Question: How do you figure out which literary agent to go with? Are some better than others for the subject matter you are writing about?



The relationship between author and agent is symbiotic and represents a partnership, so it needs to be a good fit for both parties. Yet, as the proliferation of dating apps suggests, choosing any kind of partner is no easy feat. While finding your ideal match would undoubtedly be made easier if there was an app dedicated to literary agents, until one appears it’s all about leg work. Finding an agent requires research, a great manuscript or book proposal, an effective query letter, and careful attention to submission guidelines.

When an author chooses to work with an agent to get traditionally published, it's a partnership.

How important is genre?

When it comes to finding agents, genre is paramount. Very few literary agents are generalists. So naturally the first step is to identify your genre. Be specific. Don't stop at just science fiction, dig deeper. Do you write steampunk, cyberpunk, dystopian, military, or alternate universe….?

How to Research Agents

Once you have determined what you write, it is time to begin your search. The top down approach is generally a popular method among authors. In this approach, you begin by consulting online directories such as and These databases often list the general preferences of particular agents and tend to include links to agency websites and blogs.

Next, you’ll want to take a gander at agent websites. To help you get a better understanding of their business, check out their client lists and client websites.  Consider how the style and nature of their work relates to your own.  

Some authors prefer the bottom-up approach. This approach, favored by author and writing instructor Christina Hoag, involves tracing the connection from a favorite author to their agent.  For example, Hoag begins by evaluating the "Acknowledgements" pages of books that are similar to hers, so that she can see which agents represent these authors. These efforts help narrow the search and make the process more manageable.

How to Get an Agent’s Attention

Ok, so you’ve zeroed in on your target agent(s). Now, it’s time to get their attention. A great way to get on the radar is to join the conversation. Locate an agents "water cooler” or hangout. Follow their blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Again, the nature of author/agent collaboration is a relationship, so building a rapport can be a great way to help you stand out from the crowd.

It’s also important to remember that agents have limited time, so submitting your entire manuscript is not likely to engender a favorable response. This is where an effective query letter comes in to play. Done well, a great query letter is one of the best ways to secure representation. By the same token, a run of the mill query letter can be fodder for the slush pile. To get an agents attention, your query letter needs to be well structured, goal oriented, and appropriately personalized.

Authors need to follow submission guidelines when submitting their manuscript to agents.

Pay Attention to Submission Guidelines

You’ll also want to pay particular attention to the agency submission guidelines. Some agencies are only open to submissions at particular times of the year. Others have strict manuscript sample lengths. Some agents allow simultaneous submissions (submitting to multiple agents at the same time), while others don’t. Failure to follow an agent's clearly stated regulations will likely produce unfavorable results and your work may not even get read.

All things considered, finding your ideal literary agent match isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort. Your agent will serve as a critical partner who can connect you to resources and set your book up for the best chance of success. Taking a systematic approach can help you narrow your search and connect you with someone who can best represent your work. To pilfer from, "find your something real" – your ideal literary agent.

Photo credit: Ildo Frazao on Getty Images.