Agent, Author, Editor, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Publish, Query, Rejection, Writing

Can you find an agent by cold querying?

The first agent blog I discovered was Nathan Bransford’s, and the first thing I read there were his posts on how to get agent representation. His number one tip: have a referral. For top agents, he said, that’s essentially the only way. I really, really, really didn’t want to believe that.

I don’t know any agented writers. I know of some. At least three have even commented on my blog, but I don’t know them in the sense they would refer me to their agent. Nor do I know any agents, editors, or publishers. My budget doesn’t allow me to meet them at conferences or seminars, not even online ones. I’m stuck out in the cold.

I believe my completed novel is a good one, but it’s not the novel of the century, a straight to #1 on the NYT bestseller list. No agent is going to read my query, or sample pages and synopsis, and declare, “I will die, absolutely die, if I don’t get to represent this book!” How close to a miracle will it be should an agent offer me representation, I wonder?

Tell me, fellow writers, do you know of any recent debut fiction authors who found an agent by cold querying?

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41 thoughts on “Can you find an agent by cold querying?”

  1. I’ve read a few blogs in the past six months where it was purely cold queries that got the authors their agents. I’m like you, out in the cold. I’d like to hope agents don’t all go off of referrals. Sounds kind of snobby to only take referrals, but at the same time I guess the top agents need some way to weed through everything that comes across their desks.

    Good luck!

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    1. Thank you, Heather. I’ve been studying my query results so far and trying to weigh my novel’s chances, which don’t look too good. I fully understand that agenting is a business, and publishing is going through a transition, so of course agents are looking for surefire sellers. But looking at the facts, and I don’t believe I’ve written such a book.

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  2. Linda, It can be done. I got my first agent cold-querying. I signed with my current agent as a result of a referral from another agent that I had built a lovely rapport with from a cold query years ago–she didn’t have room on her list at the time but referred me to another agent in her agency. I think that’s why I’m such a promoter of keeping strong and consistent contacts with agents who ask to see your work (partials, fulls, etc)–even if they don’t ultimately offer representation. YOU NEVER KNOW. Bottomline.

    It took years for me of building up these contacts, 20 years specifically. So when people talk about agent referrals, I never think they mean “my friend referred me to her agent”–rather my own experience where you build up a connection with an agent or several and they come to appreciate your work–even if they can’t take you on. I have always said agents have amazing memories–always build on that hint of encouragement–the requested partial, the full, etc…Always.

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    1. Erika, I read your story, and thought, too bad I didn’t start 20 years ago. I really hoped to be published before I was in a nursing home. 😕

      Don’t you think it was easier to get the attention of an agent 20 years ago? Maybe not. Maybe I just need to be a better writer. And even if it’s not my writing talent, I think I’m querying the wrong book at the wrong time.

      With the next book, I will definitely re-query the agents who requested partials or fulls of this one, but that will be a couple years down the road.

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  3. No, I don’t know about any debut authors that found agents through a query without a referral, but I wonder if Google might have such information. I’d like to know how some famous authors, like the author of the Harry Potter series for instance, got published. I have to believe that a well-written query could spark enough interest for some “certain” publisher’s rep or agent to want to see more. Stop talking down your manuscript, Linda. You wrote it because you have a passionate interest in what’s in it. You cannot be the only one on this earth that would get excited about the subject matter of your novel. Think about it. Out of the population of the world, only a few will read ANY given book, except perhaps the Bible. So, then, our job is to FIND that one publisher’s rep or agent that is stirred by what we have to offer and will realize the market for it. I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. I have no interest in them. I can’t remember the author’s name. If she had to depend on me to publish her novels, where would she be? I believe there is a publisher or agent out there that would think seriously about publishing your novel. In fact, of all people, you should know this. You’ve already been asked to send your MS to a publisher. It may already be under the gaze of the publisher that will market it. 🙂 Possible. Get as excited as you had to be to complete your novel. My comment is too long. Sorry. God champions the small people of the earth. Smile.

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    1. Thanks for the pep talk, Carol. One correction, my full ms is in the hands of an agent, not a publisher.

      Not to belittle my beta-readers at all, but I haven’t had any professional feedback, and it’s hard to trust my own judgment of my work. I consider how many books the critics and the public rave over that I didn’t care for at all, and I think my judgment must be skewed. I’m not talking about the writing technique, but the story.

      And yes, it’s possible the perfect agent for this book is out there, so I guess I can’t quit trying, but I’m weary. And this discouragement is making it hard to work on the next book. I keep wondering if it’s not time to write this one off and move on.

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  4. I only know of one semi-recent debut author (debut mid-2009 – genre, adult fiction) — she got her agent through cold query.

    With all the changes in the industry, I think we’ll be hearing more and more of “outside the box” approaches as Michelle mentioned.

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  5. Well, you have your full manuscript in the hands of at least one agent now — so you are doing something right. Good for you!! I would keep following that approach — and also try something different.

    I would also look into small publishers. I am not yet at the point of querying long works, but my experience has been that small regional presses are frequently more amenable to local authors.

    Just. Keep. Going.

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