Q: Do I need connections to find an agent?
A: No, you can find an agent without connections, but you do need to be prepared before you initiate the search.
Here are some guidelines:
1) You need to be at the right moment with your work. The moment to find an agent is when you have a completed manuscript or when you have a completed nonfiction book proposal. Literary agents make their (commission-based) living by selling manuscripts and proposals, so they’re not interested in representing writers who don’t have a finished manuscript or proposal.
2) You need to have revised, edited, and proofread your query letter. Your query letter needs to tell the agent: Why you’re writing to that particular agent, what your book is about (in three-four sentences max), and who you are. Your query needs to do all this in approximately 250 words. I think about “screenfuls” with agents and editors. I want to get my message to them without the need to scroll. Looking for help with your query letter? Check out this post from Jane Friedman. Jane is a great resource for all matters publication related. She has an excellent new book out this month: The Business of Being a Writer
3) You need to be prepared to endure a long search and to regroup if needed. I’ve heard it said that an agent search can take six months of steady work. If you’re not getting bites on the query letter, there’s something in the query that needs fixing. The manuscript might be completely marketable, but if the query isn’t doing its job, no agent will ever read your book. Conversely, a great query can get nibbles even if it’s for a terrible book.
Resources for finding an agent to query:
1) Acknowledgement pages. Look at some of your favorite recent books acknowledgement pages for the line “Thanks to my indefatigable agent…” .
2) Use the database on Publishers Marketplace or agentquery.com.
All that said, connections DO help. But you don’t have to be born with connections; you can make them. A magazine editor I worked with connected me to her agent. Later, when I needed to find another agent (a long story…), another writer connected me to her agent. I met these connections through writing and sending my work out and going to readings. You can meet connections too. Write. Submit. Participate.