedite the process and boost your credibility with the librarian who does the edit. I found that these requests got turned around a lot faster than with Amazon's setup, responses sometimes coming in within hours of my requests.

You have a lot more control over your profile on Goodreads, and a lot more tools at your disposal for customizing it and fleshing it out with relevant info beyond your publications. You can set up a space in which readers can ask you questions, stream your blog to it, link it to your other online social media accounts, and so forth. And I think it probably helps if you’re an active member of Goodreads already, tracking/rating books you read, discussing them and entering giveaways and the like. It gives you more activity on your Author page, making it dynamic instead of static.

I was able to get these two profiles together in about two weeks, start to finish, and it was a fairly simple process, not terribly time-consuming. It gave me URLs to cite in communications with potential agents, and it made me searchable as an author in two of the largest readers' databases online. And it gave me two excellent links to include when putting together my professional author website, which will be the subject of my next post!

Click here for Part Two...

* This article was originally published in November 2014. *

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  • Dorian Burden

    Great info!

  • Very good article, thank you.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for this post, Rachel!  I believe that I have a link to my Amazon Author's profile on my web site, but will have to check about my Goodreads profile.  If not, I'll have to fix that.

  • Sophie, this is the first of three posts. It was getting fairly long for the online attention span, so look for the next two installments, in which i do address exactly those issues!