When it comes to traditional publishing, finding a literary agent can sometimes feel as impossible as trying to find a unicorn in the wild.
The truth is that if you are hoping to be a traditionally published author by one of the major publishing houses, finding a literary agent is absolutely mandatory. It ultimately can be a long process full of projection.
But – you will want to keep up your hopes because it is possible to find a literary agent – it just takes a lot of perseverance, dedication, and patience.
Here are a few essential things literary agents look for in writers who want to be their clients.
You might think of literary agents as recruiters or talent acquisition professionals. They are out there looking for the best writers that are unrepresented at this point. The agents are looking to give those unrepresented yet highly-talented writers a voice and to get those writers’ words out there in the world.
Now, this doesn’t mean that to have talent, you must have really impressive writing credentials or impressive short story or short fiction awards – or even prior publications in literary journals or traditional magazines.
You don’t need any of that for a literary agent to consider that you have talent.
In truth, the things that literary agents will look at are the sample pages you have attached to the query letter. The literary agents will assess that more than they assess any types of credentials you include in the query letter.
That said if you have indeed won a short story award, mentioning it in your query letter is valuable. But – if you don’t have any credentials worth mentioning, then it doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance.
Literary agents are always interested in finding writers with talent – even – if they don’t have prior professional writing experience.
Another thing that literary agents are looking for in a writer that they are considering accepting and bringing on is a long-term partnership.
The thing is that literary agents don’t really sign you and make an offer of representation with the intention of selling only one book of yours and then calling quits on the entire thing. Literary agents really intend to work with you throughout your entire writing career.
You might view the relationship between a literary agent and an author as an at-will employment where it is understood that when you sign that offer of representation, you two are going to be working together for the foreseeable future.
But – either of you could potentially end that arrangement at any given time. Nonetheless, the intention is to stay together for the foreseeable future, which means that the agent is going to be really interested in what potential future ideas you might have for potential book projects.
So, if the literary agents are quite intrigued by the project that you are pitching them in your query letter, a follow-up conversation that you will likely have is about what else you have in store. The literary agents will want to see where your writing career is going and where you see yourself as a writer headed to ensure that you are a good match in the long run.
The agent will also assess your book’s market fit when deciding whether to work with you. When an agent is reviewing a query letter, the ultimate question that they are asking themselves is whether they can sell your book to an editor at a publishing house.
Writers often don’t like to think about their saleability or whether their book could be making any profit for a publishing house – because the writer is working on their book mainly because this is a story they are compelled to tell.
So, it is natural for writers not to consider the business aspect of writing a book. However, the literary agent will be looking at the book from that business mindset as this is their job at the end of the day.
The job of a literary agent is to sell books to publishing houses. So, when literary agents assess that query, the business aspect will pop up in their minds. With that said, if the literary agent absolutely loves your book – the chances are that they are going to find a way to make it saleable.
On the other hand, if the literary agent doesn’t see the selling point in which they can do business, it will be harder for them to make an offer of representation to you.
This aspect indicates that as the literary agent is reading through the query letter and your sample pages – they will automatically be considering how this project fits into the current publishing and book industry landscape.
Typically, a literary agent will respond to a project that perfectly fits within a well-defined genre as it gives them immediately something to compare your book to. It also gives them an idea of how your book fits into the current marketplace.
With that said, the literary agent will also be looking for a book project that offers some kind of twist on the genre or what is already out there in the market. They don’t only want to see a novel like all other novels on the shelves because how will they sell that to a publisher if the market is already saturated with it?
The literary agent will be looking for something extra – they will need something different about your book that will make a publisher say that the book is different and they want to buy it.
Nonetheless, as a writer, you don’t want to get hung up on this – on what genre your writing project is or how your book can sell as it can really be debilitating for you creatively.
As a writer, you shouldn’t unnecessarily worry about the market fit because the agent is a professional with plenty of knowledge of the publishing landscape, and they can really add that lens of how your project fits into the publishing marketplace.