Posted on September 11, 2019 at 10:11 AM by Guest Author

Finding a literary agent isn’t at the top of every author’s to-do list. Find out if it’s the right choice for you and what steps to take.

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Should All Authors Prioritize Finding a Literary Agent?

In short, not necessarily…

The importance of finding a literary agent varies depending on whom you ask. 

Some strongly believe that major success can only be attained with the help of a professional who has connections with big-name publishing houses.

Others, however, see the value in forgoing this relationship to reduce costs and speed up distribution. 

Today, having an agent is no longer a necessity — it’s a choice.

Authors who opt to publish or submit their work without the aid of an agent can still make writing a viable career.  

Ultimately, the choice to work with an agent comes down to the author and the type of work they’re trying to get published. 

So, should you consider finding a literary agent?

Here’s a quick guide to help you decide. 

If you…
  • Want someone who will fight for you and your work

  • Are confused by the business side of writing

  • Would like to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace

…then, yes, you may want to think about enlisting the help of a literary agent. 

If you…
  • Don’t want to wait a long time to see your work published

  • Have written something particularly unique and outside the mainstream

  • Want to maintain control over the costs of and profits from publishing your book

…then, no, you likely don’t need to think about searching for a literary agent at this time. 

Whether you’re interested in finding a literary agent now or simply want to educate yourself in case you change your mind down the road, it’s worth learning about how to find a literary agent — one who’s right for your work and your needs.      

Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

First things first: One mistake that some authors make is jumping in too fast.

Eager to sign on with an agent who will get their work picked up by a publisher, they’ll do a quick internet search and start sending out emails to any name they see. 

Don’t do this!

If you’ve come to the conclusion that finding a literary agent is in your best interest, you need to remember that it’s a relationship.

And as with any relationship, you must be sure the other party is a good fit. 

You can use the following tips to do just that. 

1) Categorize your work. 

Before you start searching for an agent, you need to categorize your work. 

Is it fiction or nonfiction? What specific genre does it fall under (the most)?

No matter what format your book will be available in — be it an ebook, paperback, audiobook, or all three — it must fit within at least one existing category in the marketplace. 

Being able to categorize your work in simple terms will make the process of finding a literary agent much easier.

More importantly, it’s something you should do from the start in order to successfully market and sell your book.  

2) Search for literary agents who specialize in your genre. 

Once you’ve identified what type of book you’ve written, you can search for literary agents who work in that genre. 

Consider the following techniques:

Finding a literary agent who specializes in your genre increases the likelihood of your query being read and — with any luck — accepted.

Nothing gets tossed out faster than a query completely unrelated to an agent’s niche. 

3) Research agent candidates.  

After you’ve compiled a list of potential agents who work in your genre, you need to do some additional research into each one.

For example, read their website, search author forums, check out their social media, and look for reviews from other writers. 

Another good rule of thumb is to see if they’ve been mentioned on Writer Beware, which provides warnings to authors about literary scams. If they have, stay away!

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you research each candidate:

  • Are they open to submissions?

  • What do other writers have to say about them?

  • How long have they worked in the industry?

  • Do they seem to enjoy their work?

  • Do they speak/write in a way that resonates with you?

Of course, you won’t be 100% sure that an agent is the right fit until you’ve had a chance to speak with them yourself.

However, by doing your homework, you can narrow down your list of candidates to one who has the experience and demonstrates the characteristics you’re looking for. 

How to Approach a Literary Agent

Once you’ve succeeded in finding a literary agent who seems right for your work and needs, you’ll need to make sure you approach them the right way. 

IMPORTANT: Though you likely won’t get an immediate response from an agent, you must make sure your manuscript (if you’ve written a piece of fiction) or proposal (if you’ve written a piece of nonfiction) is complete and ready to go when requested. 

If this key piece has already been taken care of, you can proceed to contact the agent you feel would serve you best…

Read the agent’s submission guidelines to see what they require. It may be a synopsis, a proposal, or sample chapters. Most agents include “no unsolicited materials” in their guidelines, so don’t send your complete manuscript in the initial contact.  

Write a personalized query letter that catches the agent’s attention. You need to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the agent and are familiar with their niche.

Further, you must hook them immediately to stand out from the dozens (possibly hundreds) of query letters they receive each day. 

Wait to see if you get a response. After a few months, you may decide to follow up with them. If so, be polite and specify what query you’re contacting them about.  


It’s worth noting that many authors have gone on to win awards and sell millions of books without agent assistance.

However, agents can be helpful, especially for established writers who have found success in the U.S. ebook market but are trying to crack new territories — whether it’s print, foreign rights, or film/TV adaptations. 

If you decide that this type of business relationship is right for you, then you need to approach the process of finding a literary agent methodically.

Remember — you don’t need to rush and partner with the first one who offers you a contract. 

Wait until you find the perfect match. And always be sure to protect yourself before signing anything. 

>>>Ready to start selling your book? Download our free 5-Step Guide to Increased Book Sales!<<<

Categories: Behind the scenes

Garth, the previous comment from Leslie has some great advice on that. You can also search Author Beware to see if the agent is mentioned there or do some online research, like you would with any other contractor.
Sadye at Fussy | 1/20/20 at 8:21 AM
how do I find out which agencies are creditable.
garth profitt | 1/16/20 at 10:58 PM
Great article with helpful hints! As a writer who has had an agent for many years, here is what I can tell you about my experience: He has tried to sell six of my books to top eds (a few of which have made it to the coveted round table!) but he has yet to snag a deal. While I could look for a new agent, I trust him and his judgement, as he has sold scores of books, both American and foreign rights, has solidified a few movie deals, and is of high standing in the publishing world, But because he has not yet sold a book for me (and believe me, we try!), a few years ago I decided, with his blessing, to self-publish any book he could not sell., I have a 5th self-published book coming out this fall, and in the meantime, he is shopping one of my newer novels. It is sort of a double life, having Big Five editors read my work while taking control of the ones he could not sell. That said, I'd like to add a few more pieces of advice to those at the beginning of their agent search: --The bible for finding an agent is the Literary Marketplace. You can purchase it online, or in physical form. This is the book where I found my agent. --Make sure your prospective agent is a member of the AAR (Association of Author Representatives). This is sort of like the Better Business Bureau of literary agents. --And finally, go to the Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) online. This is an updated list of what agents (and editors) are currently looking for. Even though I have an agent, I often go there to see what editors in my genre are interested in. As always, if an agent asks you for money, run the other way!
Leslie Tall Manning | 9/27/19 at 5:50 PM
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