Before he began writing novels . . .
Graham Greene was a journalist. He didn't particularly enjoy the job, but like many novelists — including Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, and Philip Roth — he got his start writing nonfiction. Whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, you'll probably need to find a literary agent, for reasons I've discussed elsewhere. Finding a literary agent can seem like a full-time job in and of itself, there are so many to choose from. But looking for an agent can also be fun. After all, you're looking forward to a new professional working relationship and a new life as a successful author.
Keep in mind that literary agents specialize, just like doctors and lawyers. Don't waste your time sending a query for a self-help book to an agent who only handles commercial fiction. The importance of researching the agents you're considering contacting can't be overstated. I recommend selecting 8 to 15 literary agents for your first query. If you do your homework and make a wise selection, one or more may ask to see your book proposal.
You can research agents online as well as in books about agents. You can also look in the acknowledgments section of comparable books since many authors thank their agents. Reading Publishers Weekly is another good source of information about literary agents.
Your query should contain three sections: an introductory paragraph about your book; another paragraph listing your credentials and prior publications, if any; and a concluding paragraph asking whether the literary agent would like to see your book proposal. After sending your queries, you can sit back and enjoy one of the chief pleasures of being a writer . . . the sense of hope. Of course I'm talking about the hope you live with on a daily basis, the hope that the next call you receive will be a voice saying, "Yes, that's right, we want your book!" (Photo: Graham Greene.)