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How To Approach A Literary Agent (Non-Fiction)

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It has often been said that it is more difficult for a writer to be admitted to an agent’s client listing than to gain acceptance by a publisher. A slight exaggeration perhaps, but there are even more writers seeking agents today than ever.
What you'll need: 
A finished typescript
Firstly, and most importantly, from the writer’s position, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what you’re trying to sell and to whom. If an agency states that it handles ‘all types of non-fiction books including children’s …’ then your family saga or thriller will not be suitable for their list. Neither will they want a how-to on coarse fishing or pony-trekking in Outer Mongolia if they specialise in mind, body & spirit titles.
The main reason for authors wanting or needing an agent usually hinges on the fact that publishers’ readers are more likely to read a submission that has already been vetted by an agency. This indicates that there is good continuity in the text, the writing is competent and the agent is satisfied that there is a reasonably professional approach to the business of writing.
It’s not advisable for a new writer to contact an agency until the typescript is finished. Generally speaking, a novel should be a minimum of 80,000 words and a non-fiction book a minimum of 45,000 words.
All an agent needs to know in the opening stages is whether the writer can write and sustain the narrative throughout the typescript, which should be evident from a well-written covering letter, synopsis and three opening chapters/chapter breakdown.
The covering letter should contain a short biography of the writer, listing any relevant qualifications and publishing history; the synopsis single-spaced and restricted to one page. Sample chapters should always be double-spaced; chapter breakdowns single-spaced.
Do make sure that the agency has the right pedigree, i.e. genuine publishing experience, and beware of those who charge exorbitant reading fees as a prerequisite for taking on your book. Many agencies are now charging a reading fee, which is fine if the amount is reasonable and the response constructive, but also beware of any lack of professionalism in presentation and approach.
No agent - large or small - can work miracles if the typescript isn’t good enough. Repeated rejection might suggest that a professional assessment is required, and agents aren’t in the business of giving a creative writing lesson on why it wasn’t suitable, so please don’t expect it.
Neither does an agent have any room to manoeuvre if the author has already submitted the typescript to every publisher in the writers’ handbooks.
Most agents are specific about what they will, and will not accept — and instructions are perfectly clear about submissions. If you choose to ignore these important details in the vague hope that you can buck the system, please don’t send letters of complaint to all the writing magazines bemoaning the fact that you haven’t had a response
For further details of literary agents’ requirements in the USA and UK consult The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook.


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