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Finding A Literary Agent, by Julian Stockwin

One of the questions I’m often asked when I give talks is how to find an agent.

I was lucky. The first agent I approached agreed to represent me. But I did do my homework. I made a list of twenty or so agents from The Writer’s Handbook who looked as though they might be interested in the subject matter of my book and who did consider unsolicited manuscripts. I was quite prepared for rejection letter after rejection letter and having to work my way one by one down the list.

You can of course try sending your manuscript to publishers instead but most these days do not read unsolicited work at all.

Good agents have a fairly full list of clients – but they are always looking for real talent. Their bread and butter depends on bringing along new authors as old authors die or stop writing.

What should you send to an  agent? There are some differences between individual agents and what they require (check out their websites for specifics), but most of the items below will be required at some stage.

1.   A brief summary of your book. This should “sell” what your book is about – genre, period and the world you are creating – and what distinguishes it from others in the field.

2.  A short bio of the central character.

3.  A synopsis of the whole book (around 2-4 pages).

4.  The first 3 chapters (never the whole book).

5. A biography of yourself – your credentials, any interesting aspects of your life that are relevant to the book, etc.

6.  A well-written cover letter that shows your professionalism and determination to become a writer.

What happens after you send off your manuscript to an agent?

Well, first of all, you have to be patient.  Agents receive many thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each year. Don’t plan on hearing back for at least six weeks – and never expect a critique. There are many examples of wonderful books taking a long time to find a publisher, and of their authors building up collections of rejection letters. However, if the book is good it will ultimately find a publisher. Be comforted that an agent will give every manuscript sent to them a fair look – they don’t want to turn down the chance to sign the next bestseller.

It is a great moment when you first hear your work is going to be published. My wife and I still have the champagne cork from the bottle we opened on that magic day. Another very special time is when you hold the first copy of the printed book in your hand.

It would be wonderful if all authors could make enough money to write full-time, but sadly this is not always the case. Even if the advance is generous, the payments come in stages and you have to do your sums and manage your cash flow. However, there are fairy tales out there in the publishing world – my story is one of them and yours could be too. Good luck!

(My agent is Carole Blake at Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.)


Julian Stockwin’s author website:

Julian Stockwin’s bio page


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