Yes, agents love debuts!

Don’t get down if you’re querying with a debut. Agents love finding and working with undiscovered gems.

Yes, a fantastic track record is great, but an inconsistent track record can muddle editors’ decisions, while debuts have such fresh market appeal. A debut has potential you can carve out of it and start a new brand. It’s exciting for authors, agents and editors.

Yes, debuts are the most difficult to query an agent with, but have faith if you have a fresh concept and terrific writing–you will be found.

Yes, you have a lot against you in order to stand out from the pack, but a lot of the ‘big books’ from the past couple years have been stand out debuts that have found their way.

Yes, you will get shot down by beta readers and some agents if the concept is new and no one knows what to do with it. But rest assured that someone recognize this. Agents and editors often pass on good writing only because they don’t think they’re the person to bring it to the market and know what to do with it–consider this a favour because you’re waiting for the team that does believe.

Yes, larger agencies have full lists and take longer to get back to you. So, why not try agents that are building their list? They’ll get back to you quicker and have more time to devote to your manuscript and you if they take you on.

Yes, the market is tough right now and it’s hard for anyone to get a deal, published authors included, but it’s times like this that electrifying debuts are looked upon to breathe new life.

Yes, it’s easy to self publish that first book, but it’s worth finding an agent to help you in your career path. Your debut is one book, an agent is there for your career.

Yes, it’s worth it to keep querying. You’ve heard the success stories, so make it happen for yourself by writing a book that agents can’t put down.

Every published author was a debut once…

What do you worry about when querying with a debut?

Image via Le Livraire

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

25 thoughts on “Yes, agents love debuts!

  1. Thank you for that inspirational post. It’s so easy to get discouraged among all the negativity regarding the business of publishing. I guess I worry as a debut novelist that I won’t find that someone who is willing to give me a shot. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter these people in other aspects of my life, and I know they can make all the difference!


    1. Hi Andee!
      That’s a fair worry. And there will be those in the business that won’t, that’s the nature of publishing–it’s a business. But, you push on to find those people that support you and continue to support you.
      The reason that editorial staff and agency staff don’t give fair time to everyone is that there isn’t enough time to go around. So don’t take anything personally. As a writer you need to learn to have thick skin and know when to let it roll off your back.
      Good luck!


      1. I think I will just take that chance – thank you for the inspiration and I see the first item on your list of what you are looking for – family saga. YEah.


  2. Very refreshing post. I love your posts, Carly, and I have an agent and a publisher. Took me 72 queries to find an agent that could handle rural Southern mystery, and I’m glad it took a while to find people who cared.

    C. Hope Clark
    Lowcountry Bribe
    Bell Bridge Books, Feb 2012


  3. It’s good to know that agents are looking for new talent…I hope to send a women’s fiction query to you soon!


    1. Well, that’s something you can work on though! Submit to journals and/or articles to online sources that take columnists like Huffington Post. Those are a couple ideas!


  4. Thanks for the awesome post! I’m an author trying to query a debut, and it’s easy to get disheartened when rejections start piling up in your mailbox.

    You asked the bottom of your post “What do you worry about when querying a debut?”
    The biggest thing I worry about is that my query letter doesn’t show the complexity of my characters or my plot. It’s hard to put an entire book into a couple paragraphs, and I’ve had a lot of help, but I always feel like it’s not enough. I also worry that the market for the book I wrote isn’t big enough for my book to be really considered right now. I wrote it, after all, because I saw a need for the story.

    All it takes is patience!


    1. Thanks for stopping by Sarah!

      Your query letter concern is one that many author–and agents–have. There is so much to pack in. But the goal of the query letter is to reflect your work honestly and get the person reading to ask for more. So do your best! There are tons of great resources out there.

      When you’re writing you can’t think about the market, but all publishers think about is the market. So there are mixed messages out there. But the one thing that never dates is GOOD WRITING!


  5. Hi Carly, I’ve just come across your blog after googling ‘how to deal with rejection from literary agents’. Yup, I’ve just got my first two, ‘Not for me’ query rejections, one after the other. I just want to say how much I enjoyed reading your post and how much better it has made me feel. I especially appreciated how you mention being, ‘Shot down because the concept is new and nobody is sure what to do with it.’ It has given me food for thought (particularly as my YA novel is, admittedly, a bit of a genre fusion). I was wondering, how much are agents looking for ‘safe’, mainstream work that could easily sell, as opposed to work that breaks new ground, or experiments with genres?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Great question.

      Agents are looking for great writing–genre bending or not. But, publishing is a business, not a creative writing experiment.

      It’s hard to give advice because I don’t know how experimental your work is, but overall ‘ground breaking’ is good ‘experimental’ is a *scary* word and typically hard to sell.

      So look objectively at your work and decide what role you see yourself playing in the traditional publishing game. Do you see yourself reflected on the bestseller list, award winning shortlist, etc?

      An agent’s job is to sell our client’s work. So we need to know what editors are looking for and how they perceive the market to be accepting of fiction at this time. Editors are not necessarily looking for ‘safe’ they are looking for fresh new voices, but as I said the word experimental is off putting for commercial agents and editors.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to ask more q’s!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my, there are so many things to worry about! So I’m choosing to ignore the worry and concentrate on the things I can control…like writing a great query letter, polishing my manuscript, and researching the industry. In anticipation of leaping into the querying world shortly, I’ve bought a very pretty letter holder to stack the rejections. I’m grateful for my thick skin : )

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Freelancing has helped. I’ve had pitches ignored, or turned down flat. I’ve also had pitches picked up after a revision or two. If I was super sensitive about it all, I would have gotten out a long time ago.


  7. Thank you, Carly, for writing such an encouraging post for debut writers. I’m 60,000 words into a first novel draft; this post will help me to stick to it and write and edit as best as I can before even thinking of starting the query process.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀


  8. I think what worries me is that the query letter doesn’t sound half as great as the manuscript itself. I chalk this up to the fact that I struggle at being a salesman but love being a writer. It’s hard to put so much into so few words in the query and make it stand out. I guess my fear is not even about my manuscript. It’s just that, just like cover letters, if yours falls flat and no one tells you, a generic rejection won’t explain that. But I refuse to give up.


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