If you’re dreaming of becoming a published author, you need to know what publishing agents look for in a manuscript. Publishing agents aren’t much different from publishers. They’re looking for more or less the same thing—a book they can sell.
So, what’s a book that will sell? Of course, the literary market is diverse, and many different types of books can sell. When querying agents, your job is to distinguish your manuscript from the rest in the genre—and then convince a publishing agent that yours is better.
To persuade a publishing agent of your manuscript’s brilliance, you need a query letter that’s convincing and informative. Crafting a query letter is an arduous task, but there are professionals who can compose a high-quality query letter for you.
Publishing agents look for different things in manuscripts and query letters, depending on the type of manuscript and the agent, but below we’ve outlined a few of the basics to help guide you in the right direction.
Marketability is very important to publishing agents. They need to know your book will sell—and widely. If your topic is highly niche, general publishers will never accept your book; in that case, try querying niche publishers. But if your book is meant for a general audience, try to broaden its appeal as much as possible. Publishing agents are interested in manuscripts they think have large-scale appeal.
Publishing agents don’t want to receive stories they’ve already read a thousand times. They want to bring something new to the market, so craft a manuscript they’ve never seen before. Don’t write a book with a predictable, clichéd plot and stereotypical characters. It’s okay to use a common theme, but make sure to add new, unique perspectives or twists to it.
Clear target audience
Who is your target demographic? Who do you envision reading your novel? Identify a target audience and make sure the manuscript is obviously geared toward this readership. Publishing agents work with specific genres and categories, so you need to clearly identify your audience so that you can query the right publishing agents. They need to know so they, in turn, can pitch to the right publishers.
Effective query letter
It doesn’t matter how unique and marketable your manuscript is if the publishing agent never reads it. First you have to impress the publishing agent with your query letter, and then the agent will ask for a book synopsis and the full manuscript. The query letter affords you just a few paragraphs to convince the publishing agent that your manuscript is worth reading. If you fail this step, you won’t advance any further, so take your time, do your research, and write a solid query letter.
Your query letter needs to be concise. Can you pitch your book effectively in just a few sentences? If you can convey the most essential information about your book, including the plot, characters, theme, and style, in a minimum number of words, the publishing agent will be impressed. Make sure to demonstrate crisp, strong writing in your query letter, which is the first sample of your writing the publishing agent will see.
If you want to get anywhere in the publishing industry, you have to leave a lasting impression on publishing agents. Keep in mind that agents read through dozens or hundreds of queries a day—you have to stand out from the crowd and make them remember you—whether you make them think, laugh, change their perspective, or something else. Just make sure you can leave an impression both with your query letter and with your manuscript.
If your manuscript isn’t professional and polished yet, it’s not ready to be sent to publishing agents. Get beta readers to provide feedback on your manuscript and identify flaws, such as plot holes, continuity issues, and unclear writing style. If you can save the publishing agent work, they’ll like you more and want to work with you.
Convincing a publishing agent that your book is worth reading and representing is difficult and intimidating. No matter how solid your manuscript is, you’ll face rejection. But don’t get discouraged. If you persevere, you’ll eventually find a publishing agent as excited about your book as you are. But first, you need to transmit your excitement through an effective query letter. Don’t have one yet? Hire professionals to write an effective query letter for you.