What Do Agents Want?

So you’ve written and rewritten your novel. You’ve edited and re-edited your novel.

You’ve run it past a professional editor - if you haven’t, you must!

 

You’ve done everything you can think of to make your novel the best it can be. It’s time to start querying agents. It is a tiring process and will sometimes make you want to blow your brains out.

 

So what exactly does an agent want from you?

It changes with every agent, but there are some standard rules to go by.

TYPESETTING

Make sure your novel is presented well. Unless stated in the agent’s guidelines assume that the agent will want you novel to be typeset as follows:

  • Times New Roman

  • 1.5 Spacing

  • Size 12

  • Default margins

  • Indent every paragraph (including speech)

  • Add page numbers

  • A4 doc

  • Include a title page

FINDING AN AGENT

The first time I started querying, everybody told me what an agent will want, but nobody said where I’d actually find agents.

There are databases you can buy access to which provide details for hundreds of agents - that’s the expensive but quicker route to them.

Another option is simple to use google. Search ‘literary agents’ and make you way through the hundreds of agencies. There are also free databases of agencies to look through.

An even slower, but sometimes very useful, way of finding the agent for you is by finding out the agents of novels that are similar to yours. Don’t pick super famous novels; pick lesser known novels. This is a slow process because the agents of novels aren’t normally publicised.

 

GUIDELINES

Every agents will have their own guidelines. Some want, eg, the 1st 3 chapters in a word documents, titled: ‘[Novel name, author name]’. Others will want the first 30 pages pasted into the email.

Some will want a one page full synopsis, while others will want a 30 words paraphrase.

Make sure to carefully read through the guidelines of every agent you want to query - if you don’t, they will likely ignore your email.

 

RESEARCH

It takes dedicated and a lot of work but you simply have to trawl through every agent bio on each agency website. There will be agents looking for different genres (they’ll tell you what they’re looking for in their bio). Pick one agent per agency that is looking for your genre.

Can’t find one? Try a broader genre. Still stuck? Move on to the next agency.

 

So you’ve now found a good selection of agents. Create a long list of them and all of their individual guidelines. Pick agents number 1 and find out more about them. Is there anything about them that you can use to make the novel’s pitch feel more relatable?

  • Where are they from?

  • What have they worked on before?

  • Do they run a blog?

Bring out the journalist in you!

It would be great if you could link them to your novel somehow. Sometimes it’s great when they don’t realise you did it on purpose.

SIMILAR WORKS

In your query letter, it’s good to mention three or four novels that are similar to your own. This shows the agent that you know a bit about the genre you wish to publish in.

- Don’t pick number one best-sellers

- Research the modern market - don’t use a book over ten years old

- Look into works that the agent has worked with before: include one of these in your list if you can.

Some agents even want you to write a sentence or two on why you think these novels are similar to your own.

SUMMARIES AND BLURBS - What’s the difference?

Summaries are not for the reader. Summaries show the entire plot arc, including your ending! The blurb is your sales pitch. Agents may ask for one of them, or both.

PERSONALITY

Finally, you’ve put together the most edited, detailed, and carefully designed email you’ve ever written.

The last thing to fit in is yourself.

If this agent accepts your work, they are going to be working closely with you for a long period of time. They need a hint of your personality.

Are you friendly? Professional? Laid back?


 

Agents are sent hundreds of queries all the time. They will find any excuse to screen you out of the selection process, so make your query engaging!