Do I Need a Literary Agent and How Do I Find One?

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Image by Marco Arment

Image by Marco Arment

Do I need a literary agent?

Short answer: yes. If you want to be published traditionally, you absolutely need an agent. (I’ll post about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing later on.)

Why do I need a literary agent?

  1. Few publishers (maybe none) will read anything unless it comes to them from a literary agent.
  2. Agents have in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry and will know which editors/publishers are most likely to be interested in your work.
  3. Your agent may give you feedback to help you to polish up your work before it gets submitted to said publisher.
  4. Your agent really believes in your work and will fight to get it out there.
  5. Your agent will negotiate your publishing contract – and because they work off of commission (they don’t make money until you do), you know they’ll negotiate it to your greatest advantage.

How do I find a literary agent?

The traditional (and still legitimate) way to find an agent is to look them up in the latest edition of Writer’s Market. But now we have the Internet; it’s much easier to look them up on AgentQuery. Start by searching by the genre you write, and make a list of the agents who are accepting submissions. Find out everything you can about each agent before you query. Visit their website (follow submission guidelines!), read their blog, and read any interviews they’ve done.

A great way to pinpoint agents who might like your book is to look up the agents who represent authors with work similar to yours. I don’t know of any standard place to find this information, but you can try the acknowledgements page of the book, the author’s website, searching by author on AgentQuery, or simply Googling it (comb through the results carefully, though; see below).

How do I avoid getting scammed?

DO NOT simply search “literary agents” on Google. I love Google, but there are droves of scam lit agents out there, and AgentQuery is a safer bet. To really protect yourself, here are a few more steps to follow.

  1. AAR– The agent’s AgentQuery profile will specify if they are an Association of Author’s Representatives member or not. Members of the AAR adhere to strict ethical guidelines. (Though there are legitimate agents who aren’t in the AAR, so don’t throw out an agent just because they aren’t a member).
  2. Predators & Editors – Look up every agent on this site before you query. It’ll tell you if they are legit or a scammer, have made recent sales, and if they come highly recommended. The website isn’t very professional, but writers have depended on it for years.
  3. Run Away from FeesNo legitimate literary agency charges writers up front. Period. If you see a reading fee, run. If you see administrative fees, run. A legitimate agency takes a commission from your publishing profits, and will not bill you until you make money.

More resources:

Learn how to query in these other posts: writing your hook, sample hooks, and what else goes in a query.

Learn more about agents, including what to ask an agent interested in representing you at AAR’s website.

Read about “spaghetti agents” and how to avoid them on former agent Nathan Bransford’s blog.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.

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  1. What a great post. Lots of information to put us on the right road to a published future. thank you.

  2. Thank you so much. I am in the process of looking for an agent. This post was an answer to prayer, literally!!

  3. Hi Stephanie and TragicPete
    Just discovered your blog and the numerous valuable posts – thanks for putting such useful info out there.
    Not sure if you’d know the answer to this query but, being based in Australia, it doesn’t take very long before a writer has contacted all the well-reputed literary agents and discovered their books are currently closed. So just wondering if you know if US agents accept submissions from overseas-based writers or would my carefully composed missive end up lurking at the bottom of the slush pile indefinitely if I don’t have a US zip code?

    • Hi Alison! According to former lit agent Nathan Bransford, submitting from another country won’t hurt your chances of getting the attention of an American agent. The only issue is if your particular story is best suited to the American market or Australian or both. You can read what he says about it here:

      Markus Zusak, for instance (of The Book Thief, one of my favorites) is an Australian author who’s sold extremely well in America. His agency is Curtis Brown (the New York agency Bransford used to work for).

      The only other thing that might be an issue – agents typically take a higher commission for international deals, say, 20% instead of 15%. Just something to keep in mind.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks for that! That’s really helpful. As you and Bransford point out, seeking US representation is really only valid if what you’ve written will appeal to the US market … makes total sense. I do find myself drawn to writing about universal themes, lives of ordinary people etc so don’t believe my work to be too insular or colloquial but I suppose it’s not just if it’s relatable but if it’s the kind of fiction that people are tending to buy at that time. All things worth considering, though, so extremely useful advice. Thanks again!

  4. Great post and absolutely on point. Thanks, Tracy.

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