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Literary Agents and How To Find Them


A literary agent is someone who shops your manuscript to acquisition editors at publishing houses. They are notoriously difficult to approach and to get them to champion your book, so why should you bother to have one? How does it benefit you?

If you wish to go the traditional publishing route, they are necessary. Agents have connections with the Big 5 publishers and their multiple imprints and smaller publishers. Most of the Big 5 publishers will only accept agented submissions. The agency is expected to vet your work before they try to sell it.

Agents have a finger on the pulse of publishing markets. They know what is hot, what is not, and what is probably coming down the pipeline. Agents negotiate on your behalf to make sure you are getting the best deal. They also negotiate foreign edition, audiobook, movie, and merchandising rights. Some of the larger agencies have film and television departments for shopping your rights. They know the legal ins and outs of intellectual property contracts. As your advocate, they will help you find marketing and publicity opportunities and keep you from getting ripped off. Publishing is a cutthroat business.

Agents make money when you make money. They earn a percentage of your book advance and royalties. They often work hard on projects that never see the light of day and therefor they don't get paid for all that time and effort. The majority really earn their percentage. But there are rogue agents who are not professional and some who have actually stolen from their clients. That is why it is extremely important to vet your agent. Don't just see the title and think you have won the lotto. It is critical to know who you are going into business with because they will make money off of your books even if they leave the agency, retire, or abscond to the Bahamas.

Agents are never paid up front. If an agent asks for money, shut it down. Agents do not publish your book to KDP or other self-publishing platforms. That is not their job. If they tell you they will publish your book, then they are acting as a publisher not an agent. They are then advocating for themselves, not you.

Where do you find legitimate agents? Do your research and make sure they are an agent with a legitimate agency. It is much easier to find an agent these days thanks to the internet and social media. The place to start is the MS Wishlist at There you will find agents who are open to submissions and what they are looking for. It is more up to date than the Writer's Marketplace, but I would still go to the individual's page or site and make certain nothing has changed and that they are still open to submissions. Sometimes their workload is so heavy, they have to push the pause button. Not now does not mean never. Check out their Twitter feed and website for more information. I recommend thoroughly researching them before pitching. Read their instructions carefully and follow them. This is your first impression. There are readers going through huge piles of manuscripts looking for a reason to cut one from the pile. Don't give it to them. Don't do something cute or outrageous. That will not get you the good kind of attention. Be professional. It's like a job interview.

The next best place to meet agents is at writing workshops and conferences. Many of them hold pitching sessions or even do critiques of chapters. Meeting an agent in person, and making a good impression, will give you the greatest chance of being accepted as a client. I know one client that met her agent at a conference and that agent worked hard for ten years to get her project placed. The agent never gave up.

Here are some questions to ask:

Who do they work with? Are they a large agency or small agency? Is it a well-known agency with a good reputation or are they just beginning their career? Becoming a successful agent is harder to do if they haven't worked with larger agencies who have connections. Do they have any experience at all? If they work for a big agency, a new agent will have more openings for clients and they will be guided by the agency itself. So better to get a beginning agent within a larger company than a standalone agent attempting to strike out on their own.

Where have they successfully sold clients' work? What publishers do they have experience with? Have they ever negotiated with one of the Big 5? Not all agents are created equal. Many agents have left larger agencies to create smaller boutique agencies. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may not be a good thing either if they can't sell their projects on their own or have no experience selling your style of book.

Who have they represented successfully in the past? Look at their roster of clients. What type of books have they sold? What genres? To what imprints? How well have those projects sold? How long ago was their last successful sale?

Who do they plan to pitch your project to among the big five?

What kind of social media presence do they have: Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.

Did they reach out to you? Agents are not trolling social media looking for clients. If an agent approaches you, that is a big red flag. It may feel like a dream, but will most likely end as a nightmare. Agents pitch, publishers publish. They are likely one of the many predators out there. 

Here are some places you can research predators.

Predators are like the game Whack-A-Mole. When one gets shut down another pops up. Author House and their ilk have a million names.

The final question if you find an agent and they accept your submission is, can you work together? Do you have the same vision for your project? Are you simpatico? If not, then it is okay to move on.

There are no guarantees in the publishing business. Whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you need to understand that once you have a product, the focus shifts to selling. If you hate selling, then you are in trouble because you will be expected to promote the book. Traditional publishers may set up many interviews and writing events you will need to attend. Though a lot is currently being done through Zoom, you may have to change into work clothes and leave the house, perhaps travel. Publishers have limited marketing budgets and if you don't help them sell the book, it won't succeed. Your agent cannot do that part for you. They can only hold your hand along the way.

It's important to do the research before submitting your manuscript. There is no point in trying to sell nuts to someone with a nut allergy. Look for an agent who loves the same type of book you write. Agents can be terrific cheerleaders if they love your story as much as you do.

A final thought is, don't be a difficult client. When they announce submission guidelines, follow them. That proves you will be easy to work with. Don't make unrealistic demands about where you expect your book to be placed or insist it needs to be a movie. Chances are, you will never get a movie deal, ever. Breaking into Hollywood is harder than breaking into Fort Knox and theft is rampant. If you see "agents" approaching you and telling you they can turn your novel into a "treatment" or get it looked at by the industry, run. That is a big fat lie. Even if they do craft a "treatment" for a screenplay, that thing will never be greenlit by movie makers. The industry just doesn't work that way. Even professional screenwriters have projects that go nowhere because they can't attach big name talent and the movie makers are investing in Star Wars #77.

 Acquiring a legitimate literary agent is a far better use of your time. Agents aren't your enemy. They love stories. They want stories. But they want stories they know they can sell. If you get a rejection, it doesn't necessarily reflect on the quality of your book. You just may not be the right fit for them or for the connections they sell to. The marketplace is very tight right now. No for now, doesn't mean no forever if you really want that golden ticket to traditional publishing.

So head on over to the MS Wishlist and see what is available. You may be surprised. They have made it so much easier to pitch an agent these days. No more snail mail and boxed typed manuscripts. It can be as easy as the push of a button.

Related posts:

The Query Letter, Making the Pitch

Agents and Conferences

Posted by Diana Hurwitz, author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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  2. I took the wrong one way back around 2008 for my suspense novels. She loved what I wrote but just didn't have the connections to sell them. I was so excited someone wanted me, I signed with her. I wish I had held out. I signed with a good erotic online publisher, but when when nothing happened with my crime fiction, I went the self-publishing route. I did well for a while, but then it all changed around 2015 or 16. By then I'd published a bunch of books myself. There are advantages to self-publishing, control being one of them, but you never really get that validation of being a traditionally published author.

    If you think you have a good book, hold out for a good agent. There are plenty separated by genre at

    Good luck.

    1. Making the wrong match is worse than not making a match at all. Your time and product are tied up in a relationship that won't work.

  3. Early on, when I wanted to market my first novel, I explored the possibility of hiring an agent. The process took more time than I wanted to devote to it, and traditional publishing didn't appeal to me because of the typically long time that passed between the decision to publish and the actual publishing date. Already in my 60s, I wasn't comfortable with that time frame. Having said that, a good agent is worth her (or his) weight in gold, as the saying goes. Scammers abound in the publishing world just as they do in many other places. Reputable agents protect writers against scammers, as well as bring much more value to the writer's table. Personally, I will continue to independently publish, but that's not for everyone. It's a matter of choice and circumstances. Great post, Diana!

  4. I decided to publishing independently because of time too. I didn't think I had much left. Luckily, I got diagnosed finally and got treatment, so I have a few good years left. But I hate selling, so it's a double-edged sword for me. Love the work, hate the selling. You have to become a salesperson no matter which way you get published. I manage to sell books every month with limited effort. It still surprises me.


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