Research, the publishing industry, and finding a literary agent

October 18, 2013 Writing  One comment

So recently, every time I see someone they ask me what I’ve been up to. Because I can’t say “school” or “work” without elaborating more, I thought I’d just write a post about it to update and inform everyone (as well as have something to point people to, thus getting them to check out my blog. Sneaky, huh?)

I (finally!) finished The Complete Idiots Guide to Getting Published, 5th Edition by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander. It is filled with really good need-to-know information, but completely stressful to read if you have no idea how the publishing industry works.
Disclaimer: most (or all) of the following information is taken from The Complete Idiots Guide to Getting Published, 5th Edition. I do not claim any rights or ownership to the information posted here.

So here’s what I’m doing right now: research. A heck of a lot of research. What have I been researching you ask?

– The publishing industry

– How to find, query, and submit your work to literary agents

– What happens after you get an agent

– What happens when your manuscript goes to an editor

– Publicity and marketing strategies (plus, building your social media platform)

Let me explain a few of these topics in further detail.

The publishing industry

Those three words send panic and fear deep into my heart. You will hear again and again how being a good writer is not enough to succeed in the publishing business these days. You need to know the business. What is selling? What’s on the best-seller list? What kinds of books are particular publisher’s publishing? What’s selling in the bookstores? What’s not? It’s an overwhelming task, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and just like learning any other industry – it takes lots of time and diligence. Also, remember, just focus on getting a handle on the industry, not knowing EVERY single happening. It’s just not possible for one person to know it all.

Some resource’s for learning the pub biz are

– Publisher’s Weekly

– Publisher’s Marketplace

– Poet’s and Writer’s

– Publisher’s Lunch

– Bestseller lists: New York Times, Amazon, Barnes & Noble website, Huffington Post

– Follow publishing houses on Twitter. Seriously, they post stuff ALL THE TIME. Just a cursory glance will give you a lot of insight into what is going on.

How to find, query, and submit to literary agents

If you want to have a successful book that sells, you need a literary agent. If you want to be published by a top publishing house, you need a literary agent to get you in. These agents not only know the publishing industry inside and out, but they are wined-and-dined by editors at top publishing houses and know which editors are looking for what.  Literary agents are also your biggest advocate for your work (they don’t get paid unless you do, and that’s usually 10-15% of royalties).

You can find literary agents to represent your work in the Writer’s Digest (current year) Guide to Literary Agents, Writer’s Digest (current year) Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, through the Association of Author’s Representatives (, at writer’s conferences, or through the Acknowledgement section of books similar to yours.


Next week I plan to start combing through the pages and highlighting all agents/agencies that represent the work I have completed (as well as future works I hope to publish). For me those genres are: contemporary or mainstream fiction, YA, fantasy, and maybe romance. After I have gathered the initial list I will research those agents/agencies further and cut down the list to 20. Then I will pick the top 10 agents/agencies I really want to represent me, query them and pray to the publishing gods that one of them wants to work with me. If none of my top 10 want to work with me, I will move on to the remaining 10 out of my top 20 (this process is not a formula I got from anywhere – I just made it up). I’m planning on the hunting and finding part to take me two to three weeks, but then again I thought it would only take me a week to read the guide to getting published and it took me two and a half. After I have my top 10, I really need to write my synopsis and revise my manuscript with critiques from my beta readers before submitting to them. I also need to get my website up and have a marketing plan developed, so I’m most likely not looking to start sending queries out until January at the latest. I want to be as prepared, informed, educated, and professional as possible when the time comes for me to put my work out there.

In the guide books to literary agents, under each agency listing there are submission guidelines for how to submit your query letter and how much of your work they want (usually the first three chapters). It is important to double check with their websites for correct name spellings and updated submission guidelines.

A shot from WD's 2013 Writer's Market

A shot from WD’s 2013 Writer’s Market


BEFORE YOU QUERY, it is important to have your: 1. completed manuscript (for fiction – nonfiction procedures differ), 2. polished-perfect query, and 3. a completed synopsis.

A manuscript is an unpublished document of your work/story/novel.

A query is like the cover letter that you send in the body of the email you send to literary agents that introduces your work to them. This can make or break if they decide to even look at your work, so it has to be perfect. Good query letters are concise, to the point, and short. Agents get hundreds of submissions each week. They are busy – don’t take up more of their time than necessary. A complete query letter opens with a greeting to the agent by name, the title of your book, what genre, word count, a brief description of the plot (not subplots, similar to what you would find on the back cover of a book), your credentials and relevant biography information (you’ve published before, you have a degree in Creative Writing, etc), and a small closing and salutation. Don’t forget your contact information.

A synopsis is a 1 – 10 page summary of your novel, complete with plot twists, subplots, and spoilers. The submission guidelines will usually tell you how long of a synopsis an agent is looking for (generally two pages, double spaced, is sufficient). The purpose of a synopsis is for the agent to see if your novel has a plot that moves the story along and is going to keep readers reading.

I also suggest following some literary agents on Twitter and read some blogs to get a better understanding of how literary agents work and what they’re looking for. I really like Nathan Bransford’s blog. He is a former literary agent and now an author.

From here, you can submit (per the agents guidelines) your query and sample of your novel. Grab a fifth of your favorite whiskey and wait. Kidding, sort of. But you should start working on your next project because this waiting period can take a long time.

So that’s where I’m at right now, hunting and searching and praying for literary agents that I want to represent me. Next week, I will continue to talk about what happens when you get an agent, what happens when your manuscript is sent to an editor, and the publicity and marketing authors are responsible for.

Disclaimer: most (or all) of the following information is taken from The Complete Idiots Guide to Getting Published, 5th Edition. I do not claim any rights or ownership to the information posted here.

 Want more? Check out the second part to this post here

Until then, farewell, & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity.


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