My article on finding an agent appeared in Freelance Market News.
Volume 13, Issue 5 December 2006
Volume 13, Issue 5
Inside: Writers Bureau Competition Winners 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
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
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
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
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
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