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How to Sell Your Novel, Part 1: Finding an Agent

Since my first novel was released last month, a lot of friends have asked me how it's done. When you see a book in the bookstore and then think about the manuscript sitting on your hard drive, the road between the two can seem rather vague.

So how does a book go from sock drawer to bookstore? Here's the Cliffnotes version:

  • Author queries agents.
  • Author signs contract with agent whose job is to market and sell manuscripts to publishers, and agent submits manuscript to editors at publishing houses.
  • Publisher purchases rights to manuscript, and agent negotiates the contract.
  • Publisher then edits, prints and distributes book.

I'll write periodically in this column with more “From Sock Drawer to Bookstores” writing advice. This week, I'll focus on getting an agent. Getting an agent is the first step toward publication. Publishers really don't accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” which simply means those submitted directly by authors. (Full disclosure: my journey from sock drawer to bookshelf actually breaks many of these rules, but we'll get to that at the end.) Agents work for authors, who are their clients, to sell their work to publishers. But before you can send your cover letter to agents to entice them with your story (a process called “querying”), you have to find out which agents would be best for you.

I owe pretty much everything I know about writing and publishing to my mom, author Libby Malin Sternberg, who in addition to being the writer of many highly entertaining novels also keeps a blog about her observations on writing, publishing, and life in general here.

First: Finding your agent...