How to Find a Literary Agent
You do know, don’t you, that if you hope to have just about any trade publisher consider your book manuscript, you’ll need a literary agent?
Good. But how do you go about finding one? Here’s my advice:
- If you know a published writer or are a member of a writing group that has one or more published writers, ask the author for a recommendation.
- Peruse magazines geared toward writers, and other literary-themed publications, for profiles or other references to agents.
- Attend writing conferences and attend presentations by agents. At smaller events, you might even have an opportunity to meet one.
- Enter writing competitions that offer consultations with agents as part of their award packages.
- Research and evaluate agents at online directories.
If you choose only one of these options, opt for the last one: Go to the Web site of the Association of Authors’ Representatives or to AgentQuery. AAR members abide by a reassuring code of conduct, and AgentQuery stands by the agents listed in its database, many of whom decline to join the AAR for one reason or another or have not yet qualified for AAR membership but are just as reliable. (There’s also Preditors and Editors, which evaluates literary agents and other publishing professionals.)
Never pay an agent up-front to review your manuscript or represent you, and never pay for editorial services an agent offers or recommends. No reputable agent will request money up-front (other than, possibly, a copying and postage fee; see below) or refer you to an editor who charges you for their assistance. (They may, however, suggest several such services without recommending one in particular.) Professional agents will represent you if they think your manuscript is ready to be published or may offer you some advice if they think it shows promise; rarely, they’ll actually offer to polish your novel a bit — free — before sending it out.
Increasingly, legitimate literary agents are inserting a clause into contracts specifying an expense-reimbursement fee of up to $500. However, their contracts generally also state that no additional fees can be charged without your written consent, and they will not offer to edit your manuscript or outsource that service if you put out some more funds. Furthermore, agents often don’t accept the expense payment if they don’t get you a publishing contract. Most reputable agents, however, refrain from charging you up-front at all.
How, then, do agents make a living? If an agent agrees to represent you, they are gambling on the chance that your manuscript will sell, and they will collect a 10-20% commission on sales for their services. If they suggest some revisions, invite you to resubmit the revised manuscript, and take you on, they’ll hope to recoup their expenses, and more, the same way. If they reject your manuscript outright, that means they do not feel that representing you is a good investment, and they will not charge you for turning you down.
If several agents reject your manuscript, they’re telling you something — and it’s not that you should pay someone else to represent you. They’re telling you that your manuscript isn’t ready for prime time, so get back to work on it, set it aside and get started on another project, or seek help in a writing group, class, or program. Before too long, it will be time to seek an agent again — and perhaps the next time, you’ll get lucky.
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