Why is it Hard to Find a Literary Agent?
Updated: Jul 14
Through my conversations with quite a few literary agents, I have learned a lot about the publishing process from their perspective.
Things you may not know are how many submissions they receive, how they chose what books they represent, and why many manuscripts are rejected for publication.
Agents receive up to 75 submissions per day. Per Day! So, I understand why their selection process is honed to a point where they can read a few paragraphs and decide it is or isn’t a novel they want to pursue. So, your query letter and first ten pages need to be near perfect. Typos are a red flag for them. They don’t have the time to read your entire submission unless you grab their attention and hold it. After you hold their attention long enough, they have a harder decision to make in pursuing your manuscript or not.
How does a Literary Agent decide if they can sell my manuscript?
They know your genre and target audience inside and out and know if they can sell your book. If they know they can’t sell it, it goes in the rejection pile. This you can’t control.
But you can research the agents you send your manuscript to by going to Publishers Marketplace or Manuscript Wishlist and searching for agents that represent your genre and have sold books that are in your genre and have similar target audiences. I can’t stress enough how important it is to target the right agents.
Once you have held their attention, they’ve read your entire submission, and decided to pursue your manuscript further, they will ask for the whole manuscript. Unfortunately, they only ask for about 2-3 full manuscripts per month. That means the chances of your manuscript being requested by an agent are approximately 1 in 1000. Not published, requested. After they read through your whole manuscript, they re-evaluate their ability to sell your novel. (Some agents consider your social media following, others don’t. Unless you do in depth research on the agents you target, you won’t know this. However, there is good news. Most are moving away from caring about a social media following because numbers don’t equate to interactivity.) If they think they can sell it, they will contact you to discuss contracts. Contracts!
What Percentage Does an Agent Take
In a standard contract, the agent gets around 15% of the sale and the royalties. It might sound like a lot, but they make nothing if they can’t sell it, and if they do sell it, but the sales are low, they don’t get much either. So, the agent will negotiate your contract with the publisher to get the most they can for you.
I understand how all of this sounds daunting, but these are the reasons your novel needs to be of the highest quality possible when you submit.