Writing a great book is just the first step in your publishing journey. If you want to achieve literary success you have to get connected with the right people. And that means you need to get a book agent. Luckily, finding a book agent isn’t as tough as it used to be thanks to a host of new discovery tools like writing competitions, top-tier writing portfolio sites, and streamlined submissions to literary agencies all over the world.
In our recent Launch Pad Industry Insider series, professional book agent Kiana Nguyen explains the five steps writers should take if they want to find a literary agent. In this hour-long livestream, Kiana shares her best practices for writing your all-important query letter, how to be a writer that agents want to work with, and how she discovers new writers to sign. If you have time, you should watch the whole event (it’s super informative). But if you’re in a hurry to finish your manuscript, here are five key takeaways to help you find a book agent as quickly and easily as possible.
Launch Pad works with the top 100 writers of the competition to get their work ready for the agent world. Kiana Nguyen is a juror for the 2021 Launch Pad Prose Competition.
Launch Pad Insider Series presents a live Q&A with Kiana Nguyen, Book Agent at Donald Maass Literary Agency on HOW TO FIND AND WORK WITH A BOOK AGENT.📚Tuesday Sept 8th at 5pm PST/8pm EST – LIVE!
Posted by Launch Pad on Tuesday, September 8, 2020
How to write a great query letter
There’s no getting around it — writing a query letter is a cornerstone of the literary agent market. In essence, your query letter is your pitch to an agent, so it has to be perfect. And Kiana stresses that a good query letter should not only show what kind of writer you are, but what kind of client you’re going to be. That means you have to put your best foot forward in a way that literary agents expect.
Things that are selling right now really have to stand out, really have to have a great hook and pitch.
Here’s how to write a query letter to a literary agent:
- Keep it “short and precise”
- Tell a little bit about who you are and what your story is about (3-5 sentences is great)
- As far as tone, keep it “professional but friendly”
Kiana also warns against over-prioritizing the theme of the story over the story itself. Focusing too much on the theme can result in an agent “not knowing what the book about” [15:40]. So while the story may be very personal, make sure you give an agent a good sense of your book and show that you can communicate clearly. That will make you a desirable client.
Be consistent with your brand
If you manage to impress an agent with your entry in a writing competition, (congrats!) LINK and get some interest from literary agents, Kiana recommends that you don’t veer too far from what got you to where you are in the first place. As a writer, especially early in your career, you need to be able to build a brand around yourself.
While social media can do some of the heavy lifting in that department, generally the easiest way to build a brand is to master a particular genre or style of story. This means that your agent can rely on your ability to reliably produce great stories in succession and build off the success of your growing reputation. When you’re more established the time may be right to explore other options, but Kiana warns against going off-brand too quickly.
Be affable, professional, and a pleasure to work with
Every writer/agent relationship is slightly different. Sometimes they’re on the phone to each other every day, sometimes it’s one email a month. Either way, the key factor in a writer/agent relationship is the health of the relationship itself.
Personality can be a big thing. People can have such different working styles.
No one wants to work with someone unwilling to compromise or who has an unpleasant personality. It will serve you far better to leave any notions of the “esoteric writer” at the door and first and foremost be cordial and affable. In general, this will lead to smoother relationships across the board.
Pro Tip: It may be worth re-reading that query letter one more time and making sure that you come off as someone who’s easy to work with, not the opposite.
Search far and wide for the right agent
It can be incredibly exciting to have an agent if you’ve never had one before. But it’s important that sign with a book agent that you gel with and believe in as opposed to the first agent who comes knocking. If an agent isn’t a good fit for your long-term goals, maybe you should keep looking for another agent.
But how do you find these agents? Kiana recommends reading through the annals of Writer’s Digest, investigating the Manuscript Wish List, or simply trawling through Twitter for those agents that seem like they’d be a good fit.
Diversify your talents
While it is a good idea to stay consistent with the genre of your query letter, it may be a great help if you have an aptitude for writing in mediums outside of prose. For example, Kiana points to a knowledge of screenwriting as a sign that you’re a writer willing to adapt to whatever is needed of you.
It makes sense if you think about it. While an agent could sign a client that is able to write a great prose novel, wouldn’t it be awesome if the same client could also write screenplays and graphic novels? Having a wider skillset makes it more likely for you to find a job later down the line.
Learn from the pros
Finding the right literary agent is one of the most important steps in your professional writing career. Learn how to write a great query letter, present your project in the best possible light, and learn how to work with literary agents to prolong your professional career.
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