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Finding a literary agent

... or how to stand out in the slush pile

I’ve started the process of finding a literary agent (otherwise known as querying). The good news is that there’s plenty of advice out there and it’s pretty consistent across the internet. Here’s my consolidated list of DOs and DON’Ts for debut fiction writers:



  • Have a full manuscript ready and polish it as much as possible before sending. Check for typos and spelling mistakes. Read thoroughly, again and again, particularly the first three chapters.


  • Send anything only half-baked where you don’t know how it is going to end, or what the character arcs or themes are.



  • Have a good understanding of what your genre is. Your covering letter needs to indicate where your book would naturally sit in a bookshop.

  • Know which published authors are writing books comparable to yours. Have two or three which you can reference as further positioning for your book.


  • Create a new genre for yourself. If you think you cross genres – pick the most obvious or dominant one.



  • Research your agent list thoroughly. There’s no point sending Science Fiction & Fantasy to an agent who is looking for Historical Fiction, and vice versa. Discover the agents likes and dislikes (when it comes to books), and reference authors whom s/he or their agency represents, but only if relevant.

  • Target only 6-12 agents during your first round of queries. Any feedback you garner can be applied to your next round (if needed!)


  • Cut and paste a boiler plate email to all agents. Tailor your email accordingly and start by making sure their name is correct.

  • Contact agents who are closed for submissions. This is a waste of your time as well as theirs. Some agents are closed for certain periods of the year. If there’s an agent you really like, make a note and revisit another time.



  • Read the submission guidelines carefully and only include what is requested.

  • Write a professional and concise covering (or query) letter. The agent wants to see an intelligent writer who has put a lot of thought into their approach to writing.

  • Prepare a range of synopses: 1 line, 100 words, 300 words and 500 words so you can adapt for each submission. Encapsulate the story from beginning to end and include one thing which is universal and one thing which is unique to your book.


  • Write too much about yourself. Let your book – and your writing – shine more than you.

  • Compare yourself to national book prize winners or bestselling authors. This is your first novel. Be realistic.



  • Be patient. Wait for eight weeks before following up with an agent. And when you do follow up, be polite. If you still don’t hear back, move on.

  • Listen. If you don’t land an agent but they take the time to give you feedback, take it on board positively, regroup and start again.


  • Give up. If you have a very good manuscript, there’s an agent out there for you somewhere.

Wish me luck!


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