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How do you go about getting a literary agent for a first-time author?

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Hi, everyone! I just wrote a picture book and am going to begin the process of trying to get it published. Would you recommend I try to find a literary agent to help, and if so, how do you find a legitimate literary agent? Any advice and/or recommendations would be so greatly appreciated. Thank you so much in advance!
#1 - February 19, 2021, 07:23 AM

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:welcome Amy  This might be of some help: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?action=faq;sa=show;faqid=8
Happy reading, writing and researching.
#2 - February 19, 2021, 07:37 AM
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The link Vijaya sent is good.

The common advice is to wait until you have at least three polished manuscript until you start querying agents. Even though you'll usually query one manuscript at a time, agents might want to see multiple manuscripts before they sign you, so it's good to have them ready. I also recommend this because your skills will improve as you write more manuscripts. you might decide to go back and revise your earlier manuscripts again.

Once you're ready to query, you can find agents in the SCBWI Book. You can also find agents using Query Tracker and MSWL. Research each agent carefully and follow their submission instructions.

Having an agent is great because they can submit to publishers that are closed to unagented authors, they can negotiate better deals, and they can give you career advice and editorial notes. Quite a few publishers accept picture books from unrepresented authors, however, so if you can't find an agent, you can try submitting on your own.
#3 - February 19, 2021, 09:22 AM
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I'm in a similar same boat as amy-levitt1, though I've been submitting to agents for some time now.  Is there any rule of thumb for how many passes is common versus a signal that something isn't quite right with the query or MS?
#4 - February 19, 2021, 10:42 AM

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I've heard of people querying 100s because it only takes one yes. I tend to query in small batches of 4-5 and if no bites, will tweak the query. I've not queried any agents for several years but I'd say if you send out a dozen and not get any requests to see if you can improve both the query and sample pages. You can post on the private SCBWI critique board if you wish. Good luck!
#5 - February 19, 2021, 12:23 PM
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Appreciate the insight.  Did you find that tweaking helped?  And, if so, what do you think were the most important changes you made?  I recognize there're a bunch of webpages out there on query letters.  Curious about your experience.
#6 - February 19, 2021, 12:54 PM

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Actually, my queries were pretty good from the get go. I got several full requests but no bites. Two agents really loved my novel but wanted changes I didn't want to make. Overall I think I queried two dozen.

I have an example of a query (for magazine) here: https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2016/09/query-letters-personal-journey.html

About tweaks and revisions: one of the simplest one was flipping the back matter into the intro for a PB. That turned into a sale. Usually, there are substantial revisions. You really have to be hooky in your query though.
#7 - February 19, 2021, 02:18 PM
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Did you find that tweaking helped?  And, if so, what do you think were the most important changes you made?

I think this would depend very much on the specific agent and the specific piece you're submitting. I've had a couple of full requests on a novel followed by silence. There's no way to know if it was the manuscript, the timing (maybe they felt the market wasn't up for this book right now or had something similar from a current client), or the wrong person. And I did do my research, but that doesn't mean the agent I sent to was in the right head space at that moment for that work. It's all subjective.

I plan to try to lighten the tone of the book before taking it back out.
#8 - February 19, 2021, 06:19 PM
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as much as this part of the process is frustrating, it's good to have company. 

and while i am new to this, i'm surprised agents respond so cryptically; even a little, tiny note could be so helpful.
#9 - February 21, 2021, 10:51 AM

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With PBs, since you typically send the entire manuscript with your query, I don't think the query is as useful of a gauge in the success of your query since they have the manuscript right in front of them and they don't ask for fulls because they have it.

So yes, write a good query letter, have some CPs critique it to make sure it sounds professional and it's free of errors, but the main focus should be your manuscript.

And one reason agents don't get very specific in their rejections is because it is SO objective! One aspect that one agent finds trouble with could be the reason the next agent falls in love with your story.
#10 - February 21, 2021, 02:40 PM
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and while i am new to this, i'm surprised agents respond so cryptically; even a little, tiny note could be so helpful.

This is because agents get hundreds of submissions a week. Even ten seconds to write a personalized note for each one would add up to more than an hour. Remember that reading queries is often last on the list of things they need to do in a day.
#11 - February 21, 2021, 06:06 PM
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even a little, tiny note could be so helpful.

An agent's query inbox usually contains thousands of queries at any given time. They simply cannot.

Also, it wouldn't really be that helpful. They may not be passing for a craft reason they could pinpoint (they might be passing because dragons aren't in this year), and who knows but any bit of advice they did give could send you on a needless revision spree (I heard of one agent whose *form letter* said pacing was an issue -- she sent this to *everybody*). The next agent might love it as is. The business really is SO subjective. "Not for me" is truly about all they can say.
#12 - February 21, 2021, 07:33 PM
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People in publishing struggle to make time for their own authors let alone slush pile submitters. I know a lot of publishing people work after hours and on weekends just to keep up.

There's no time for helpful advice for strangers. It's unfortunate, but true.

I heard of one agent whose *form letter* said pacing was an issue -- she sent this to *everybody*.

Yeah ... I know of one big deal editor whose form rejection always mentions pacing. They'd be better off saying nothing than telling everyone that!
#13 - February 21, 2021, 09:50 PM

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Writing and submitting takes practice, and this business takes fortitude, because there is a ton of rejection involved. The good news is, if you really want a career as a writer/illustrator, you can take the rejections as inspiration to get better at your craft. Learning to revise is critical, and most of us don't really understand what "revise" means at the beginning of the journey. I sure didn't!

Others have made great suggestions. I would second that you write more manuscripts rather than focusing on getting an agent to sell this "one." This "one" is your baby. It's where you started, but an agent is going to want to make sure you are committed to a career, it's not about one book, it's about your voice in kid-lit, and what you want that to be. So maybe give that some thought.

Each manuscript you write will teach you something different about your craft and the process. There are so many things involved in building a story and it's HARD. Revising is not about editing words here and there, rather it's about noticing the pieces of a story and how they all come together as a whole. It's complicated!

Also, perhaps look at editor Cheryl Klein's book on revision: SECOND SIGHT. It's very good.
#14 - February 22, 2021, 04:36 AM
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appreciate the replies.
#15 - February 22, 2021, 07:38 PM

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