Choosing a Literary Agent

So you’ve finished your first draft, you’ve edited your manuscript (1, 2, 3), and you’re ready to get it out into the world.

You can go the self-publishing route if you want, but if you want to get picked up by a traditional publisher you’re probably going to need an agent. Once you’ve identified the best agent for you there are somethings you should definitely never say, and there are certainly ways to ensure that your query is the very best it can be.

Before you can get to this point, however, you need to identify an agent that suits you.


Identifying a legitimate literary agent;

First things first; ensure the agent in question is legitimate! There are many new authors so eager to land an agent that they will not only query agents who are a poor fit for them, but also agents who are not even genuine!

How ca you tell if an agent is legitimate? Well, first and foremost they will not charge a reading fee, they will not take fees upfront (if they do they will usually include a clause that states they cannot take any further upfront fees without your written consent, though, so check that out), and they will not refer you to fee charging editorial services. Legitimate literary agents make their money through commissions earned when they sell your product to publishing houses. The usual fee ranges between 10% and 20%.

Be wary of any agent that contacts you out of the blue; if you have not solicited them and

do not have a large social media following or platform its likely they are scammers.


Finding the right agent for you;

When you’re thinking about querying an agent you need to consider how they fit with your genre, your style, and your goals. Most agents will specialise in either fiction or non-fiction, commercial or literary, informative or narrative, and of course many specialise by genre as well.

You should be looking for agents that have represented works similar to your own. Start by compiling a list of agents that state they are open to books in your genres and field, and then do your homework. Yes, this means more research.

No, you can’t get out of it. Here’s how it can benefit you; just because an agent is open to your kind of work does’t mean they are the very best fit for you. Try to find out some of the following information before you query (or rule anyone out);

  • How many deals have they made?
  • How many within the last two years?
  • Do they sell to a variety of publishers?
  • Which authors have they worked with?
  • What kind of advances have they negotiated?

You may not be able to find out all of this information, but you will surely find out some, and this will not only give you an idea as to whether this is the correct agent for you, but you’ll have an idea of how to personalise your approach when you do query them.


Once you have your agent single out, you’ve written a kick-ass query (and of course your manuscript is ready), all you have to do is write up a one page synopsis and you can start querying!


A Query They Can’t Refuse

Querying an agent or publisher is one of the most nerve-wracking things that you can do as a writer; you put your work out there, and hope to avoid rejection. It goes without saying that the quality of your manuscript will ultimately decide the success of your writing career, but a good quality query will make the path to publication smoother and quicker.

So, how do you write the kind of query that has manuscript requests flooding in?


The Fantastic Five (Factors)

A good query is made up of five main elements;

  1. Opening
  2. What you are selling
  3. Hook
  4. Synopsis
  5. Closing
  6. OPTIONAL – Bio (this would come before closing)


Opening – Address the agent by name, spell it correctly, and lead with your best foot, so to speak. If you have credentials and previously published works you could mention them, and if you have met the agent before (especially if they requested your manuscript) mention this right away. The most common opening, especially for new authors, is to give the hook of your story.

What You’re Selling – Detail your title, any subtitles, genre, and category. Resist the urge to over state or boast; be business like and concise.

Hook and Synopsis – Writing an effective hook and synopsis is an issue all on its own, but your hook should deal with three main points: your protagonist, the conflict, and the stakes. Your synopsis should be attached to the query and be roughly one page long.

Closing – Bring you query to a close in a clear, compact way; think two or three sentences maximum. There’s no need to state that you are simultaneously querying, but you should mention if you’ve had interest from another agency. Give contact information, and thank the agent for their time.

Bio – A bio is not something that would necessarily be required at all, and it’s not wise if you’ve never published before. If you have you should mention the books or short stories you have published as well as giving a small amount of personal details.


Email Queries

Email queries are certainly an option these days, always check to see if the agent lists a preference on their site, but keep in mind that email queries should be formatted differently. They will also be read more quickly, and any mistakes will be glaringly obvious; be sure you proofread thoroughly.

For email queries;

  • Contact information should go at the bottom after your signature
  • Use Block Style; no formatting, no indents,
  • Place anything that should be in italics in CAPTIALS
  • Copy and paste your query into a word document to check spelling and grammar


Check here and here to find out what you shouldn’t say, and how to get ready to query,

Best of Luck!



Do you need a Literary Agent?

This is a divisive issue; there are plenty of people who will tell you that you don’t need an agent, or that you should avoid them at all costs. They’ll tell you either that they’re blood suckers, or that you’ll never get anywhere without them.

The truth is less clear cut, but certainly there are pros and cons to being represented by a literary agent;


  • Experience and Reputation; when you work with a literary agent you’re not only benefitting from the time they put into your manuscript, but the time they have put into every project that came before yours. You’re getting their experience, skill, and know-how as well as the time they actually put into your manuscript; after all, a reputable and experienced agent will have many years of experience in polishing and pitching novels. You also gain a bit more clout with publishers; when they see you are being represented by an established agent you will stand out, and as such have less chance of being lost in the slush pile.
  • Contacts and Connections; when you form a partnership with a literary agent it will be because they are confident that they know who they can sell your book to. You benefit from their connections, their contacts, and the relationships they have built in their career.
  • Another pair of eyes; before you query an agent your manuscript should be as ready for publication as you can make it, however an agent can offer an extra pair of eyes to really polish it till it shines.
  • Someone to fight your corner; your agent makes money when you make money, so when you hire an agent you know that they want to sell your novel. They want you to succeed, and having someone that you know wants you to find success can be a real boost when things get rough.



  • More time; when you go to an agent first you’re essentially pitching your book twice. This has its benefits, as outlined, but you will be adding time onto the process.
  • Cost; agents, like all professionals, will need to be paid for their services. Generally speaking this means 15% of your earnings from sales, but this can vary. It’s up to you to decide if the cost is worth it.


How to approach/query an agent.

There are a few things which you should definitely never say when querying an agent, but what should you do and say to up your chances of success?

  1. Finish your manuscript
  2. Do your research
  3. Be concise, reasonable, and professional in your query letter
  4. Be realistic

To expand upon these points a little; make sure your novel is completely written and proofread before you query, look for an agent that represents your kind of fiction, don’t invest in a gimmick when you write your query letter, and be realistic about what you expect from your novel. If you claim to be the next George R. Martin, you may be met with scepticism.

Take as much care with your query letter as you did with your manuscript, and include a one page synopsis which clearly states the main characters and plot points of your novel. Don’t try to get cute and leave them guessing as to what happens; you should be making it easy for them to know whether or not they wish to represent you.


Remember that agents receive hundreds of letters and emails each and every day; be professional and concise in your approach, and you’ll find it’s appreciated.



Three Differences Between Literary and Genre Fiction (know which you fall into if you want to pitch well!)

A Query They Can’t Refuse

Self-Editing 1, 2, and 3