I had the pleasure of attending the Kauai Writer’s Conference this weekend in Kauai, Hawaii. It was amazing! The speakers and the attendees were full of energy and passion. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot in the process as well.

The speakers included me (talking about self publishing and book marketing), Joe Clifford, a traditionally published novelist, Elizabeth Kracht, literary agent from Kimberley Cameron & Associates, and Jill Marie Landis, a prolific bestselling romance novelist.

Tom Corson-Knowles Speaking at Kauai Writer's Conference


How to Find a Literary Agent and Get Published Traditionally


The biggest barrier to entry for authors who want to get published with a traditional publisher is finding an agent and getting them to represent you. You still can’t get a Big Five Publisher to even consider publishing your work without an agent.

If you want to get an agent, you need to write a strong query letter. Elizabeth Kracht shared some great tips on writing query letters.

First of all, the industry is going digital. Most agencies don’t even accept physical submissions anymore. So save yourself the time and postage and stop killing trees, and send all your query letters through email.

Make your query letters very brief. Liz said 250 words is the maximum length your email should be. Make sure to follow the guidelines of the agency you’re submitting to, as each of them has slightly different requirements and expectations.

Most agents have 300-500 or more submissions just sitting in their email inbox so you need to stand out from the crowd.

You better have your manuscript well-edited before you submit to a literary agent! If they find more than 4 or 5 typos per page, they will most likely stop reading and reject your manuscript.

Don’t send links or attachments in your emails (unless asked to or the agency requests them). Most agents just don’t have the time or patience to click links or download attachments.

Make your query letter personalized. Send it to one agent at a time and refer to them by name.

Use a formal greeting such as “Dear Ms. Kracht” and avoid impersonal language like “To whom it may concern.”

Do your research ahead of time and make sure you only contact literary agents who actually represent books in your genre or market. Otherwise, you’ll only be wasting your time and theirs.

Mention at least two or three comparable titles in your query letter. For example, you might say, “This book is a thriller with the edginess of such and such title and the intrigue of such and such title.” Make sure your comp titles are actually bestselling books that have sold well and were traditionally published.

Young Adult books must feature characters up to age 18. If the characters are 19 or older, it’s technically in the New Adult genre. Little things like that can turn agents off, so make sure you understand the particular rules of your genre!

If you want to get published traditionally, you should get a Publisher’s Marketplace membership.

On Writing Fiction and Improving Your Craft

Writing a Good Plot

Avoid one-dimensional plots. Subplots are great and should be woven into the story. If the reader doesn’t have to keep track of at least three different things going on at once, your story is probably too simplistic and won’t hold their attention.

Make sure your plot is believable! Little details matter.

Should You Have a Prologue?

Most agents just cut prologues entirely from fiction because they’re usually poorly done and just don’t fit. If you want to use one, make sure it has a hook and draws the reader in. Make sure it ties back into the main story.

If you can just call your Prologue Chapter 1 instead, you probably should.

Make sure your introduction isn’t too abstract. Draw the reader into the story and let them experience it. Don’t just dump info and backstory on the reader.

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.

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