Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why Finding a Literary Agent is Difficult but Worth It


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

You should have an agent, and if your work is salable, you will have only a moderate amount of trouble finding one. You’ll probably be able to find one even if your work isn’t salable, as long as it shows promise.

Stephen King is right: you should have a literary agent.

If you want to sell your novels to traditional publishers, it’s really, really difficult to do so on your own. There are ways, of course. You can send your work to small presses oftentimes without an agent. You can send your novel to contests, and then be published if you win (one of my novels was once named first runner-up in a novel competition — so close!).

But if you want your book to be pitched to editors at the major publishing houses, you have to find a literary agent. And the way to do that is to query agents a short pitch of your novel. I’ve talked about that process here…

If you learn how to write a fantastic query letter, you’re already ahead of the game. The problem with so many writers is that they spend months and months on their novel, then take half an hour to write a terrible query letter that won’t ever get them a literary agent.

Remember that the whole point of the query letter is for the literary agent to request pages, to get them to actually look at your work. Only then will you get a shot at eventually signing with someone.

What Stephen King isn’t so right about, at least in my opinion? It’s NOT so easy to sign with one.

There’s a lot of competition out there. Agents get hundreds of query letters every week, possibly every day. They can’t say yes to everyone. In fact, if everything doesn’t come together in the way it should, the likely answer from an agent is going to be no.

It took me seven years, ten queried manuscripts, and more than 1000 queries total before I signed with a literary agent, a truly arduous journey I talked about here…

It took me so damn long I thought about giving up. There was a novel that got me 20 full requests from literary agents — twenty! — and then they all said no. If anything cuts you down as a writer, it’s getting to the point where you think you might finally be hitting a milestone after years of hard work, only for it not to happen after all.

Unless you’re really, really lucky, the journey to finding a literary agent is in no way an easy one. Just because you write a good novel and write a good query letter doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily sign with a literary agent. You might get full requests… but no offers. You might not get any full requests at all (that happened to me with three of my queried novels). You might get an offer from an agent… but have to say no if the fit doesn’t seem right. I’ve certainly heard of this happening before.

You might find difficulty searching for a literary agent. The key is to let all the rejections slide off your back and keep going, whether that means sending out more query letters of your current novel or writing a new novel and eventually sending query letters out for that one.

Do what you need to do. Because signing with a literary agent is worth it in the end.

It might take you a few books and a few hundred query letters before you sign with a literary agent. The day it comes is super exciting, and then in the weeks to come you will likely be pushed to your limits as a writer from your literary agent. Once you sign with an agent, success isn’t imminent necessarily. And your book likely won’t go out on submission right away.

Instead you’ll likely need to do a few more revisions with your agent before he or she begins pitching it. The reason for this is that you only get one chance to go out on submission to editors, and you want to make it count. To go out too early is like shooting yourself in the foot. You want your book to be the best it can.

And your agent will be a huge help with all that, which I talked about here…

Once your agent begins pitching your novel, the excitement returns… at least for a little while. But then there’s a lot of waiting involved, again unless you’re super lucky. I did ten drafts of my middle grade novel with my agent over the course of a year. And it’s been out to editors for another year now. There’s been no offer yet.

Every part of the process is difficult. Writing the first draft. Revising the book. Querying agents. Revising with the agent. Waiting on responses from editors.

But it’s also all necessary, and so totally worth it. Whatever part of the process you’re in as a novel writer, keep going, and don’t give up.

Write, revise, study the market, and come up with an awesome query letter. Finding a literary agent is difficult… but always worth it in the end!

One thought on “Why Finding a Literary Agent is Difficult but Worth It

  1. See, this pretty much sums up my fears as I embark on my goal to become a professional writer. Granted, I ignored my desire for that accomplishment for far too long and now I freak out about being “too late”, but blog posts like this make the climb APPEAR manageable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s