What are the odds of getting a literary agent? How can you increase your chances of getting a literary agent? And, is there anything different you should do because you’re the author of a certain type of book? Fiction, nonfiction, or children’s book?
This article answers those questions.
The Chances of Getting a Literary Agent
Your odds of getting a literary agent are 1 in 6,000.
That does NOT mean 1 out of every 6,000 authors who try to get an agent will make it, and the other 5,999 will fail. It means the best book agents can get as many as 1,500 queries per month, and they sometimes only offer to represent approximately 6 new clients per year. Some writer representatives take on more. But, for this example, let’s use that math. If a literary agent only offers to represent 6 new writers per year, that’s one every two months. Or, the odds of getting a literary agent in that scenario are 1 in 3,000.
But, let’s assume, in this example, the chances of getting a literary agent are less. Because we’re talking about one of the most powerful or famous literary agents here. In other words, 3 of the 6 authors that the most successful literary agents offer to represent each year are already published with traditional publishers. Those authors might even already have a bestseller or two—or they might have a very strong author platform.
That’s why your chances of getting a literary agent are 1 in 6,000.
Now, let’s talk about how to increase your chances.
12 Ways to Increase the Odds of Getting a Literary Agent
Please note: You don’t need everything listed below to get a literary agent.
Most authors who get literary agents don’t have all twelve of the items on this list. But, the more you have, the greater your odds of getting a literary agent will be. Please note, also, I’ve listed the ways to improve your chances of getting a literary agent, loosely, in order from easiest to hardest.
How many do you have?
1. The appropriate word count for your genre
There’s an expected word count range for all book genres. And, don’t be fooled by the fact that some successful books by authors writing for your genre have had books published that are very short or very long. Agents and publishers have different expectations for new authors. It’s important you know the expected word-count range for a first-time author of your genre. If you’re not sure how long your book should be, look at my book genres website with our popular Book Genre Finder. If you want or need more information after that, Google it.
Want to increase your odds of getting a literary agent? Tell the literary agents you’re pitching, in your query letter, how many words your book is. If you don’t, some agents will reject your book on that basis. And, if you tell agents how long your book is and it’s too short or too long, they might reject the book for that reason as well—and they might not say that’s why they rejected it. Submitting queries is time-consuming. Make sure your book is the right word count before you go through the trouble of sending queries out.
2. Knowledge of genre norms
In addition to having the right word count for your type of book, you should be aware of other expected norms for your genre. Every book category has conventions (not the type you attend, but the kind you need to incorporate in your writing!). And, though your work should be unique, it should meet reader expectations. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a self-help book, thriller, or children’s picture book.
For example, a mystery novel should obviously be solved near the end of the book, not in the middle. And (a bit less obvious) the mystery should be solved due to the efforts of a lot of hard work on behalf of the main character trying to solve the mystery—not a minor character or some random coincidence. Those are pretty obvious examples. But, each genre also has not-so-obvious norms and conventions you should be aware of.
Again, look at my book genres website as a starting point. Then, if you want or need more information after that, Google about your genre. For example: “Tips for writing mystery novels,” “Tips for writing picture books,” etc.
3. Target the right agents
Many authors I connect with during an Introductory Coaching Call realize during our time together they’ve been misclassifying their books. In other words, calling it something it’s not.
That’s a problem for two reasons:
- If you think your book is one thing and it’s something else, even if you’re only slightly off, could lead to you querying the wrong agents—those who won’t be interested instead of those who might be, and
- If you think your book is one thing and it’s something else, it could cause any agents who request your material to ultimately reject it because what you said in your query wasn’t accurate, and the manuscript they got wasn’t what they expected.
4. Knowledge of your competition
If you’re not knowledgeable about books like yours, your book is only going to be 25-75% as good as it could be. You’re also going to be less effective pitching your book.
It doesn’t matter how creative, Imaginative, naturally gifted, or disciplined a writer you are. Becoming more aware of comparable titles—what they are and how your book is similar and different—will cause you to tweak something, in your book OR your pitch. At least it should. And don’t think or say there’s nothing like your book out there.
There’s always something. Maybe not complete clones of your work. At least, let’s hope not. But there are always some titles that share some similarities in regard to an author’s content, story, themes, structure, or style. Look on Google and Amazon. Consider talking to a librarian or staff at your local bookstore. Just don’t hide from the fact that you have competition.
Studying another authors’ work might make you uncomfortable, but it won’t make you weak. It will make you and your writing and your pitch materials stronger.
At first, you’ll likely feel less original (or completely unoriginal). But, when the dust settles, you’ll be more aware of the norms for your genre (see Tip #2 above). You’ also be more aware of what’s unique and special in your writing, you’ll be able to start doing more things that are unique and special, and you’ll be better explaining it.
5. Clean copy
Your manuscript doesn’t need to be completely free of formatting, typographical, and other mistakes when you submit it to agents—but it should be almost perfect. Read these two article about Typos and Grammar for Literary Agents and Book Editors FAQ.
6. Great storytelling (applies to authors of all genres)
Most authors begin writing “organically” when they start writing. In other words, simply following their instincts and imagination. Writing books from the heart, mind, or gut can produce good quality writing. Even very good writing. But writing from that place alone seldom produces great writing.
To be a great writer, especially consistently from book to book, you need to be more than just creative or inspired. You need to be conscious of the structure, mechanics, and flow of what makes a good book—and/or a good book in your genre. What’s the best way to organize everything? What’s the best way to start and end your book? What’s the best way to organize everything in the middle? What ingredients need to be baked into your unique literary cake? Which ingredients should be left out? How much of each ingredient should end up in the oven?
It doesn’t matter if you think your book is good—or if your spouse, friends, family, or employees think your book is good. The eyes of a writers’ group, beta reader(s), a professional editor, or a coach or consultant such as myself will inevitably see things you can do to increase your odds of getting a literary agent. Things that will make your writing more enjoyable, effective, and marketable.
7. Great style (applies to authors of all genres)
Some successful authors—including famous authors such as John Grisham—are brilliant at capturing and holding their readers’ attention. They’re wonderful storytellers, gifted at sucking readers into their books with great content that makes it hard for readers to stop reading. I think of this as great “storytelling” (same thing applies for great nonfiction authors who aren’t necessarily telling “stories”).
Style is another thing entirely.
At least, in my book.
By “style,” I mean having an interesting or attractive “voice” or manner of writing that’s just as interesting and appealing as the content, story, or substance of a book. For example, as an author you might read articles about publishing on two different websites or blogs. Both websites or blogs might have valuable content that inspires you and shares valuable information that makes you knowledgeable about the publishing industry.
But you read one of the websites or blogs more.
And you enjoy it more.
Maybe because the author of that website or blog has a sense of humor, seems to really enjoy writing, seems to really like and enjoy connecting with his readers, and/or shares personal details about his life once in a while.
Of course, in most situations and scenarios in life and literature, substance is more important than style. But, why not strive to give your readers both?
8. A great hook
Most people think of the “hook” of a book as a short and snappy premise and/or description—let’s say a sentence or two—that’s both interesting and unique.
Not every book is going to be based on a “high-concept” premise that sounds extremely original (click here to read my article about How to Write a High-Concept Book if you haven’t already seen it). But, every book can be pitched with a clever and concise hook or short description that conveys what a book is about, quickly, in a way that sounds interesting.
It just takes some thought, practice, and—if you open yourself up to the possibility—the benefit of being able to talk it through with someone: a writers’ group, beta reader(s), a professional editor, or a coach or consultant such as myself.
9. A strong platform
The requirements for the size of an author’s profile or platform vary by book genre—and literary agent. Think of platform as two main things:
- Your credibility as a writer (in other words, what can you say to literary agents to make them believe you’re a good writer), and
- Your ability to get exposure and sell books (in other words, what evidence or proof do you have to make literary agents believe you might be able to do that).
Most literary agents don’t expect every author who queries them to be famous or have 3 million followers on social media. However, it can be easier to get an agent if your platform is stronger.
If you’re writing fiction (including children’s books), there isn’t a high expectation for the above. But, if you’re writing nonfiction (including memoir), who you are can be 25-50% of a literary agent’s decision (and a publisher’s decision) to work with you.
Click here to see a 2-part I wrote about Author Platform that dives deeper into this topic. And don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated by the size of your platform. There are things every author of every genre can do to bolster their platform.
I’ve helped authors of all ages (12-97 years old) improve their platform.
You can do it, too.
It’s a great way to increase your odds of getting a literary agent.
10. Pristine pitch materials
One of the best ways to increase your chances of getting a literary agent is to create compelling pitch materials. Doing everything else I mentioned above is great, but without a great query, synopsis, book proposal (primarily for nonfiction), none of it will matter.
At the very least, use DIY (do it yourself) resources to improve your pitch materials. For example, the following on my websites: How to Write a Query Letter, How to Write a Book Synopsis (if you’re a fiction author), and How to Write a Book Proposal. But you should also have someone critique your pitch materials.
Querying literary agents is time-intensive. It’s also hyper-competitive. I talked about odds or chances of getting a literary agent at the beginning of this article. It makes me think of the TV show American Idol. Tens of thousands of contestants eventually being boiled down to the lucky (or, should I say most talented AND strategically savvy?) “Top 10.”
Want to improve your odds of getting a literary agent quickly, especially a top literary agent? Improve your pitch materials.
11. Realistic expectations
Most authors assume the chances of getting a literary agent are much better than they are—so they don’t have realistic expectations or the right work ethic when querying. As a result, they usually give up too soon. In other words, they send out 60, 100, or 200 queries and assume if they don’t have an agent by then, they should stop trying.
But If you’re writing in a genre such as general fiction or nonfiction, self-help, general fiction, thriller, or many other categories with many hundreds of agents interested, you can/should keep querying until you’ve given most (or all) of them the opportunity to consider your work.
That’s right, if you’re a good writer, you’re doing them a favor.
Just don’t say that in your query letter. 😉
It won’t go over well.
12. A referral (just kidding)
Most authors believe you need to know someone to increase your odds of getting a literary agent. It’s not true. Not one of the authors I’ve worked with over the last 8 years as a coach who’ve gotten agents (see most of my 150 or so success stories here) did so with a referral.
Click here to see an article I wrote about Literary Agent Referrals that explains what they are and why they don’t matter.
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Author Coaching – Increase Your Odds of Getting a Literary Agent
Click here if you want help to give yourself the best chance to get a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal. Register for an Introductory Coaching Call to get 1-on-1 feedback and improve your pitch material and/or writing.
Question or Comment?
Click here (no charge) to see The 50 Questions Authors Ask Most (along with answers to the questions) and/or post your question or comment. Click here to see our Guide to Literary Agents. And, click here to see some of our best tips to help you Find a Literary Agent and/or Get a Literary Agent.
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