Currently, more than 80 percent of New York-based books are sold by literary agents. Agents represent the interests of their author-clients and have extensive knowledge of the publishing industry.
They know which editors are most likely to purchase specific works and have insider contacts with specific publishers. In addition to securing the best possible book deal for you, agents can ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, protect your rights, negotiate a fair contract, and act as an intermediary between you and the publisher when necessary.
Due to this, finding a good agent to represent you and your books is a vital part of the traditional publishing process. This article will do its best to ensure you close the tab knowing how to find a book agent!
So, How to Find a Book Agent...
There is a myriad of book agents available to choose from, but not all of them will be the right fit for you or the vision you have for your publishing career. You will need to find an agent who has experience in the genre you wish to write in. Try not to simply settle for the first offer you receive. Remember the person you choose will be your main representative.
The steps you will need to take to find a literary agent are:
- Do the necessary research
- Check reputable agent lists online, and
- Query the agents you find interested in
These three steps are not always as daunting as they sound. Let’s take a closer look at each step to help put your mind at ease.
Doing The Necessary Research To Find Book Agent That Would Work For You
The first step to finding a good book agent is knowing what qualities you would like the agent representing you to have. Make a wish list of the literary agencies you think would be a good fit for you and the qualities you would need them to have. Do you want them to have contacts at specific publishing houses? Are you hoping to get a future movie deal?
It is important to work with an agent who has the connections to help you succeed. When choosing an agent to represent your professional writing career, you will be communicating a lot with him or her, so get a sense of what's out there and find someone you can trust with the future of not only this book but your next book as well.
Check Popular Databases for Lists of Agents
Some websites provide databases for agents and community resources to assist authors in finding representation. These sites allow you to search for agents by keyword or genre, such as science fiction, picture books, literary fiction, or narrative nonfiction, to narrow down your search.
Some of the most popular free agent databases are:
AgentQuery :: Find the Agent Who Will Find You a Publisher
The Official Manuscript Wish List & #MSWL ® Website
Association of American Literary Agents, Inc. - Member Database (aaronline.org)
Literary Agents Database | Poets & Writers (pw.org)
List of Literary Agents - Free Directory of Book Agents (literary-agents.com)
Finally, Query The Agents You Are Interested In Working With
Once you create the wishlist of the agents you are interested in working with, the next step would be to submit some query letters. In a query, you provide all of the pertinent information about you, your book, and its intended audience in a brief, one-page letter.
You need a good query letter to stand out to an agent, so keep it short and enticing. That is your best shot of grabbing their attention. Once you've caught an agent's attention, they may ask to see your full manuscript. Upon reading your work, they then decide whether or not to represent you.
Is It Possible To Find An Agent After Self-Publishing?
Yes, but this does make the process a tad trickier. You may be able to attract an agent's attention by self-publishing your work. When you self-publish you have the potential to build up an audience and a more prominent presence in the modern literary scene. This could help you stand out above the rest of the competition when querying agents.
It is important to note, however, that should you opt to self-publish and not get a good reception this could also tank your chances or make it harder to land an agent.
How Can A Book Agent Help Me?
The literary agent is intimately familiar with the publishing industry and has extensive knowledge of how it works. As well as having access to publishing houses, they also provide their client list with access to major houses as well as independent publishers. Their agents know what kind of books editors enjoy, what booksellers want, and how to market their writers' works.
For example, they know which independent publishers want children's books, or which big New York publishers want a collection of young adult short stories. Literary agents know everything you need to get published and work hard to champion your work. These are just some ways an agent can help you, but I have also detailed these benefits below.
What Are The Benefits Of Working With A Book Agent?
The benefits of working with a book agent are many and varied. Here are just a few of the ways in which an agent can help you as an author:
1. They can connect you with the right publishers. If you want to nail your book’s target market, then it’s vital to send it to the right publishing house. But finding the right contacts in the world of publishing can be tough – unless you have a good literary agent on your side.
A good agent will have established relationships with key personnel at all the major publishers, and will know exactly where your book would be best suited. They’ll also be able to get your foot in the door at smaller, independent presses that you might not have considered.
2. They can negotiate the best possible deal for you. Even if you’re a whizz at negotiating, it’s always worth having an expert on your side when it comes to hammering out the details of a publishing contract.
After all, this is the document that will determine how much money you make from your book, what rights you retain, and what kind of creative control you have over the final product. A good agent will make sure that you get the best possible deal – and they’ll also be able to spot any red flags that might indicate a bad contract.
3. They can provide valuable feedback on your manuscript. It can be tough to get objective feedback on your work – but a good agent will be able to give you an honest appraisal of your manuscript, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting ways in which it could be improved. This feedback can be invaluable in helping you to make your book the best it can be.
Should You Be Looking for a Literary Agent?
What you sell determines whether you need a book agent or not. If you're hoping to get published by one of the major New York houses (Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House), then you'll most likely need one -- and you'll want one working for you.
A writer who writes about a niche market (e.g., vintage cars) or who wrote a literary or academic work may not require representation. An agent's motivation to take on a client is based on how much money they think they can get in advance. An agent may not be interested in your project if it does not command a decent advance, and you will have to sell it yourself.
Different books have different levels of commercial viability: some are large-scale, suited to traditional publishing houses (for example, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House). Another type is a "quiet" book, suitable for mid-and small presses.
It is important to remember that not all books are suited for New York publishing houses, or even to be represented by agents; most writers are reluctant to appraise their work honestly.
General Rule for the Big Five
There are a few general rules about what types of books are appropriate for a Big Five traditional publisher:
- Genre or mainstream fiction, including new adult, young adult, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, mystery/crime, erotica, and romance fiction
- A Barnes & Noble or an independent bookstore would typically shelve nonfiction books with a strong hook, concept, or platform. It is rare for a publisher in New York to take on a nonfiction book unless it expects to sell at least ten thousand to twenty thousand copies.
Study the deals announced on PublishersMarketplace.com and subscribe for a month to get a better idea of what sells. This is an excellent way to learn more about what commercial publishing is like.
Don't despair if your work doesn't seem to fit a New York house. Numerous small presses, midsize houses, digital-only publishers, regional presses, university presses, and independent publishers would be thrilled to publish your work. They are out there; you just need to look for them.
Top 3 Questions To Ask When Choosing a Literary Agent That’s Right for You
- What Is Your Sales History?
This is usually the most telling sign of a good agent. Check out the list of the agent’s clients and the publishers they have sold to recently. Is the type of publisher your agent sells to the one you consider appropriate for your work? Does their client's advance rate meet your criteria for a good advance? It is important to remember that these factors can be subjective and are also based on your genre/category as well as your sense of identity as an author.
In the end, you should ensure that your agent represents the type of work you are attempting to sell. PublishersMarketplace (subscription required) lists agent-publisher deals reported by agents on their site.
What if It’s A New Agent?
A new agent who is trying to build a clientele is sometimes easier to work with. If you're a new author with a potentially small deal, a new and "hungry" agent can be just as effective as an established agent. Consider an agent's previous publishing experience even if their track record is still developing. For instance, was the agent formerly an editor? You may also want to consider the agency the agent is associated with. These are both good indicators if the agent is affiliated with a solid agency and/or has a long history of working with New York houses. Be sure the agent hasn't been trying to build their list for a very long time.
- How Confident Are You With Communicating Openly With Your Clients and Editors?
A professional agent will treat you well. Professional agents respond promptly, treat you like a partner, don't keep their business operations a secret, and communicate clearly and respectfully.
Sadly, the most common complaint from agents and unpublished writers is not being able to reach their agents-or a lack of communication about the status of the project. The best agents don't leave their clients in the dark for extended periods and they should explain each step in the process in great detail-no loose ends, no vague reports.
However, some unpublished writers are very demanding and seem to have unreasonable expectations. How do they behave? You expect your agent to call you at any time to have a conversation, to contact you daily, or to provide a near-instant response. You should keep in mind that agents work for free until you sell your book. Their priority is to respond to their established clients-those who bring in the revenue.
- How Excited Are You To Rep My Book?
Does the agent seem to believe in you and your work? As much as agents want to make a sale, they're also concerned with projects they enjoy and clients whose careers they feel proud to represent and help shape.
It's impossible to measure enthusiasm quantitatively. In other words, your agent is going to handle your publisher contracts, negotiations, and other financial matters (including paying you) for the entire life of your work. Your agent must be trustworthy and respected. Through the life of the book, the agent will champion your cause and resolve conflicts with the publisher. Business partnerships are meaningful, and fitting is crucial.
Agent Hunting FAQs
How Do You Know If An Agent Is Right For You?
An agent can be a great resource for an author, but it's important to make sure that the agent is a good fit for you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering an agent:
Does the agent represent the genre of writing that I do?
Do they have experience with the type of book I'm trying to sell?
What are their submission guidelines? Are they flexible or inflexible?
How long have they been in business? Are they established and reputable?
What is their fee structure? Are they negotiable? Do they take a commission on sales or just on contract signings?
How often do they communicate with their clients?
How Much Should You Expect To Pay An Agent?
You don't need to pay a book agent. In most cases, agents work on commission, which means they only get paid if and when your book is published. So, if you're working with a reputable agent, they should be motivated to help you get your book published as quickly as possible.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you're working with a very high-profile agent who has a lot of clout in the industry, they may charge an upfront fee. But in most cases, you shouldn't need to pay anything to an agent upfront.
How Easy Is It to Get a Book Agent?
It can be easy to get a book agent. However, it can also be difficult, especially if you do not have an already established platform or if your manuscript is not completed.
The best way to find an agent is to research the agencies that represent the type of writing you do and then submit your query letter. A query letter is a one-page letter that introduces you and your manuscript to agents. It should be well written, concise, and polite - you can see our Query Letter Templates And Examples for more details