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Thirteen Steps to Landing an Agent

The Book Doctors send out a semi-regular e-newsletter. Earlier this month, David Henry Sterry offered a “baker’s dozen” pointers to finding a literary agent.

To subscribe to their e-mail list, which we recommend, click here. Now, without further ado:

1. Research. “There is a fine line between research and stalking.” Read books similar to yours. Know who the heavy hitters are in your genre. Become an “expert in the section of the bookstore where your book is going to live.”

2. Find Books Similar to Yours. Talk to booksellers at your local indy. Tell them what you’re working on. What other books out there are like yours? Read the acknowledgements section in the backs of books that are like yours—what agents are being thanked?

3. Make a List and Create an Environment of Competition for Your Book. “As soon as anyone expresses interest, you immediately e-mail everyone else on your list.” No one wants to be the agent who passes on The Next Big Thing.

4. Know Thy Agent-to-Be. Tailor each query to the agent you’re writing to. Don’t send a romance novel to someone who doesn’t represent romance. You’d think this would be so obvious it wouldn’t need to be stated, but…it happens all the time.

5. Make it Easy for an Agent to Say Yes. Agents are “inundated and overwhelmed, mostly overworked and underpaid. They’ve got fifty submissions that arrived in their inbox today, they had fifty yesterday, and will have fifty tomorrow. It’s relentless.” So help them say “yes.” Send a clean manuscript. Follow their guidelines. Don’t overpromise. Be professional.

6. Don’t Submit Your Book Until It’s Fully Polished. See #5.

7. Develop a Coping Mechanism for Rejection. David subscribes to the Godfather model: It’s never personal; it’s “always business.”

8. Keep Up-to-Date. Shelf Awareness, Publishers Marketplace, agent blogs (and Twitter feeds)…all great places to stay on top of the publishing industry, to see who’s signing who and for how much.

Panel.Agents and Editors 3
“Agents & Editors” panel, 2014 Fall Conference: © Sylvia Freeman

9. Go to Writers Conferences, Seminars and Workshops. Something like the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Fall Conference perhaps? November 20-22 in Asheville. Registration opens around September 1.

10. Join a Writers Group. Looking for one near you? Click here (members only).

11. Attend Readings at Bookstores and Libraries. Every Thursday we send out the Member Readings e-blast, which lists readings and events by our members. Not a subscriber? Click here.

12. Write a Killer Query. “Three paragraphs. The first is always customized. Why should this agent be your agent? The second paragraph is your pitch. The third paragraph is a short bio.”

13. Persevere and Follow Up. “Keep submitting until they say yes or the agent tells you to go to hell. [David] tries to have the Zen attitude that it doesn’t matter whether they say yes or no. Because when someone says no, it’s like you bought another lottery ticket. You have increased your chances of winning.”

The Book Doctors are Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. They are dedicated to helping writers everywhere get their books published. Successfully. Between them, they have a quarter of a century’s worth of experience turning talented writers into published authors. Their services include:

  • Book proposal development
  • Manuscript review/Developmental editing
  • Line editing
  • Coaching, midwiving and general emotional/mental/spiritual support
  • Self-publishing Services
  • Ghostwriting

Visit their website at