top of page

15 Steps to Writing a Successful Book. Step 8: How to find a literary agent for your work

“I want to focus my energy on the thing I can control which is the next book.” – Chuck Palahniuk.

- Hi, my name is Elena Nikitina. A few years ago, I wrote and self-published a book, Girl, Taken. It became a bestseller in the true crime books category and won a literary award. (More info about Girl, Taken you can find in the bestselling author store).

I promoted Girl, Taken to a bestseller using my own System of Actions. The book was talked about on TV, on pages of magazines, and discussed on radio shows. In my blog I share tips for writers, discuss book marketing tips and talk about my own experience in book writing, publishing and marketing. I want to share with you everything that worked for me. If you want to learn about my System of Actions and move your book to a bestselling list, then simply follow my blog or purchase this self-help guide:

Let’s take a look at step #8:

How to find a literary agent for your work

•Do the research and look up the names of agents who would be interested in your work

It’s critical to invest a good amount of time in finding names of agents who work with the genre you write in. You can start your search by going through agencies’ databases and filtering agents by categories.

Once you’ve sorted names and chosen a few of them, precisely read the submission instructions on that particular agent’s page. Since you are going to send a personalized query letter to each agent, it’s crucial to know what the specific agent wants to see included in a pitch letter. Remember, that it’s always free to begin working with an agent. Agents get paid after a book starts selling.

(By the way, If you purchase the self-help guide From Zero to Self-published Hero , I will email you a complete database with names and emails of more than 200 literary agents and agencies, as a bonus. It's the entire database that I created by myself. You can simply save that spreadsheet to your computer and send your own query letter or a pitch by just clicking on the desired contact inside the spreadsheet.)

•Create a brilliant pitch letter

If you look up the phrase, “to pitch someone/something”, you can find that the meaning of that combination of words means “to present an idea for another person’s consideration”. In our case, we try to catch the attention of literary agents and basically sell a manuscript to them.

Almost all agents prefer a pitch letter to be embedded in the email, meaning that it’s not attached as a separate file, but copied and pasted inside the message into one long email. Some of them request a proposal in a certain format. Some ask for a concrete amount of sample pages of the work, while others require the table of contents and etc. That’s why it’s important to know what a certain agent prefers to receive.

Another imperative ethical aspect is making sure to pitch to only one agent from the same company at a time, and then wait for a response for about four to six weeks, before sending the same pitch letter to another agent from that company.

In the beginning, before my books were self-published, the query letter that I was sending out was quite successful and brought some amazing results which included a contract within a few weeks. I hope that the example of my pitch letter will inspire you to create your own winner. Let’s see how it was structured, below.

Make sure that each pitch email is addressed to the correlating person. It’s helpful to insert the word Query in the subject line, along with the full name of the agent and the name of your work.

The body of the email consists of several parts. The intro is kept short, descriptive and compelling. You may want to include the highlights of the narration and demonstrate marketing material, showing a comparison with well-known books and bestsellers in the same genre as yours.

You can attach a brief bio. Included as well are the sample chapters at the very end of the email after the closing. Wrap the pitch with your contact information: your full name, full home address, phone number, and email address.

Do you know that I collaborate with Belka Books Press? We offer publishing and book marketing services, pitch letter writing services, and other services, such as book cover designs, book video trailer creations, consulting for writers, tips for writers, book marketing tips, book publishing tips. We can help you to write a perfect pitch letter. Click here to see how

The complete pitch letter for a literary agent that worked for me and my book you also can find in the self-help guide From Zero to Self-published Hero. I had to be creative, and it worked! Three literary agents responded and wanted to represent my book.

Subject line:

Project Query for Eleanor Smith: Girl, Taken


Dear Eleanor:

I was kidnapped and enslaved for eight long months. And I survived to tell my story.

Imagine walking home alone one evening. Suddenly, you are assaulted, drugged and kidnapped. Strange men drive you through the night to another country and keep you prisoner in a dark, tiny room. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know what they want. They speak a language you don’t even understand.

This happened to me.

When I was 21, I was abducted off the streets of my hometown in southern Russia by a group of criminals. My abductors kept me prisoner in a tiny room at first, then later in a dirt cellar under a house. I was utterly alone – no friends, no family, nothing... Every day, I had to knock on the door to my room, so that a blank-eyed gunman with an AK-47 would let me out and walk me to the bathroom under his supervision.

Soon, I learned they were holding me for ransom. But a few weeks after my kidnapping, a brutal civil war broke out, and all contacts were cut off. The country plunged into darkness. There was no electricity, and no telephone service. There could be no negotiations for my release. I was one lost soul, powerless, and at the mercy of hardened killers in a land where innocent people were dying every day.

I saw decapitated young soldiers, their heads decorating the trees like Christmas bulbs. I saw bloodstained city streets, the bombed-out wrecks of tanks and jeeps still burning. I saw things I cannot allow myself to think about.

Through eight horrifying months of captivity – witnessing atrocities, surviving bombings and sexual violence – I fought desperately to stay alive, stay sane and to not lose the one thing that kept me going: hope.

I have written a memoir about these experiences, GIRL, TAKEN – A True Story of Abduction, Captivity and Survival with a professional novelist as my co-author.

Girl, Taken recounts:

- My sudden abduction and the reasons for it;

- The terror and monotony of daily life inside my tiny prison, with no natural light (the windows had been painted black), a narrow bed, a table, and nothing but a tape player and a single cassette of the Gipsy Kings to keep me company – a companion I lost when the electricity was cut and the city went dark;

- My life among people of a different culture – the devoutly Muslim Chechens, whose customs were different from my own, and whose language I could not understand;

- Happy memories of my previous life that I clung to during my captivity;

- My attempts to maintain and assert my dignity, when every trip to the bathroom was accompanied by an armed guard, and no accommodations were made for my period or my need for personal cleanliness;

- My daily torment by someone I came to think of as “Shorty,” a small, capering gnome of a man, who spoke Russian and who regaled me with stories of the unspeakable torture he performed on Russian soldiers taken prisoner;

- My direct experiences of the war:

the blasted landscape in Grozny, with the decapitated heads of young Russian soldiers adorning the trees like Christmas bulbs;

the bombing of a mountain village where I was being held, and how everything went silent, the entire Earth holding its breath just before the bombs hit;

my violent rape at the hands of a savage Arab mujahid (holy warrior), one of many such men who came to Chechnya for the chance to die while fighting the enemies of Islam.

- My intimate and growing friendship with Aslan, a brave young Chechen fighter who cared for me and protected me until his own abrupt death in battle;

- My struggle with suicidal thoughts – especially when I found a fully-loaded handgun, which I smuggled back to my room, and which I held pressed to my head, wrestling with the same age-old question that bedeviled Hamlet: To be or not to be? To live or to die?

- My imprisonment in a dirt cellar beneath a cabin in the mountain village, and my eventual escape from there, eight months after I was first abducted;

- Brief, interspersed sections which describe my mother’s desperate, increasingly hopeless attempts to find me and to cope with my loss.


GIRL, TAKEN is a memoir of abduction, war, survival and the resilience of the human spirit. I believe it belongs on the shelf with such books as A STOLEN LIFE (the Autobiography of Jaycee Dugard), FINDING ME by Michelle Knight, A WOMAN IN BERLIN by Marta Hillers, as well as A LONG WAY GONE: MEMOIRS OF A BOY SOLDIER by Ishmael Beah. It is different from those books in its distinctly Russian flavor.

Those books all reached a massive general audience, suggesting the reading public’s appetite for stories of this nature. As you know, women are the primary drivers of bestsellers, especially memoirs. Women in the United States buy two-thirds of all books sold, and GIRL, TAKEN is a tale that should appeal to them – the story of a young woman whose life is interrupted without warning, who is dropped into a situation she does not understand, and who must ultimately find her inner strength. It addresses fears that are largely the province of women – the fear of abduction by men, of rape, of war.

Of course, I understand how difficult it is to replicate the enormous success of the books mentioned. So, it is helpful that GIRL, TAKEN has another built-in target audience for whom the Russian-Chechen wars, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath, are deeply personal and immediate issues.


In its current form, GIRL, TAKEN exists as a 56,000-word draft as described above and I can make whatever changes to the manuscript necessary to help it find a home at a major publisher, and a wide audience among readers. We can do this in an expedient manner, and with a high degree of professional competence.

Below you will find a brief bio for myself and a sample from the manuscript.

Please let me know if this story interests you, and if you would like to see the entire manuscript.

Thank you for your time.


Elena Nikitina

Home address

Phone number

Email address

About the author:

Elena Nikitina was born in the city of Astrakhan, Russia, during the time of the Soviet Union. In 1994, she was abducted by a Chechen gang and taken to Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya. She survived the First Russian-Chechen War, eventually escaping an abandoned mountain village and walking into the middle of a Russian army encampment. She immigrated to the USA, received political asylum and became a citizen in January of 2019. She works as a real estate agent and business owner in Ohio, where she lives with her teenage daughter. GIRL, TAKEN is Elena’s story.

Sample chapters follow:


A memoir of abduction, captivity and survival

Copyright © 2017 Elena Nikitina

All rights reserved

October 4th, 1994

I did not know where I was.

For a long time, I drifted in darkness. Then a thought came, unbidden.

I’m alive.

Another thought soon followed. Then another. They had a mind of their own, these thoughts. Gradually, they began to…

(I included first few chapters here)

•Keep track of sent emails

Make sure you keep track of sent emails so you can see when and where you sent your pitch letter, what responses and what results you received. For that purpose, I use Microsoft Excel. I will talk about this amazingly convenient spreadsheet program in later steps.

•Do not rush into any decisions

The waiting time varies for receiving responses from agents. From the time you send out your query letter, expect anywhere from one to eight weeks for a reply. They may not respond at all if they don’t have any interest in your work.

Be patient and try not to go crazy while you wait for an answer. I remember I went nearly insane during that time. While your manuscript is the most important thing in your life, and the query letter that you sent seems pretty irresistible, agents don’t appear to be too enthusiastic in finding out about your masterpiece.

While you are waiting, you might be wondering what the contract with agents will look like. A literary contract will most likely look somewhat like this:

Date: ________, 20__


TO:Agency Name


ADDRESS: ______________________________________

PHONE: ______________________________________

EMAIL: ______________________________________

Please regard this letter as the declaration of a business relationship between myself, ___________________________________________ ("the Author"), and 1234 Literary Agency ("the Agency").


The 1234 Literary Agency will exclusively represent my literary works of fiction and non-fiction, including any film, television, or other media, but excluding lectures, unless we mutually agree otherwise.

As the exclusive Agent of Record on all my works sold by the Agency to a Publisher or other media licensee, I accept that this Agreement will last for as long as any compensation is or can be derived from the exploitation of such works and their attendant sub rights such as, but not limited to, all English language, translations, audio, electronic, dramatic, and TV and Film rights, and/or the book is considered "in print."

You agree to make your best efforts to guide me and enthusiastically represent my work in the publishing and related industries (such as electronic, audio, and other media), in North America and throughout the World through your foreign and subsidiary co-agents; you also agree to put forth your best efforts to get my work representation by your motion picture and television associates if I do not already have an existing agreement with such an agent.

You further agree not to sign any contract or make any commitment on my behalf without my prior consent.

Authorization and Warranty

I authorize you to direct a Publisher to pay and forward all statements and monies accruing from the Publisher to you. I empower you to act on my behalf in all matters arising from or pertaining to any Agreement with a Publisher. I warrant that I have secured the rights that I have given you permission to represent on my behalf. I further indemnify you and hold you harmless from any legal action that may result from the contents or presentation of my books.


For the responsibilities of managing and selling my work, I agree that the 1234 Literary Agency will take 15% (fifteen percent) of any monies earned, which shall be written into any publishing contract you are successful in making on my behalf. Any commission for a movie or TV deal you are successful in making for me through your co-agent will be split between the co-agent and your Agency (10% for the co-agent and 10% for your Agency). Foreign sales will be charged at 30% (10% for your subagents, 10% for your co-agents, and 10% for the 1234 Literary Agency).

Payment of Monies

After deducting Agency commission, the 1234 Literary Agency will remit monies owing to me no later than 21 days after monies have been received and deposited in the bank if paid in U.S. currency. The Agency will send me copies of all royalty statements and contracts received from the Publisher concerning a work.

Author Expenses

The 1234 Literary Agency assumes responsibility for any and all expenses relating to any and all aspects of my book(s) with the exception of expenses relating to the duplication of manuscripts for which the author takes responsibility and/or any extraordinary expenses which will be subject to the prior approval and negotiation with the author.

Term of Agreement and Termination

This Agreement may be terminated by mutual consent, but the Agency that negotiated original Represented Sales of the Work will always be entitled to the Agency’s Commission until the rights are reverted to the Author by the Publisher of any or all of the Work. After termination, the Agency shall continue to administer Represented Contracts for negotiations begun while this Agreement was in effect and retain Agency’s Commission on the Represented Contracts therein.

Arbitration of Disputes

Any controversy, claim, or dispute between the Agency and myself that cannot be resolved will be taken to Arbitration and our differences resolved under the laws of the State of OH.


(Author’s Name)



When the agent finally figures out how talented and amazing your work is, you will receive a response showing interest in denoting your marvelous authoring. Sometimes, excitement makes us blind or completely inadequate. Don’t make any final decisions right away. Wait a bit longer to compare a few agents and their ways of representation.

Once you find your perfect match, this means that you have successfully accomplished your plan and your next step will be:

•Sign a literary contract

Congratulations! You don’t need to do any more steps since your agent will direct you and you are going to do what your agent says.

If you decide to find a literary agent, Belka Books Press can help you with pitch writing and agents' finding. I’m happy to work with Belka Books Press! We also offer affordable publishing and book marketing services for writers. We do book cover design and author's promotion, book video trailers and individual consultations for writers, website design and proofreading services, we share tips for writers and book marketing tips.

Next Blog Post: How to self-publish your book

In the meantime, please sign up to receive a notification about my next blog post. I’d be extremely grateful if you can like ❤️and share this article on your Facebook or Twitter.

My books you can find here: Bestselling Author Store

As always, thank you for your time, and stay awesome!


29 views0 comments
bottom of page