What It's Like To Work With A Literary Agent


So you may have heard, but we are now doing monthly Facebook live sessions in The Write Place

For those who don’t know The Write Place is our community of writers.  Once a month I will be going live to discuss both writing and publishing. Leave a comment on this blog post if you have a suggestion for what I should cover next!

In the first of these sessions, we talked about what it is like to work with an agent. You can check out what I shared below!

What is a literary agent and why would you want one?

There are two ways you can get published. I go into detail on these separate ways in this blog post, but for a quick refresher:

·     Self-publishing: this is where you’ll do the editing, the marketing, and everything for the book yourself; a lot of time that happens in the form of eBooks. 

·     Traditional publishing: this is where you’ll work with a publishing house who will help you edit, market, and sell your book; these are the books you are going to see if you walk into like a Barnes & Noble. 

To get traditionally published, you need to get a literary agent. You’re able to do this after your story is written and revised and you send it to them. This can be both a great process and a frustrating process. 

The great thing about this process is it doesn't matter who you are, where you live, how old you are, or if English is your first language. You can be from anywhere in the world and can query a literary agentand say, “This is my book. I think it's something you'll like.” 

The great thing is all those queries are readwhereas in so many other fields you have to know someone. In publishing you just have to be able to do is search for the right email and send it.

The frustrating thing is because everything is read, it’s very slow process.It can take months to hear back from a literary agent whether they’re interested in your work or not.

Is working with an agent a collaborative process?

It is a collaboration between the agent and the author!

Your agent is your champion, this is the person who's going to take your book and go to these publishing houses and fight for someone who's going to love it as much as you do!

Some agents will give feedback on the book you written, some agents do not give feedback at all.  This is not a one-size-fits-all process. All authors are different and all agents are different, so you have to figure out what works best for you.

Specifically, with Children of Blood and Bone, the agents I ended up choosing (Hillary Jacobson and Alexandra Machinist! Query them)  thought my manuscript needed quite a few revisions.

They gave me their thoughts and their feedback, and we worked closely together as I revied my story. After each revision, they would read the book, give me more notes, and then I would revise against. This hamster wheel kept spinning until they thought it was ready to be sold to a publishing house.

I think something that scares people about getting an agent is that they think they're going to lose complete control andthat's not what happens when you get an agent

The best agent-author relationships are partnerships, not dictatorships!

How many revisions does the book go through when an agent is working on it? 

Again,this dependent on each individual author, agent, and what each individual book needs. 

For my agents and I, we went through about three really comprehensive new drafts of the book before it went out to publishers. Some people don’t need to do comprehensive revisions because their books are already to go. 

If you are someone who wants to pursue traditional publishing the first thing you’re going to do is write your story. You have to write the whole book, which can be challenging but you will then have to reviseit because you don’t want to give them a messy draft. 

It can’t be messy because they get hundreds of these a day so you want them to see your best work.

It doesn’t have to be perfect but it does have to be your best work so that they can measure your potential and know whether you’d work well together.

How many agents did you send your book to?

With my first book I sent it to about sixty agents, I got close on a couple of them but all of them were rejections.  

I’m glad they rejected it because that book wasn’t right for today’s settings.  They were able to give me a lot of good feedback, which allowed me to do better in Children of Blood and Bone.

That’s another great thing about this process. Every single time you send a query you can learn from it, and if you’re lucky enough to get feedback, you can do better the next time!

It’s not necessarily about getting an agent right away. It’s about learning as much as you can because of that your writing is going to be better.  

What is a query letter?

The query is like a summary of your book and when you send it to those agents, they get like an introduction to you and maybe 5-10 pages of your book if their guidelines request it!

Think of the query letter as a resume for your book.  For the most part a query letter should consist of:

·     Start with something that let the agent know that you've done your research, mentioning specifically that you saw their agency wish list, where that agent said they wanted a story in “X” genre or “X” setting.

·     A short pitch: Before you go into the full summary of your book, you want to give them a taste. For example, “CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE could be pitched as Black Pantherwith magic.”

·     The second-third paragraph is where you summarize your book.This should read like the summaries you find on the back covers of books.

·     Then you get to say something about you! Some people become nervous about the biography because they haven’t published a book, SPOILER ALERT! Agents know you haven’t published a book because use you’re querying them. 

·     At the very end you would state that you are sending the first 5-10 pagesas in accordance with their guidelines.  

Any advice for pitching at Pitch Wars?

I actually have a whole video on that! 

Pitch Warsis fantastic and everyone should enter, because it will push you to have your best, most polished manuscript available.  

My other two pieces of advice are:

Enter every competition that Pitch Wars offers because you will get a lot of feedback.  

For example, during a competition someone told me that Ashley Hearn would be amazing for my book, this was great because she was already on my shortlist to submit to, so I made sure to send a query letter to her.  

Talk to other writers! Don’t be afraid to make new friends or participate, you gain valuable partners and friends that understand and can give you a sounding board.  Because of pitch wars I have two new best friends and one of them is getting me through Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Okay that’s it for now! Hope this helps and feel free to take a look around the writing tip library for more great writing tips!

Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi is the #1 NYT and International Best-Selling author of book and upcoming movie CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE.