Road to Getting Published: Applying to Literary Agencies

So you wrote a novel. You’re pretty happy with the manuscript as it stands, and the next step is to find someone to publish it. But how do you do that? Well today, I’m going to outline the first steps I’m personally taking in seeking to get Oracle published traditionally. Come along, and see what it actually entails!

You don’t (normally) apply to publishing houses directly.

This is a common misconception and something that I personally assumed before going through this process for Mundane Magic. It’s not 100% true – sometimes publishing houses have periods where they take manuscript submissions. There are some publishing houses, I imagine, that only take direct submissions. But 99.9% of the time, you don’t submit to the publishing house.

Instead you submit to a literary agent or agency, seeking representation. If they take you up, they are then the ones who send your manuscript to publishing houses to get you a contract. They also do a huge amount to support you generally, so it’s by no means a wasted step. So how do you submit to them?

Submitting to literary agencies is like job applications – easy to do badly.

Have you been that person who writes one cover letter and sends it in to every job you’re applying for, never customising it bar perhaps (at a push) changing who it’s addressed to? Yeah. I have, and I suspect most people have. Applying to a literary agent or agency is very, very similar. You could do it terribly. There are a lot of requirements each has, and no two places have the same requirements.

But here’s the thing: do it terribly, and you’re wasting both their time and yours. Waste their time, and there’s definitely no way you’re going to get published. No agent is going to look at your application where your cover letter is in an attachment when they asked for it in the body of an email, you gave them the entire manuscript instead of the first 3 chapters, and your synopsis is written like a blurb rather than a complete account of the plot, and go – yeah, this is definitely worth my time reading!

You want your book published? Put the time in. Treat your prospective agents with the respect you want them to show you and your novel.

Research, research, research.

With those admonitions out of the way, it’s time to start researching literary agencies. I created a spreadsheet with room for all of the information I would need, both for submitting and for tracking my submissions once they’re sent. It looks something like this:

This is only the first few rows, but you get the idea. It’s something I can continue to add to as I discover more agencies, if they fit. Which is an incredibly important thing to note…

Only add the places you actually want to apply.

I did not add every agency I found to this spreadsheet. I only added the ones I would want to apply to, who would want to represent me and I would want to be represented by. It goes back to being a waste of peoples’ time. Writing a crime novel? Don’t submit to somewhere that doesn’t take crime novels.

You’ll find that a lot of places want you to direct your submissions to a specific agent. Can’t find one in their roster who suits you and your books? Don’t apply to the agency. And for the love of everything, don’t apply to the wrong ones. Actually read their bio pages and discover what it is they want. Find someone who has the best chance of falling in love with your novel as much as you have.

Be meticulous and comprehensive – you’ll thank yourself later.

It might not seem too much now, but once you’re on your 10th application and everyone has wanted an ever-so-slightly-different format to your sample, or length of synopsis, or whether or not the synopsis is attached as a separate document, or…yeah, you’re going to be super tired of this. So do future exhausted you a favour and make sure all your notes are detailed and accurate now.

It can feel tedious, but remember all the time as you’re going through this – any of these people could be your key. Your key to stepping boldly forward into a new chapter of your future. The as-yet-unknown friend who will see your novel transformed into something better than you ever imagined. Go into it with your heart open and your head focused. Because this might be boring sometimes, but it’s the first step of the rest of your novel’s life.

And it’s incredibly exciting.

If you enjoyed this post and are now curious about the novel I’m submitting, you can join my amazing beta team right now! All you need to do is pledge as little as $1 on Patreon, and you can read the complete beta right this second. As ever, a huge thank you to my Patrons for their support, which enables me to do all of this.