Literary Agents: A Guide

Everybody wants to be a writer, but many don’t understand the importance of having a literary agent on your side.

Today, a vast majority of books published by the larger houses are sold by agents. They’re specifically trained in the art of selling work and negotiating the best deal(s) for their clients.

Do You Really Need a Literary Agent?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but the short answer is No. However, if you want to sell to a traditional publishing house, you will need a literary agent representing you.

In fact, it can be extremely difficult to get an editor to even look at your manuscript without it first being represented by an agent. To do it alone, you have to know someone.

If you write within a very specific niche, such as vintage toys and collectibles, you shouldn’t need one. Agents are motivated by money; if your project may not yield a large advance, they’re not interested.

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

Typically, individual agents specialize in specific genres or other types of work. This allows them to consistently network with editors within those areas.

If you approach a fantasy-oriented agent with your brilliant, fantastical epic, they’ll tell you about all the latest trends within the genre. They can offer feedback on how to make your fantasy story sell within the current market.

Because they’ve built long-lasting (and financially beneficial) relationships with fantasy editors, they can ensure you get the best deal. The literary agent will handle all contract negotiations and be your personal guardian and representative in the literary world.

How Do I Find One of These Folks?

Don’t get ahead of yourself. The first task is creating an outstanding manuscript. You need to revise, revise, and revise again. The moment you think your story is absolutely perfect, revise it one more time.

After that, you need to get out and network. Find local literary groups using tools like Meetup. You’d be surprised who you can find – even if you don’t live in a literary mecca.

Now it’s time to do the research. Choosing your agent should not be a five-minute task. There are three basic steps you should follow:


Research and create a list of potential literary agents. AgentQuery is one of the best places to start. All you have to do is type in a keyword and genre, and a list of agents will populate.

Every agent has a complete profile showing past clients, the agency they represent, and the genres and interests of choice.

Publishers Marketplace is another great resource. Not only can it help you find an agent, but it tracks current deals, sales, news, and reviews in the literary world. The downside is that an account and subscription are both required.


Once you’ve narrowed down a list of potential agents, query them. This is your chance to pitch your book and yourself to an agent. Treat it like an interview; it’s just as important.


This will either be the easiest or the hardest step. Once you’ve given sufficient time for all of your chosen agents to read and respond to your queries, you may have a shorter list to choose from.

If all of your potential choices declined or failed to respond to your query, you need to either reconsider your original choices or sharpen your query-writing skills.

If you still have a handful (or more) to choose from, it’s time to make your final decision. Weigh the pros and cons. Research the agencies each one represents. Determine what’s best for you and your project.

What Was Your Experience?

Do you already have a literary agent? Let us know in the comments below. Describe the experience of locating the agent and what it was like working with them.

Self-publishing is always an option if you’d rather opt out of the agent route. Check out our short guide to self-publishing.



Author: Christopher Fain

Author, blogger, content writer, and screenwriter based in Orlando, Florida. He is earning a B.F.A. in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. Twitter: @chrisjf93

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