Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

Finding a literary agent

If you want to catch the eye of a traditional publisher, you need to be represented by a literary agent. But how do you find an agent— and not just any agent, but the right agent?

In this post, we’ll share a few tips on how to secure the right literary agent to represent you.

Once a literary agent offers to represent you, here are 15 questions you should ask.

Here’s What a Good Literary Agent Does

So, you’ve heard that you need a literary agent, but you’re not exactly sure why it’s necessary. Is it really worth all that hassle to get a literary agent?

Yes. If you want to get the attention of a traditional publishing house, you absolutely need a literary agent. Here’s what a literary agent can do for you:

  • Give you access to traditional publishers who don’t accept unsolicited queries
  • Provide insight on what sells and what doesn’t (based on their experience in the publishing industry)
  • Connect you with the right person— They don’t just know the right publishers to go to with your book, they also know the right people to speak to
  • Negotiate the best deal possible with the publisher because it’s in the agent’s best interest to do so
  • Help you understand the terms of your contract
  • Help you find more publishing opportunities in the future

Finish Writing Your Book

Finding a literary agent

Please do not attempt to find a literary agent until you’ve finished writing your book. You’d be surprised how many writers send out a query with an incomplete manuscript and a bucket full of dreams.  Many agents will ask for a sample from your manuscript. If they love your work, they’ll want the rest of the book right away. (They don’t like waiting.)

Also, after you’ve finished the book, make sure that it is in the best possible shape before querying a literary agent.

A poorly written manuscript sample is the number one reason why literary agents reject your query. 

Your story must offer a unique reading experience, and it should be well written.

The first step is to edit your manuscript yourself. Here are 10 DIY tips to shape up your manuscript.

The next step is to hire a professional editor to critique your manuscript and get it into tip-top condition. While you should never pay for the representation of a literary agent, you still need to financially invest in your unpublished manuscript. This means hiring a professional editor to go through your final draft. But who you choose to edit your work is just as important as getting it done.

One advantage of using NYBE is that we know exactly what literary agents are looking for. Our editors have relationships with top literary agents and publishers and use insider knowledge to offer expert advice. Be sure to mention that you’ve received professional editing from us in your query letter.

To learn more about our editing services, check out this page.

Research Agents Based on Your Preferred Genre

To find the right literary agent to query, take stock of your favorite books. Also, make a list of books that are, in some way, similar to your own manuscript. With list in hand, find out who represents these authors.

That’s right, Holmes, it’s time to put your detective hat on.

One way to find out the author’s agent is to simply flip through the pages of the book itself. Many authors acknowledge their literary agents in the front pages of their books.

Another option is to get a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace. Publisher’s Marketplace has been around for years and is still the number one place to go when looking for literary agents. You can use their site to find agents based on publishing deals in a particular genre. This ensures that you’re finding agents who are selling.

A subscription to PublishersMarketplace.com costs about $25 a month and is well worth the investment (you may only need to use it for a month or two).

Once you’ve created a list of agents that you potentially want to work with, it’s time to do some further research. Research every literary agent before sending out your query. You already know the basics about them, such as their name, preferred genre, and other authors they may represent. Now, dig a little deeper. Check out their social media channels. Many agents are on either Twitter or Facebook (or both). You can find out a lot about a person based on what they post on social media. The agent is also likely to share what type of stories and writing styles they are looking for.

Follow the Submission Guidelines

This is a biggie and one that’s often overlooked. Different literary agents have different submission guidelines and it’s crucial that you abide by their rules.

I get it. When you’re sending out dozens of inquiries a week, the last thing you want to do is jump through specific hoops. But jump, you must. If you don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines to the letter, your query will be promptly disregarded, even if you have the next great American novel.

Pour Your Heart and Soul Into a Query Letter

Finding a literary agent

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that your query letter is the most important letter you’ll pen. That’s because your query letter will help you hook a literary agent and then secure a top publishing deal.

Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only writer who’s querying that particular literary agent. So you need to write a letter that stands out from the crowd and blows them away with your brilliance.

It’s best to think of your query letter as your foot in the door. In one page and in under 300 words, you need to convince a complete stranger to take a chance on your manuscript. It’s definitely one of the hardest parts of being a writer, especially if you’re not good at selling yourself. However, if you want to score a quality literary agent, you have to come up with an engaging query letter.

Fortunately, there’s a formula for crafting the perfect letter. Check out our advice on how to do it right in this post: How to Write a Darn Good Query Letter.

Personalize Your Query

It is possible to write an awesome query letter that’s also hopelessly generic. Don’t forget to personalize your query.

In addition to following the agency’s submission guidelines, give a nod to the agent who’s reading it. If you’ve spent the time to find their email address (and stalk them on social media), you can also take a few extra minutes to learn more about the agent and who they represent.

In other words, nix the “To whom it may concern” greeting. Include the agent’s name, at the very least.

You can also start off your letter with a reason why you’re querying that particular agent. Perhaps they represent an author and/ or book that you enjoy. It’s worth the effort to mention this tidbit at the start of your letter. Such personalization can ingratiate you to the literary agent and keep them reading.

Brace Yourself for Rejection

Rejection is the writer’s constant companion. It’s best to reconcile yourself with this somber fact now.

You will receive rejection letters from literary agents who simply don’t “get” you. As long as you’ve followed the submission guidelines, presented a polished manuscript, and maintained a professional demeanor, you’ve done everything right. All you can do is continue to pitch to other literary agents. Eventually, you’ll find one who appreciates your work and is willing to represent you. Be patient with yourself and, above all, don’t give up.

As they say, there’s someone for everyone, and that extends to literary representation, too.

Don’t Accept the First Offer Right Away

When you do receive an offer for representation, don’t just blindly accept it with glee and a hint of desperation. Instead, think through it carefully. Your literary agent is your business manager, and you need to make sure that you’re making the right choice.

Additional Resources

Before you go, check out these related posts:

Don’t forget to download this list of 15 questions to ask when a literary agent offers to represent you.

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