How to get an agent
Advice from children's agent, Julia Churchill
Your children's book is finished, polished, ready for the big roll out and now you’re looking for an agent. How do you go about it?
The first step is plenty of research. In the UK there are a good number of agents who represent children’s book writers and the job now is find the right match for you. This starts with getting as full a picture as possible of what’s available.
There are tonnes of print and online resources which will help with that. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and The Writers’ Handbook are great. They list all UK agents along with the areas they specialise in. But print editions get out of date fast and newer agencies might not be listed for a couple of years. It’s worth noting that a younger agency is likely to be hungry and aggressively list-building so to make sure you’ve got an up-to-date picture, don’t rely on the print versions alone. Go online too. Have a look at respected writers’ forums like writewords or writersservices which also list literary agencies. Search through The Bookseller website and check out the rights and children’s book sections. See which agents are doing deals. Google your favourite authors and find out who represents them. Your library will have writing magazines which are also useful in finding out about new and established agencies. Steer clear of agencies that charge a reading fee.
Once you’ve started to get an idea of who’s out there, visit each agency’s website. The website is the public face of a business. Do you like that face? Is their news page or blog busy? Does it look dynamic? Get a feel for each agency - for their authors, books, and agents. Do you want to be part of that team?
Hopefully after a couple of evenings of research you’ll have a good list of possible targets. Now comes the process of submitting your work. I’d recommend sending out in small batches. You might have a list of twenty agents and juggling that many balls at one time could get confusing. So maybe send out in groups of five or six. This also means that you get a chance to refine your submission if you feel it needs it as you go along. Or if you realise there’s a clanger of a mistake in your first chapter or letter, which can happen no matter how much checking you do.
Most agencies will have a submissions page on their website and each agency might be looking for a slightly different approach. Along with the covering letter (also known as the query letter) some like to see a full one or two synopsis where you can see the spine of the story. Some agencies ask for the first five pages and others for the first three chapters. Do they like their submissions emailed or through the post? All this information should be on the submissions page. And do follow the guidelines of each agency. It looks targeted and professional.
The front page of your submission is the query letter or email. A strong one goes a really long way. For most of the authors I’ve taken on I was already thinking ‘bingo’ as I got to the end of their letter or email. I’m keen to know a bit about your book and a bit about you. And do keep it brief and professional sounding. I like to see a one-page letter (or rather the e-equivalent). What’s your book about? This is your time to pitch it. Reel the reader in with a brief synopsis. If you have any writing credentials, tell the agent. If you’ve met them at an event, mention it. Perhaps you’re submitting exclusively to this one agent? In that case, let them know. A letter is, of course, about communicating key information in an engaging way. If a letter is good then it bodes well for what’s over the page.
Good luck going forward!
Julia Churchill is the UK agent at The Greenhouse, a literary agency specialising in children’s books.