Words for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?

Question: If I do decide to go the agent route, at what point would it be recommended to start looking? Total manuscript completion? 


Basically, yeah, wait until the book is written, polished, and has been through beta readers or critique groups. You only get one chance to impress an agent. Always, always, always ensure that what you’re sending them is the very best version of it. Also, waiting until the manuscript is totally complete also means that a) you’ve proven to yourself and to the agent that you can finish what you start and b) you won’t get caught with your pants down if they respond right away asking for the full, after you’ve sent a partial.

But more than just a totally spit-shined MS, also ensure you write a complete pitch package before you start to query. Why? Because agents invariably ask for come combination of these documents as well as the query letter and MS, and it makes sense to just sit down and do it all together once instead of scrambling to create new docs with each submission.

Pitch Package:

  • Elevator Pitch: One or two sentences to hook ’em. Imagine you have the length of one elevator ride to intrigue a publisher/agent/producer. What would you say? (Example: A girl vigilante and her mystical, semi-sentient rocketpack are shot down behind enemy lines, and now have to rely on the help of an underground rebellion to not only get home, but end a decades-long war. The only question is whether the rebellion can be trusted, or if they’re planning to turn her in for the bounty.) This is the only part of the pitch doc I recommend memorizing, because you may have the opportunity to pitch someone in person at an event, and you want to have a slick response to: “So what are you working on now?”
  • Back Cover Copy/One Paragraph Pitch: Basically, write the stuff that goes on the back of the book. Try to keep it to about 100-200 words. You will use this in your query letter, as well as turn it over to marketing when it’s time to design your cover.
  • 5 Page Synopsis: Write out the entire plot of your novel, beat-by-beat, pointing out cause and effect and character growth, INCLUDING the ending (surprise your readers, not your agent.)
  • 3 Page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 3 pager.
  • 1 page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 1 pager. (Why? Because these are the industry standards, and these get asked for a lot).
  • If the book is first of a series, DO NOT WRITE THE SERIES. Write the back cover copy/pitch paragraph & a 1 page synopsis, and included it in the package as well. (Why not write the whole series? What if the publisher only wants the first book? You’ve wasted your effort. Or what if your editor asks you what book #2 is about and the two of you come up with a MUCH BETTER idea? Wasted effort.)

Once you’ve done all that, then you can craft your Query Letter, and begin to submit to agents. (I made an Excel with each agent I wanted to submit to and their individual submission requirements.)

Best of luck!

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWords for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?