Reader Question: How do I find a Christian literary agent? And what does an agent do?
If you’ve read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction*, you’ll have seen that many of the big name Christian publishers state that they only accept manuscripts submitted from recognized literary agents. Unsolicited paper submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread). Electronic submissions go to the virtual trash can.
*If you haven’t read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, you can get a free copy by signing up for my mailing list using the signup box on the right.
What does a Literary Agent Do?
The role of a literary agent is varied. While they are best-known for their role in selling manuscripts to publishers, they have other responsibilities:
- Provides structural and developmental editing advice to clients in regard to new projects.
- Line edits and copyedits manuscripts prior to submission to publishers.
- Submits manuscripts to appropriate publishers and follow up as appropriate.
- Negotiates publishing contracts on behalf of clients
- Guides clients through the publishing process as required.
- Work with clients to develop and implement marketing plans.
- Offers career coaching for authors, determining the direction for their writing career and taking industry changes into account.
- Acts as liaison between the author and the publisher on any and all issues.
- Reviews royalty statements for accuracy and consistency with the publishing contract, and follows up any discrepancies with the publisher.
- Recruit new authors and agrees terms of working as per the agency contract.
Not all agents will undertake all these tasks, which should be no surprise. Agents have strengths and weaknesses, and you need to ensure you are getting the best possible advice. That might well mean paying a professional for additional support (e.g. an editor, or a intellectual property attorney).
How do you find a Christian literary agent?
Literary agents receive far more requests for representation than have time to accept, so they are selective in choosing new authors to represent. A reputable literary agent is unlikely to take on a writer who needs a substantial amount of coaching and nurturing, as this work is unpaid.
Agents are paid a percentage of advances and royalties on projects sold, usually 15%. This means agents often turn down authors or projects that might sell in favour of authors or projects they know they can sell. After all, they receive no payment for merely having an author on their books. Agents also need to balance their desire to take on new authors with their ongoing commitments to their established authors.
Check out Michael Hyatt’s List
Michael Hyatt has a list of literary agents available from his website (click here). You’ll have to sign up to his mailing list to receive it, but you can unsubscribe. The list isn’t completely up to date, but will provide you with a solid starting point.
Check out Books in Your Genre
You can also find a potential agent by checking the copyright and acknowledgements pages of your favourite books—many publishers include the agent’s name on the copyright page, and most authors thank their agent on the acknowledgements page.
Check out Books from Your Target Publishers
If your ultimate goal is to be published by Bethany House, you want an agent who has previously sold projects to Bethany House, and has a good working relationship with the acquisitions editors at Bethany House. You don’t want an agent who has only sold to small publishers who aren’t represented in the major Christian book stores, to digital-first or digital-only publishers, or to publishers who don’t require an agent. So check out new books from your dream publisher, and see which agents made those sales.
Check out Christian Writing Conferences
Another way to find potential agents is to review the list of agents who attend prominent Christian Writer’s Conferences each year. Many conferences feature agents as speakers, panel members, or offering agent appointments. Take note of the agent’s name, and their agency (if stated). The Seekerville archive has a list of Christian Writing Conferences (although the list is no longer being updated).
I’ve Created a List. Now What?
Once you’ve done your research and identified some potential agents, how do you go about getting their attention?
Interact on their Blog
Most reputable literary agents have some form of online presence, such as a website, so the next step is to Google the agent and/or their agency. Good agent websites contain a lot of useful information:
- The names of the authors they represent.
- The names of their agents (most agencies employ a group of agents, and they can range from new graduates to agents with decades of publishing experience).
- Whether the agency or specific agents are open to new submissions, and their particular areas of interest.
- How to submit to each agent. Some prefer email, others only accept snail mail.
- The information the agent wants in the submission. This may be a query letter, proposal, or (less likely) full manuscript.
- A blog, which will include information on how to write a query letter or proposal.
Follow and read the agent’s blog, and when you feel comfortable, comment on the posts. This will help you determine which agents or agencies could be a good fit for your books, and will give you an indication of the personalities of the individual agent: is this a person you want working for you?
Enter Christian Writing Contests
Writing organisations such as American Christian Fiction Writers conducts regular contests for unpublished authors. In most major contests, the final round entries will be read and judged by an agent or acquisitions editor, which can lead to an offer for agent representation or the offer of a publishing contract.
Attend a Christian Writing Conference
Meeting a prospective agent at a conference can be good way to get a ‘soft’ introduction so you aren’t approaching them cold. Many conferences offer formal pitch appointments with agents. Some agents will request submissions after getting to know you at a conference, whether through a formal appointment or an informal conversation over a meal.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.