II. Publishing a Novel: Getting an Agent


In my last post I talked about the value of an agent. Now here’s the grim reality: the odds for an unknown, unpublished novelist obtaining a literary agent is estimated to be something like 1 in 10,000. Some say 1 in 20,000.

So why bother?

Well, here’s what may increase a new novelist’s chances:

–prior publication, such as poetry, short stories, non-fiction, memoir, journalism

–writing awards or recognitions, competitions you’ve won or in which you’ve placed or received honorable mention

–a degree from a reputable creative writing program or acceptance into an MFA program

–unusual or dramatic life experiences, for example, combat in Iraq or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or growing up in a commune, especially if your novel incorporates this experience

–a recommendation from a published writer, an editor or a respected professor or creative writing teacher

–a professional, well-edited manuscript that follows the standard submission guidelines for each agent you contact

–time spent researching agents to find those whose literary interests most match your manuscript

–featuring any of the above that apply in your query letter

–and most important of all, a polished, well-realized story


Beginning novelists can find in writers’ reference books or on the internet the basic “how-to’s” for querying and submitting manuscripts to agents. These sources usually list reputable agents, the kinds of novels they represent and their submission policies. It’s important, however, that any source for this information be current to the time you intend to submit a manuscript.


After that, it’s about talent, the quality of the manuscript and persistence.