Light%20with%20Cobwebs_edited.jpg

Choosing The Right Literary Agent

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Editing and Publishing

Whether you are ready, completed manuscript in hand, or still in the 'working on it' phase, there's every chance you are already losing sleep over the looming monster known as Getting Published.



For those who aim for being traditionally published by a publishing house, the journey is even more tense. Working through legalities, rights, and even just getting your story on a publishing house's radar is a feat on its own. This is likely why there is an endless supply of authors who swear their undying love for their literary agents: the ones who made the difference.


Agents are responsible for representing writers, fighting on your behalf. Approaching publishers for you with their intel, connections and strategies, they drastically increase your chances of being offered a book deal. So why doesn't every writer just nab themselves an agent? Unfortunately, competition for literary agents can be as fierce as competition for space on a bookseller's shelf. Mid-level agents report to only take on 2-5% of writers who request representation, which is understandable when you consider agents do not charge you for their services (instead receiving a small cut of any earnings you make - if any) and taking a new writer onto their books is a risk.


So, does this mean you should reach out to any and all literary agencies you can find and hope one bites? In a small but strong word: no! As easy as it is to do, don't let yourself settle for just anyone who offers to represent you as a writer. Competition for your own agent will be tough, but this is your book we're talking about. Do you really want to throw your hard work, your product of focus and creativity, into the hands of the wrong agent? Whilst you will still want to cast your net out wide, you should be sure those you do contact are worth the trouble. Let's consider some key questions to help narrow down the right literary agent for you.


Not sure if you need an agent? Check out what one could do for you: What Exactly Does A Literary Agent Do?




Have They Succeeded With Similar Writers?


When shortlisting your list of potential agencies, I would highly recommend finding some recent successful debut authors within your genre who were traditionally published within in the last five years. Why? Because there is a high chance these writers have agents who helped them secure their book deals, and those individuals would be prime targets for your search.


In a way, this is a 'tried and tested' approach in the sense that these agents have already been tried and tested by someone who writes under the same thematic umbrella you do, and publishing contacts will already exist thanks to the author who came before you.


You may also benefit by appearing as a good candidate for agencies - after all, they already have a path ready for you to follow! Obviously adaptions will have to be made, but no one likes to re-invent the wheel, especially if the wheel already reaped rewards. It is a good idea to highlight these connections in your covering letter to agencies, and often this will result in the same agent receiving your sample chapters.



Does It Support Your Genre?


Some agencies boast a wide range of specialties, with horror and romance writers gracing their client books along with non-fiction authors and poets. Though not a bad omen, be cautious of the 'Jack of all trades'. Ideally, you would want to work with an agency which has already seen success within your genre. Often, agents drum up good connections with publishers in certain fields, so it is in your interests to do your research on who could give you the best shot at a publishing contract.


Find a handful of traditionally published authors from the last 5 years who have made a splash within your genre. Make note of their publisher and agent's details so your cover letter can reference this connection later. You can often find these details on author, publisher or bookselling websites, or you can simply reach out to the author themselves. Very few will mind sharing this information if asked politely and with respect.



Are You Well Supported?


No two writers require the exact same amount of support, and gauging your 'support sweet spot' can be tricky.


The question of 'big or small agency' is arguably the second least important you could ask on the subject of finding your perfect agent (we'll look at the least important soon), however there can be some correlation between the amount of support you could expect from both. For example, a big agency with several departments may offer you a lot of in-house extras but with less personal touches, whereas smaller, 'boutique' agencies could provide a more hands-on, unique approach but limit your reach and flexibility between genres.


To better determine if an agency would be your best partner, consider these questions:


  • Can you see yourself wanting to branch out into different genres, or will you be writing under one?

  • Do you want a lot of hands-on support, giving up some small creative liberties in the process, or do you want to have as much control over your book as possible even if it means doing more work yourself?

  • What appeals to you more: an agency with a long list of clients or an agency with just a handful?

  • Would you prefer an agency to have a lot of in-house support, even if it is limited, or an agency which would need to bring in help from elsewhere but offers more variety of style?

  • What 'specialities' does my prospective agent have? (e.g. a background in publishing or editing, a bank of strong publishing contacts, or the people skills/charisma to represent you at your best)



Where Are They Based?


Remember when I said agency size was the second least important aspect of this article? Well, location is the only consideration less relevant. Nowadays, with flexible working hours and video calls being the norm, being within so many miles of your agent is nearly a moot point.


That said, most writers and publishers tend to place more trust in agents based in major cities. An agent in busy London may not be as skilled as an agent based in coastal Dover, but we all know who would be able to attend more in-person events with publishing houses. Fair? No. Reality? Yes.


Another reason to consider location when agency-hunting is if you would like the option of grabbing a coffee with your agent as you work together on your writing career. Some agencies are capable of representing writers on another continent, but will struggle to physically shake your hand without someone paying for travel expenses. For many writers, this lack of physical proximity is of no importance, but still worth asking yourself in case it is a dealbreaker.



What Is The Writer-Agent Relationship Like?


At the end of the day, however, only one aspect trumps the rest: having a comfortable and open working relationship with your agent. Remember: this person will be leading you through a jungle of publishing obstacles, clearing them from your path and making sure you get the best book deal out these. You need to be able to talk to this person freely and with confidence that they will listen. First time authors often have many questions and make a lot of mistakes that a good agent will answer and correct without making the writer feel foolish.


In short: choosing the right literary agent can definitely be aided by considering several practical aspects but nothing will be more paramount than a good, trusting relationship between writer and agent.


Need help writing that novel synopsis to your dream agent? Check this out: Writing An Effective Novel Synopsis




Whether you are ready, completed manuscript in hand, or still in the 'working on it' phase, there's every chance you are already losing sleep over the looming monster known as Getting Published.



For those who aim for being traditionally published by a publishing house, the journey is even more tense. Working through legalities, rights, and even just getting your story on a publishing house's radar is a feat on its own. This is likely why there is an endless supply of authors who swear their undying love for their literary agents: the ones who made the difference.


Agents are responsible for representing writers, fighting on your behalf. Approaching publishers for you with their intel, connections and strategies, they drastically increase your chances of being offered a book deal. So why doesn't every writer just nab themselves an agent? Unfortunately, competition for literary agents can be as fierce as competition for space on a bookseller's shelf. Mid-level agents report to only take on 2-5% of writers who request representation, which is understandable when you consider agents do not charge you for their services (instead receiving a small cut of any earnings you make - if any) and taking a new writer onto their books is a risk.


So, does this mean you should reach out to any and all literary agencies you can find and hope one bites? In a small but strong word: no! As easy as it is to do, don't let yourself settle for just anyone who offers to represent you as a writer. Competition for your own agent will be tough, but this is your book we're talking about. Do you really want to throw your hard work, your product of focus and creativity, into the hands of the wrong agent? Whilst you will still want to cast your net out wide, you should be sure those you do contact are worth the trouble. Let's consider some key questions to help narrow down the right literary agent for you.


Not sure if you need an agent? Check out what one could do for you: What Exactly Does A Literary Agent Do?




Have They Succeeded With Similar Writers?


When shortlisting your list of potential agencies, I would highly recommend finding some recent successful debut authors within your genre who were traditionally published within in the last five years. Why? Because there is a high chance these writers have agents who helped them secure their book deals, and those individuals would be prime targets for your search.


In a way, this is a 'tried and tested' approach in the sense that these agents have already been tried and tested by someone who writes under the same thematic umbrella you do, and publishing contacts will already exist thanks to the author who came before you.


You may also benefit by appearing as a good candidate for agencies - after all, they already have a path ready for you to follow! Obviously adaptions will have to be made, but no one likes to re-invent the wheel, especially if the wheel already reaped rewards. It is a good idea to highlight these connections in your covering letter to agencies, and often this will result in the same agent receiving your sample chapters.



Does It Support Your Genre?


Some agencies boast a wide range of specialties, with horror and romance writers gracing their client books along with non-fiction authors and poets. Though not a bad omen, be cautious of the 'Jack of all trades'. Ideally, you would want to work with an agency which has already seen success within your genre. Often, agents drum up good connections with publishers in certain fields, so it is in your interests to do your research on who could give you the best shot at a publishing contract.


Find a handful of traditionally published authors from the last 5 years who have made a splash within your genre. Make note of their publisher and agent's details so your cover letter can reference this connection later. You can often find these details on author, publisher or bookselling websites, or you can simply reach out to the author themselves. Very few will mind sharing this information if asked politely and with respect.



Are You Well Supported?


No two writers require the exact same amount of support, and gauging your 'support sweet spot' can be tricky.


The question of 'big or small agency' is arguably the second least important you could ask on the subject of finding your perfect agent (we'll look at the least important soon), however there can be some correlation between the amount of support you could expect from both. For example, a big agency with several departments may offer you a lot of in-house extras but with less personal touches, whereas smaller, 'boutique' agencies could provide a more hands-on, unique approach but limit your reach and flexibility between genres.


To better determine if an agency would be your best partner, consider these questions:


  • Can you see yourself wanting to branch out into different genres, or will you be writing under one?

  • Do you want a lot of hands-on support, giving up some small creative liberties in the process, or do you want to have as much control over your book as possible even if it means doing more work yourself?

  • What appeals to you more: an agency with a long list of clients or an agency with just a handful?

  • Would you prefer an agency to have a lot of in-house support, even if it is limited, or an agency which would need to bring in help from elsewhere but offers more variety of style?

  • What 'specialities' does my prospective agent have? (e.g. a background in publishing or editing, a bank of strong publishing contacts, or the people skills/charisma to represent you at your best)



Where Are They Based?


Remember when I said agency size was the second least important aspect of this article? Well, location is the only consideration less relevant. Nowadays, with flexible working hours and video calls being the norm, being within so many miles of your agent is nearly a moot point.


That said, most writers and publishers tend to place more trust in agents based in major cities. An agent in busy London may not be as skilled as an agent based in coastal Dover, but we all know who would be able to attend more in-person events with publishing houses. Fair? No. Reality? Yes.


Another reason to consider location when agency-hunting is if you would like the option of grabbing a coffee with your agent as you work together on your writing career. Some agencies are capable of representing writers on another continent, but will struggle to physically shake your hand without someone paying for travel expenses. For many writers, this lack of physical proximity is of no importance, but still worth asking yourself in case it is a dealbreaker.



What Is The Writer-Agent Relationship Like?


At the end of the day, however, only one aspect trumps the rest: having a comfortable and open working relationship with your agent. Remember: this person will be leading you through a jungle of publishing obstacles, clearing them from your path and making sure you get the best book deal out these. You need to be able to talk to this person freely and with confidence that they will listen. First time authors often have many questions and make a lot of mistakes that a good agent will answer and correct without making the writer feel foolish.


In short: choosing the right literary agent can definitely be aided by considering several practical aspects but nothing will be more paramount than a good, trusting relationship between writer and agent.


Need help writing that novel synopsis to your dream agent? Check this out: Writing An Effective Novel Synopsis




  • Instagram

Want tips like these sent straight to your feed?

Connect on Instagram!

Latest Articles