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Sage Advice: 8 Literary Agents Share Their Best Tips for Getting Published Today

There wasn’t enough space in print to include every pearl of wisdom our literary agents shared in this year’s annual agent round-up. Find useful advice for getting published in this online feature.

There wasn’t enough space in print to include every pearl of wisdom our literary agents shared in this year’s annual agent round-up. Find useful advice for getting published in this online feature, and pick up a copy of the October 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest to read submission guidelines for 35 agents seeking new writers now!

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Literary Agent Advice: 8 Tips for Getting Published

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Beth Campbell, Bookends Literary

Write what you love and are passionate about, but don’t get so attached to any given project that you a) have trouble taking editorial direction or b) can’t let it go. Loving and believing in your work will get you through the slog of submissions and rejections, but you should never lose the ability to kill your darlings. Chances are high that editors and agents will require changes in the manuscript—and some might be quite large. Be OK with editing as you go. If, for example, you get a number of rejections that critique the same issue, address it before submitting elsewhere.

That said, don’t get into over-editing. It’s very possible that the project you love won’t sell, and changing and resending it a million times won’t change that. Don’t get so stuck that you’re reluctant to work on something new. Writing a book is such a learning process. Submitting and editing that book is another learning process. Oftentimes it’s easier to take those lessons and growth and apply them to a new story, rather than try and force them on the old.

For some more basic, but still important advice:

  • Make sure you have a beta reader—never let the first person reading the manuscript be an editor or agent.
  • Do your research. Publishing Twitter is alive, well, and full of information. #MSWL is a key hashtag. Also check out publisher and agent websites.
  • Submit in small groups. Five to 10 people is a good sweet spot. As they get back to you, you may get a sense of what is and is not working about your project and can adjust accordingly. If you burn all of your submissions at once, that option is closed to you.
  • If you get an offer of representation or publication (congratulations!), be sure to notify the agents and editors who are still considering the manuscript. They will want a chance to read and throw their hat into the ring. One to two weeks is a standard deadline to give them as a respond-by.
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Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

When it comes time to query agents, query with your seventh or eighth draft. Find critique partners who first coach you to be better and stronger, and then who cheer you on.

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Amanda Annis, Trident Media Group

Every Friday afternoon, I pour myself a cup of tea and read my queries. I sift through dozens (and dozens) of emails detailing the many plots and characters and great ideas authors have to offer. It’s as if my inbox is a bookstore of potential, delivered directly to me. Capturing that experience—of reading jacket copy in a bookstore—is exactly what makes a great pitch. It’s a summary that makes you want to read the first page.

To get the rhythm of a great query, read the jacket or back cover copy of your own favorite books and your comparative titles. Notice the particular formulas, the techniques of summarizing plot and introducing charters, or addressing the promises of the book. These are the same styles that make a great pitch. It also demonstrates that you understand your genre and are well-versed in the publishing landscape.

This and a few other tips are the tools you need to write a successful query: Be polite, concise and limit the gimmicks. Seek professional relationships. Research agents’ expertise. Follow each agent’s submissions instructions to the letter. Evoke your personal style; don’t copy and paste form letters from the internet. And (try) not to take rejection (too) personally. Truly, you want an agent and future publisher to be enthusiastic about your work; it’s worth searching for.

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Jess Dallow, Brower Literary & Management

It sounds so basic, but keep writing and keep trying. Publishing is such a subjective industry. There are things I don’t connect to that other agents will. Or something I love that another agent might have passed on. We all love different things, so keep working to make it happen.

When you’re ready to go out on submission, research the agents you’re sending to. You want to be sure that this is the genre they represent. Most agencies should have a website which states what everyone is looking for and with their submission instructions.

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Lori Galvin, Aevitas Creative Management

Create a website with your bio, links to any published work, your social media handles and contact information. (I often reach out to writers and am often surprised by the amount of time I have to spend looking for contact information.)

[Don't miss your chance to participate in our annual PITCH SLAM at the Writer's Digest Conference. There's still time to register—join us August 10-12, 2018!]

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Saritza Hernandez, Corvisiero Literary Agency

Never stop learning, and that includes learning about your genre/market. Read often and read in the genre you’re writing. Some authors don’t like to read books in their genre while they’re drafting their work for fear of having it bleed into their writing, but if you’re not a fan of the genre you’re writing in, it’s going to show in your writing.

Write every day. Set time aside every day to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), even if it’s only one hour every day. Avoid distractions during that time and just get in the practice of making writing part of your every day task list.

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Hannah Mann, Writers House

Take your time; finish your manuscript and make it as good as it can be before querying.

Characters should have flaws—lots of them—just like we do! I love voices that read as authentically and transparently as an email to a best friend would.

[11 Authors Discuss the Road to Getting a Literary Agent]

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Ann Leslie Tuttle, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret

  • Know the genre you are targeting. Be as well read as possible to know what makes your story stand out and be marketable as well.
  • Follow the agency’s submission guidelines.
  • Write a pithy blurb providing a topline overview of your project in your query letter; do not try to pitch a short synopsis.
  • Provide relevant details about you as a writer that demonstrate your commitment and the level of professionalism and expertise you will bring.
  • Have the full manuscript ready to submit if you receive a request for a complete.
  • If you receive a rejection, please remember that you do not want an agent who is not passionate about your writing, and handle the pass professionally.
  • Start working on your social media platform to build a following of potential readers.

Read full profiles of the agents in this article—and 29 others—in the “Search Party” feature in the October 2018 Writer’s Digest. And subscribe to get WD all year long.

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