How to Secure a Literary Agent—NOT

Fun Shark

Having my first mystery novel under my belt, I was confident that all I had to do was get the manuscript in front of competent literary agents and they’d be fighting over it like sharks in a feeding frenzy. I imagined myself fielding offers from various top-line agents, interviewing them, and working to determine who might best serve my interests. All I had to figure out is how to get their attention.

The Infamous Query Letter

By all accounts literary agents were looking for a well composed query letter. Problem was, I had no idea what a query letter was. I busily read all the articles I could find by all the purported experts, including the agents themselves. Soon I had a polished query letter, a synopsis and was ready to start.

Where the Literary Agents Are

The next problem seemed to be finding a source of contact information for literary agents. A little digging and I found myself in possession of links that opened the door. Initially, I used the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. at I thought I’d hit the jackpot—fairly decent info on 150 or so literary agents that accepted email queries. I diligently emailed each agent accepting queries for works in my genre, making sure I formatted each submission to conform to the agent’s individual preference. Took me a little more than a month, working evenings and weekends, to get them all out.

After I exhausted the AAR listings without so much as nibble, I rustled up another source, AgentQuery at At the time they had an interactive online database of literary agents available for use free of charge. Handy, since it allowed you to record and track your submissions. And AgentQuery had a substantially longer list of agents to work with—hog heaven.

Four months and more than 220 submissions later, it was becoming clear that I needed a better approach.

If It’s Broke, Fix It

During that four months I continually worked to polish both the query letter and synopsis for maximum impact and appeal. It made no difference. Whatever it is they wanted, I apparently didn’t have it. And I have the rejection form letters to prove it. To this day, I don’t know why.  (Talk about a mystery . . .)  Maybe I’ll never know, not that it really matters—bottom line, it wasn’t happening.

As part of the online group, I had access to comments between other writers actively seeking literary agents. It was obvious that some had been doing this for years with little or no results.  And while I had no idea if their work merited an agent, it was nevertheless discouraging.

I’ve never been one to wait for lightning to strike. And I was plumb wore out from doin’ the rain dance. I knew there had to be a better way than prostrating myself in front of busy literary agents already overwhelmed with a constant barrage of submissions from would-be bestselling authors.

Licking my wounds, I recalled John Truman Wolfe’s sage advice.

Stay tuned, more to come on publishing.

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