In a few weeks, I want to contact literary agents with my young adult novel. I wrote this post to wrap my mind around how to go about it, and maybe, help other people in the process.
Literary agents help navigate the business side of publishing a novel.
They will negotiate a stronger contract with the publisher than you could manage by yourself. Agents usually take around a 15% commission on the sale of your book.
Start with five or so agents who might be a good fit. Make sure they’ve represented authors with books similar to yours.
Each agent has specific submissions guidelines. So it’s important to follow his or her instructions on how to submit.
A few things to consider before reaching out.
First, finish your book before contacting agents. Because if they happen to like it, they may ask for a partial or complete manuscript, and it would be a bummer if you had to tell them it’s not ready or do a sloppy job rushing to complete it.
Next, it’s time to write the query letter and synopsis. Some agents just want a query letter from you. Others want a query and a synopsis.
They’ll also ask for some portion of your novel. Some want to see the first chapter, others, the first few paragraphs. Every agent is different.
For the query letter, keep it professional and brief. One page should suffice.
The query should include:
– Why you are reaching out to the agent in particular. Make it specific. Agents want to know you’ve done some homework about who they are. That you’re not simply randomly sending out queries.
– The genre, word count, title.
– The hook -100-200 words of enticing description about your novel – make it a short encapsulation. Think of what the book jacket on your novel would say.
– Here is one way to breakdown the hook:
The protagonist and his/her conflict.
The choices the protagonist has to make.
And what Jane Friedman calls the sizzle.
– End with a short sentence about you and a thank you and closing.
Now for the synopsis. From my reading, people seem to dread writing this, and I can understand why. You have to boil your novel down to 1-2 pages.
The synopsis is designed to introduce the main characters and the story’s three acts. Basically, a summary of what happens in your book, but don’t explain every single detail of the plot because it will seem plodding and mechanical. A synopsis should also include the character’s feelings and emotions to make it more engaging.
Write it in present tense. If the novel is in first person, still use third person. And you should include the ending for the agents so that they have a complete overview of the novel’s arc.
This blog post breaks down a synopsis outline similar to the hero’s journey.
I read that many agents look at the query letter, then the chapters you send and then the synopsis.
If an agent is interested in your work, I was told by someone in the publishing world to ask for 48 hours to think about it. That way, you’re not rushing into this important agreement, because this partnership could potentially be long-term and deserves some thought.
If you get no bites from the first five agents, it might be a sign you need to take a pause and reevaluate your novel. But don’t give up!