What Is A Literary Agent? 3 Steps To Find Your Dream Agent

Posted on Apr 17, 2023

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Written by Sarah Rexford

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If you’ve ever wondered what a literary agent is or how to get one, you are in the right spot. Literary agents are one of the backbones of the publishing industry and a crucial part of getting your work in front of the right editors.

Of course, if you decide to self-publish you will not need an agent, but if you want to traditionally publish your book, signing with a good literary agent is one of your first main steps to becoming published.

In this article we cover what a literary agent is, how to find an agent for your book, literary agents by genre, and of course, things to be aware of. Ready to dive in? Let’s get going! 

What Is A Literary Agent?

A literary agent is an individual who represents your work to publishers and takes care of the business side of contracts. An agent is extremely helpful for new writers as well as seasoned writers because they know the ins and outs of the industry so well. 

For example, if you are new to traditionally publishing, it may come as a surprise that many publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, or manuscripts sent in via the writer. Many publishers only accept manuscripts sent in by a literary agent. 

In this way, an agent acts as part of the vetting process for you and your book. If you are able to sign with an agent, the publisher recognizes that your writing is solid and an industry professional takes you seriously. Because of this, they will be much more likely to look at your manuscript.

How To Find An Agent For Your Book?

One of the best ways to find a good agent for your book is by checking out Publishers Marketplace or another well-known, online platform. When you begin looking into agents it is important to consider the genre you write in as well as the genre they represent.

#1 – Make Use of Search Engines

Some websites allow you to categorize what type of agent you need and therefore lessen your time spent in your search process. For example, you can check certain categories that apply to you and leave categories that do not apply, blank.

When finding an agent for your book, it’s crucial to understand both the genre you write and your intended market. Some agents represent both fiction and nonfiction. If you find yourself writing in multiple genres, you may want to consider finding one agent who represents your chosen genres, rather than trying to find multiple agents.

#2 – Reach Out To Writing Friends

Another great way to find an agent is by simply asking your writing community who their agents are. When I was signing with my first agent, I reached out to a writer who had signed with the same agency. I wanted to have a good understanding of her experience and how the agency worked before I put my name on the contract.

Even if you do not have friends who have signed with agents yet, you can make use of online writing communities on Facebook or even use the hashtag #WritingCommunity on Twitter. Let your fellow writers know that you are looking for an agent and welcome their responses.

#3 – Attend Writing Conferences 

Writing conferences are perhaps one of the best ways to sign with a literary agent. Not only do they allow you to present your work to an agent in person, but they also provide you the opportunity to ensure that your pitch gets through to them.

Rather than wonder if your email arrived in their inbox, you can sit across the table from them and pitch your work, live. Chatting in person also allows you to clear up any potential misunderstandings and provide further clarity on your platform and overall writing experience.

Literary Agents By Genre

As mentioned, most agents stick to a particular genre or a list of genres. While some agents may represent many genres, it can be helpful to find one who specializes in the genre you write. Writer’s Digest is a great source for finding reputable agents in your genre.

You may also want to consider looking at your favorite authors and finding who represents them. Well you may not be able to sign with their specific literary agent, if you go to the agency’s website you can likely find a list of agents who represent your genre.

Did you love the Divergent series? Check out Veronica Roth’s agent and agency. Did you grow up reading Harry Potter? You know where to look! While it may feel like a drastic overshot to look into the agency of your favorite author, it’s actually a great place to start.

The authors you know and love likely live careers that you want to one day emulate. When you can start your literary agent search by looking into a well-known agency,  you’re one step closer to your goal.

Things To Be Aware Of

Like every industry, the publishing industry also has a list of things to take note of prior to signing a contract. As you seek out a literary agent, beware of any who ask for any form of upfront payment, no matter what the reason. 

You should never have to pay an agent anything other than the roughly 15% commission they receive after they land you a book deal. 

A second important factor to be aware of, no matter how well-known the agency, is the fine print in the contract. You want to be extremely clear on:

  • What exactly you are signing your name to
  • How long the agent/writer relationship will be in effect
  • How to void the contract if necessary, and if you can
  • What is expected of you
  • What you can expect of them
  • Rights, foreign rights, etc. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is highly recommended that you consult a lawyer before you sign your contact. 

While reputable literary agents want to support you and your journey to becoming a successful author, understanding exactly what’s in the contract will help you start off on the right foot and with a healthy, mutual understanding.

Final Thoughts And Next Steps

When it comes to traditional publishing, it may feel desirable to go it alone. After all, you wrote the entire book and you want to gain all the royalties. Sharing 15% is quite a chunk. 

However, when you consider what a literary agent does for you, the doors they can open, and the negotiations they can work in your favor, it’s well worth it. 

Remember, you never have to pay an agent upfront and you do not pay them anything until they simply take their commission. It’s well worth it to have someone on your team who is a professional in the industry, understands the fine print of contracts, and can negotiate the best book deals for you.

Enjoy the process of searching out your first literary agent, and don’t be discouraged if it takes time. I’ve heard that finding a literary agent can be as difficult as landing a traditional book deal. You’ve got this. And just remember, everything worth investing in often requires some sacrifice up front!


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