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How to get a literary agent

How to get a literary agent

Need an agent? Of course you do. But finding a literary agent is seldom as simple as writing a book, sending it out, getting accepted and getting a book deal. I mean, it can happen like that (and it did to me), but the usual path is much more tangled and requires some serious decision-making en route.

So – we’ve put together a somewhat tongue-in-cheek flowchart which takes you through the most common outcomes (frustration, rewrites, success, axe-murdering …) and some suggestions of how to navigate your way. The image is large, so you’ll need to click the image to bring it up at full scale.

how to get a literary agent (flowchart)

And one note. The image places real emphasis on rewrites, on editorial help, and even – if push comes to shove – on ditching your first project and starting another. That won’t please those writers who want their first original conception to make it through to publication with a minimum of editorial tampering.

And fair enough. No one sets the rules. Each writer has to choose what is right for them. The thing is though, that good writers – the sort who write memorable books, who attract readers, who build careers – those guys do, almost universally, recognise that a piece of work is almost infinitely changeable and that fresh perspectives bring those little starbursts of illumination that solve problems, add depth, lend clarity. In short: good writers want to improve their work and they’re open to any approach that will help them do that.

Now we’re biased of course. Agent Hunter is the creation of the Writers’ Worshop, an editorial consultancy that offers manuscript feedback and happens to be very, very successful at what it does. So you’d expect us to be in favour of editorial input – and we are. But here’s a little tale of someone who wanted to be a writer and who didn’t get lucky with his very first book. In his own words:

Roger began his first novel on November 4th, 1987 at the age of twenty-two, and did not stop, except for three days when he was going through a divorce from his first wife, until July of 1993. During this time he completed twenty-two novels, most of them in longhand, and accumulated several hundred polite and complimentary rejection letters from many different and varied publishers  [. . .] Roger stopped writing out of sheer frustration and did not start again until August 2001.  [. . .] Between August 2001 and January 2002 he wrote three books, the second of which was called Candlemoth.  This was purchased by Orion and published in 2003.

That man was Roger Ellory who has, in the years since Candlemoth, done reasonably well for himself. In the words of his Wikipedia entry:

In 2003, Ellory’s debut novel Candlemoth was shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger for Best Thriller.This followed with his fourth book City of Lies being shortlisted for the same award in 2007. A Quiet Belief in Angels, his fifth title, was shortlisted for the Barry Award for Best British Crime Fiction 2008.The novel was also shortlisted for the Association 813 Trophy, the 7th Prix Du Polar Europeen Du Point, the Mystery Booksellers of America Dilys Award, the Southern Independent Booksellers’ Award 2010 and the Prix des Libraires Du Quebec Laureat 2009. It went on to win the Inaugural Roman Noir Nouvel Observateur Prize in 2009,the Best Thriller 2009 by New York’s Strand Magazine, along with the Livre De Poche Award and the USA National Indie Excellence Award for Best Mystery,both in 2010. In 2010, A Quiet Vendetta won the Prix Des Libraires Du Quebec Laureat. Additionally, it won the Villenueve les Avignon Literary Festival Readers’ Prize in 2010 and the St. Maur Prix Polar in 2011. A Simple Act of Violence was shortlisted for the Barry Award for Best British Crime Fiction 2009 and won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for 2010.

He has also been an international bestseller on multiple occasions.

Now we’re not really saying that you need to buckle down and write two dozen novels before you hit the big time. What we are saying is that you need to relax a little. You may well get an agent on your very first tilt at the industry – and we very much hope you do. But it’s not all over if things don’t go to plan. Far from it. You’re full of ideas, right? You’re willing to work hard? Take input? If you can answer those questions positively, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t make it all the way. We know literally dozens of published authors who didn’t get there with their first “final” draft of their first book. But they made it in the end, and so will you. Good luck, and happy hunting.

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