Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to Find a Literary Agent

For my post today I’ve brought along a friend of mine, Beth Revis. She has a super fun and very helpful writer’s blog, writing it out, and she has recently signed with a literary agent! Hooray! Go Beth go! So, anyhow, here she is to tell you how she did it-

Hi Beth! Thanks for doing this interview. Could you introduce yourself a little to our readers?

Hi Rebecca! I'm a teacher by day and a writer by night. I've always known I wanted to be a writer, but made the economically unsound decision to supplement writing by teaching as well. I write speculative fiction--fantasy and sci fi--for teens and middle grade, and my favorite authors include CS Lewis, Patricia Wrede, and Robin McKinley.

You’ve just signed with a literary agent to represent your YA science fiction novel. That’s really exciting! I’d like to ask you a few questions about the process of finding a literary agent. First of all, I understand this isn’t the first manuscript you’ve submitted to literary agents. What do you think was different this time that led to your success?

Honestly, I think it was a level of readiness. In the past, I sent my work out before it was ready. I didn't know that at the time--experience teaches us so much--but the work I sent out previously just wasn't ready.

Why did you decide to get a literary agent?

I always knew that I wanted to make writing a career--to do that, I also knew I needed an agent. I'm not a business person. I'm 100% willing to find a business person--an agent--to handle that side of my career. Besides, if I didn't have an agent, my chances at publication would be slashed.

What resources did you use to find literary agents?

I used QueryTracker.net to keep track of my queries and agents I was interested in, and that was my base for all research. It has great tools, and it is much more user-friendly than other websites I've used.
I also subscribed to every writing and publishing blog I could get my hands on. I organized it through my feed reader, and while writing, whenever I got to a blog that mentioned anything relevant--specific books an agent worked on, details about what she was interested in, etc.--I starred it. I did this the entire year while writing my book. When I was ready to query, I just opened my starred folder, and started my work there. Also, I did find that most of my starred feeds, and typically the most helpful articles, came from Casey McCormick's blog, Literary Rambles. She does regular "Agent Spotlight" posts that are some of the most comprehensive, best organized posts on the web.

How many agents did you query?

For my whole writing career? Close to 100. For this specific project? Close to 30.

How long did it take to hear back from them?

It varied. I still haven't heard back from one agent who ecstatically asked for a partial. Some rejections happened within minutes.

What were their responses like?

Again, it varied. But (and I can only say this because Query Tracker kept track of it for me) I did receive about a half-and-half positive/negative response. So, about half rejected right away, about half asked to see something more of my writing.

Can you outline the major steps a writer should take in finding a literary agent?

1. Write a fantastic book
2. Get a fantastic critique group
3. Get fantastic beta readers (I actually used alpha, beta, and gamma readers)
4. Revise--but don't revise blindly. Do what makes your story better, but what still keeps your story your own. I once killed a manuscript by changing too much for everyone else.
5. Submit.
Then, base what you do next on your response. Are you just getting rejections? Then figure out what's wrong--your query, or your manuscript. Revise again. If you're still getting rejection, revise again. Or just write something new. And then repeat the process.

Agents read hundreds of query letters, and reject most of them. What do you think made your submission stand out from the rest?

Luck? Also, the fact that my manuscript was pretty polished. I gathered that one of the number one reasons many authors are rejected is because they query too soon.

How does a writer know when he or she is ready to seek representation?

I knew when every reader I got (and these were fellow writers, not my mom or my husband) told me that my work was ready. I was skeptical even then. But I also knew when every comment that the readers made on suggestions of things to change were things that I knew I didn't want to change, either because it changed the story or it changed my style. When the readers could make no suggestions I was willing to do, I knew it was ready--because I knew at that point I'd either be able to attract an agent as it was, or that book wasn't meant to be published.

Do you have any advice you’d like to give to someone who is looking for a literary agent?

Write more.
Whenever I queried one project, and it was rejected, I'd write something new. And then I'd repeat the whole process. When I first started writing, I thought the first manuscript I wrote would be published for millions of dollars. Then I thought it would be the second. Then the third. It wasn't any of them. I just had to keep writing--and, without realizing it, keep improving at the craft of writing--until I found a winning combination of premise and style.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience with us, Beth! We’ll be watching for your book to come out.

Thank YOU!

Learn more about Beth and her writing by visiting her blog, writing it out, or her website, www.bethrevis.com.


  1. Great interview! You're an inspiration to me Beth. : ) I'm so glad my profiles helped in your agent search.

  2. Excellent, excellent interview! One of the best I've read in a long time!

  3. I love Beth. Her advice is stellar! Thank you for posting this.

  4. This is great advice! I'm writing middle grade science fiction as well, and about to embark and an agent quest.

    Congrats on getting representation! And good luck on the rest of the process!!

  5. Wow, Rebecca, thank you for caring and sharing! It was way nice to get to know Beth a little more!

    Congrats, Beth!

  6. Thank you everyone! And thank you, Rebecca, for interviewing me!!

  7. Beth is one of the nicest -- and smartest -- people I know. She scares me a little. ;-)

    Congrats Beth and great interview!

  8. Beth and I met as contestants in the 2007 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Neither of us made the semi-finals, but when I read Beth's entry I knew it would only be a matter of time. Three cheers to Beth for hanging in there, three more years and three more books, until she finally found her own way to break through!

  9. So glad Beth posted this on her blog. What a great blog! The interview was wonderful!

  10. A great interview, Beth! And great advice!

  11. Great interview! Very fun an informative. And way to go Beth!

  12. Great interview. Thanks Beth for all the helpful advice.

  13. So fun! Thanks for sharing Beth. Can't wait for the book to come out now. I know. I'm very impatient.



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