Literary Agents: The Basics

So, you’ve written a book. Congratulations! The first step in your journey toward publication is complete. What comes next? If you have decided to pursue traditional publishing, it’s time to look for a literary agent.


A literary agent represents an author and submits manuscripts to publishers on the author’s behalf. However, literary agents are not just an author’s advocate. They are also industry tastemakers, contract negotiators, and, at times, preliminary editors. Literary agents know the ins and outs of the publishing industry, are well connected, and know which editors will best fit your manuscript. And since most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, securing a literary agent is the next important step on your publication journey.


There are many resources available to authors looking to find a literary agent. First, you can consult Writer’s Market, which is an annually published industry guidebook that lists publishers, literary agents, professional writing organizations, and more to help aspiring authors get published. Other great resources include Twitter, industry publications and websites, and your favorite books. 

Let’s start with Twitter. Many literary agents are active on Twitter. Not only do they tweet about who and what they represent, many agents also tweet about what they’re looking to acquire. Savvy authors will put their investigative skills to work and search for literary agents on Twitter. Some hashtags to search include: #querying, #querytip, #MSWL, #literaryagent, and any genre related hashtags i.e #romancelandia. 

Another great resource is industry publications and websites as they typically highlight the newest and biggest deals and include the name of the author’s agent/agency. Publishers Weekly is a weekly trade news magazine that focuses on the American publishing market and is targeted toward industry professionals such as publishers, literary agents, booksellers, and librarians. While a print subscription can be very costly, the website is a great resource. Similarly, Publishers Lunch is a free daily newsletter that highlights key deals, acquisitions, industry news, and more. You can sign up here:

Lastly, the books on your shelf are one of the best resources you have. Authors almost always thank their agents. Check the acknowledgements at the end of the books you’re reading, or that are similar to your own book. Find that agent’s name, write it down, and then find their Twitter account or agency’s website to continue your research. Research is key no matter which resource you use. I recommend using all the resources above, and any others you may find to help you on your search for a literary agent.  


Once you’ve found the names of literary agents, it’s time to dig deeper into their backgrounds. Agents love to list who they work with. Check out the other authors/books they’ve represented. Study their list. Are there commonalities? Do they represent fiction or nonfiction? Adult or juvenile? Are they genre specific? Do they represent the type of book you’ve written? It is important to know who the agent is, what they represent, and what they’re looking for before you query them. It is a waste of time to send a romance manuscript to an agent who primarily represents crime fiction. Furthermore, you do not want to burn a bridge before you’ve even crossed it. Stay in an agent’s good graces and only solicit those agents that have a track record of working with books like yours.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of agents you want to query, you need to determine their query guidelines. Most agents accept queries via email and regular mail, although email is preferred. What are the agent’s requirements for fiction? What are their requirements for nonfiction? Some agencies stipulate that you not solicit two of their agents simultaneously and wait to contact the second agent until the first agent passes on your project. Knowing these details is essential to building successful relationships. 

You may submit your query and be rejected. However, that does not mean it is a no forever. Perhaps it’s just not the right project for that agent at that particular moment in time. If you have another manuscript to shop, and it fits that agent’s repertoire, try again. Few authors secure an agent with their first manuscript. However, many authors do secure an agent after querying the same agent multiple times, with several different manuscripts, until the right one fits into place. Persevere, stay positive, and do the work.