Fliss Chester
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Agent hunting tips from novelist Fliss Chester

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor can I guarantee that by following these tips you will land yourself a literary agent, but I hope this guide might shine a light in the murky world of agent hunting.

  • Do you really need an agent? Some very successful authors don’t have them and represent themselves. As traditional publishing wanes and digital waxes, the relationships between authors/agents/publishers blur too. Most digital publishers will take submissions from un-agented authors, and some traditional ones will, too.
  • Still want an agent? They do treat you to lunch and coffee now and again, not to mention take all the pain out of negotiating book and rights deals… so see if any agencies or publishers are hosting a ‘Meet An Agent’ day (albeit via Zoom in these strange times). I went to one at Bloomsbury and although I didn’t meet my current agent, I did meet one who was interested enough in my project to spur me on to finishing it.
  • Twitter may seem like a dinosaur compared to all the other social media platforms, but it’s still BIG in publishing/book world. Not, may I add, among readers, but it’s hugely popular with agents, editors, book bloggers and authors. Check publisher and agent Twitter feeds for any submission requests or just to see who is taking on new authors. There’s no point carefully crafting a cover letter to an agent whose books are full. Literary agencies will also often publicise flash fiction competitions and submission deadlines on Twitter, so get that account up and running.
  • Again, regarding Twitter, don’t be afraid to start interacting (in a non-stalkerish way) with agents, editors and other writers. I don’t think an agent or publisher will take you on if the only thing you have to recommend yourself is several thousand followers, but it doesn’t hurt to have an engaged audience for your work. Twitter more as likely won’t sell your future books (Facebook ads are much better for generating actual sales) but it’s the hub of all things bookish. It’s also a good place to learn the jargon of the publishing world, from WIPs to pantsing…
  • I met my agent through a recommendation from the copy editor I paid to work with me on my manuscript. Call it luck or setting the wheels in motion, but sometimes one leads to the other. Turns out the copyeditor’s friend had just set up her own agency and in a matter of weeks I had a three-book deal with a traditional publisher. If you don’t meet an agent this way, you’ll still have a perfectly polished manuscript you can self-publish or tout round agencies.
  • Obviously research the right agent for you. I think the Writers & Artist’s Yearbook should have the up-to-date list of who represents what genre etc. Also, think about if you want to be a big fish in a small pond – i.e. be with a smaller agency/one-person band who will lavish care on you, or be small fry but with one of the big dogs, who might not check in on you too often, but will scare the bejesus out of editors and publishers (and probably you) and negotiate the hell out of your deals.
  • Think about what you want from this? If it’s a career in writing then your agent will become more important to you as he or she will be able to look into foreign rights and TV deals etc, as well as guiding you through decisions if you’re lucky enough to be fought over by publishers. But if you just want the satisfaction of one book published then maybe look to the digital publishers, who will do Print on Demand (POD) paperback copies too, or publishers such as Unbound, where you can crowd fund your book to publication.
  • It’s not uncommon for authors to self-publish a few books first and then find an agent and traditional publisher – although by then they’re usually fine without either. Don’t forget an agent can take around 15% of all of your future pre-tax earnings so when you sign up, check the contract – if you’re a freelance writer/journalist make sure that the contract with your agent only covers your literary work.

I hope some of these tips help. It can be a long and bumpy road to publication and from there on you’ll face a whole other heap of hurdles to becoming a full-time author. A huge percentage of authors never ‘give up the day job’ but are still regarded as being successful for the sheer fact they are published at all. But, authors and writers are a friendly bunch, so whatever stage you get to, you’ll be in excellent company.

Fliss Chester July 2020

French Escapes Series published by Orion, Fen Churche Mysteries published by Bookouture – represented by Emily Sweet Associates

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