My article on finding an agent appeared in Freelance Market News.


Freelance Market








Angela Cox



Volume 13, Issue 5                                               December 2006

Volume 13, Issue 5

Inside: Writers Bureau Competition Winners 2006


ecember 2006





Finding an Agent




By Diane Paul


According to The Bookseller, by 2020 a million new

books will be published every year thanks to the

Internet and self-publishing. By then, the UK will

have more writers, most of them part-timers, than

nurses, miners and soldiers combined. Between

January and July last year, 114,000 new titles were

published and 2,400 new publishers started up.

Many major publishers have closed their doors to

unsolicited manuscripts, preferring to deal through

agents. Agents prefer to deal with people who have a

writing track record and who understand the print


So, how do new writers get an agent? Many have

found it as hard as getting a publisher. Agents' 'slush

piles' are also steadily mounting and out of hundreds

of manuscripts a week, only a handful are chosen. In

most cases, the writing isn't good enough or the

writers aren't sufficiently committed.

But here are some tips that may help:

Living in London and networking are immaterial. The

key to success depends on the quality of your writing,

not on where you live or who you know, although an

introduction from a mutual contact may get your

book read more quickly.

Check out the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook or The

Writer's Handbook for agents who work in the genre in

which your book is written. Make sure they accept

unsolicited manuscripts.

Alternatively, check the acknowledgments in novels,

particularly authors writing in a similar genre, for

their agents' names. Use an Internet search engine for

websites showing agents' client lists and successes.

Ensure the agent is a member of the Association of

Authors' Agents (AAA). This is important, as anyone

can set up as an agent.

Avoid any agent who asks for a fee. The only money

you should pay them is commission for work sold

(around 10-15 per cent). No sales, no fees.

Finish your manuscript before approaching an agent.

If they accept you, they will want the finished work

right away. If you've only written three chapters, they

may change their minds. First drafts aren't acceptable

either. Polish your manuscript, writing as many drafts

as it takes. If you still have any doubts, use an

appraisal service, for an unbiased and professional

assessment on how it could be improved.

Contact more than one agent or send your work out

consecutively. Be honest and tell each agent that you

have contacted others or approached publishers, so

they won't duplicate your efforts.

The covering letter is your CV - your shop window.

This is where you sell your idea, so make it interesting

and no more than one page. Give the title, genre,

theme and word count. The average novel is between

85,000 and 110,000 words. Explain why you think

people would want to read it and add something

about yourself.

Make sure the presentation is perfect and there are no

punctuation or spelling errors. Let someone else

proofread it - typing errors have a way of slipping

through unnoticed.

Send a synopsis, using two pages at most. Keep it

simple, concise and to the point. It should be a précis

of your storyline, containing no fine detail or lengthy

dialogue. It should show your structure and

characters clearly.

Send your letter, synopsis and the first three chapters

(double spaced on one side of the paper only) typed

in Times, Arial or Courier 12pt to the named agent.

Avoid staples, paper clips, fancy binders and shiny

folders that can slide off a desk. Hold the pages

together with an elastic band and put them in the box

that the paper came in; wrap in brown paper or use a

padded envelope.

For non-fiction, send a detailed proposal and the first

chapter. Don't forget to enclose a stamped, addressed

envelope for its return.

Two months is long enough to wait for a response

before contacting them again. If your work is rejected,

tidy up any soiled or crumpled pages and keep

sending it out.

If a publisher accepts your work, you need an agent,

because they will know more about contracts than

you will and are likely to get you a better deal than

the one you've been offered.

A good book that explains how agents work in detail

is From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake of agents

Blake Friedmann (Macmillan 1999).


Diane Paul holds a Master of Arts degree in Radio/TV

Scriptwriting from Salford University and is a full

member of the Society of Authors. She has been Group

Woman's Page Editor of two weekly newspapers, edited

a theatre page and a theatre magazine and writes

features for national newspapers and magazines.


12 | Freelance Market News | December 2006 | Finding An Agent