Question: What is the best way to find an agent to represent me and pitch my book to traditional publishers?



Authors typically need a literary agent if they wish to get traditionally published.Acquiring literary agent representation can be a very long and challenging process for authors, but is a critical step for those that wish to land a publishing deal with a one of the big traditional publishing houses. These publishers rely on agents to vet and pitch only the best manuscripts and book proposals so they can be more selective with what they publish. In turn, the goal of literary agents is to represent books they believe will be attractive to publishers and result in a contract. This is how they get paid, which is why only a very small percentage of authors are able to secure agent representation, and ultimately, a traditional publishing contract.

Finding a qualified, experienced agent to represent your work requires thorough research, an exceptional manuscript or book proposal, an effective query letter, and careful attention to submission guidelines. Here are four proven ways to find reputable agents that could be a good fit for your work:

1. Online Directories and Agency Websites

The internet can be a great place to start researching literary agents and agencies, as most are listed in directories and/or have websites with agent bios, what they represent, current clients, and their submission guidelines. Our Publishing & Distribution Resources list contains several reputable directories for finding literary agents. Here are a few of the top resources:

Agent Query — Free-to-use searchable database of literary agents seeking submissions. Includes an online social networking community. 

Manuscript Wish List — Directory of agents and editors that lists the book genres or topics they are looking to represent. Search by name, genre, or keyword.

Query Tracker — Features a database of over 1,000 literary agents and an online tool to help you organize and track your queries.

Writer's Market — Access to over 9,000 listings for book publishers, literary agents, magazines, online publications, contests, conferences, and more with a subscription.

It’s important to note that most literary agents represent specific genres. Very few are generalists. It is critical you identify your book’s genre/subgenres and search for agents that represent those categories. When you submit to an agent that doesn’t represent your genre/subgenres, your submission will be ignored and it will be a waste of your time and efforts.

2. Social Media Platforms

Having a meaningful presence on social media is an essential part of a being an author, not only because it’s free and allows you to reach a global readership, but because you can network with industry professionals such as literary agents. Some of the more popular platforms that literary agents utilize are Twitter (now X), Instagram, and LinkedIn. Many will post submission tips and updates on their manuscript “wish lists”. Or, they might be looking for something very specific at the moment that isn’t in their bio, and even post about an upcoming event they are attending. By following agents that represent books in your genre, you can learn about new opportunities, the books they are representing, and important industry information. 

Just make sure your own profiles and pages are in good shape and look professional before you follow any agents, and don’t bombard them with messages. If you show genuine interest in their work, share relevant content, and join conversations, you can create a positive connection and mention this interaction when you submit your work. 

3. In-Person Workshops and Conferences

Attending conferences and workshops is a great way to meet with literary agents.In-person events such as festivals, workshops, and conferences can be a very effective way to create awareness for your work while also allowing you to network with industry professionals such as agents and publishers. Agents often attend and participate in panel presentations or conduct one-on-one pitch sessions, which can be amazing opportunities to introduce yourself and form a connection.

If you are unable to travel or attend in person, many events now have a virtual option. You can at least tune in to any panels or presentations where agents are speaking so that you can learn more about what they are looking for and if they would be a good fit for your work.

When it comes time to write your query letter for submission, you’ll have a unique advantage because you can personalize the letter by saying, “We met at such and such event and I really enjoyed our conversation about…”, or, “I attended your recent panel on such and such virtually and really connected with your points on…”.

4. Comparable Authors and Books

All authors should build a comparable authors and book list. This can be invaluable when evaluating your own book, target audience, and marketing plan. By identifying authors and books that are similar to your own, you can get a good understanding of how your book might fare in the marketplace. This list can also inform important decisions you make about your content, design, and publishing path. You want your book to stand out as unique, while also meeting reader and industry expectations set by what’s already in the marketplace. Agents and publishers greatly value this comparable authors and book list as well. It gives them an idea of your book’s potential.

This list can be a huge asset when searching for agent representation for your work. You can look at the websites of the authors on your list to see if they note an agent or agency that represents them. You can also review the Author Notes or Acknowledgements sections of the books in your list to see if an agent or agency is acknowledged. Doing this can quickly pare down the agents you should target.

How to Recognize Red Flags in Your Agent Search

Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of scammers out there targeting authors with false claims and promises, and some even pretending to be literary agents when they are not. A popular scam is someone posing as a literary agent or book scout, and calling or emailing an author claiming they have these amazing opportunities. Most are just trying to sell you expensive services you don’t need and that they will never follow through on. Here are some red flags to look for to help determine if an agent is legitimate:

A literary agent will not contact you before you contact them: You will only be contacted if you have queried or submitted your work. If someone reaches out “coldly”, claiming they “happened upon your book”, they are likely a scammer.

A literary agent will never request payment up front for any services: Agents make commission when a book is sold to a publisher, right off the top of your advance, and then again on any royalties you earn. Standard commission for domestic sales is 15% and 20% for foreign sales. Reputable literary agents don’t sell adjunct services such as editing or critiques to their clients, and will never require an up-front payment.

There are many scams targeting authors with people claiming they are agents.The agent has a website, but there are no author clients or books listed: Legitimate agents will be proud of the authors and books they represent and will have a client or book listing on their website. You can also inquire about what authors or books they represent and they should be forthcoming with this information.

The email address they use is from an account such as Gmail, and is not an agency email address: If you receive an email from someone claiming to be a literary agent, check the email address from which the message was sent. Legitimate agents will have an agency email address, not a generic Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo email address.

Literary agents typically don’t handle poetry, short stories, articles, or essays: The goal of literary agents is to sell your book to a publisher so that they can get paid a commission. There is not much money to be made in individual short works, and even a collection of short works can be a hard sell unless the author is well-known. If contacted about your short work, do some extra research to ensure they are legit.

Just because an agent is listed on one of the directories noted above and/or has a website or social presence, does NOT mean they are reputable. Do your research. In the U.S., you can vet agents by seeing if they are a member of the Association of American Literary Agents, and also find more information about how agents should and should not operate.

Things to Consider Before Querying or Submitting to Agents

When submitting your work to literary agents, you typically have one chance to make a great impression. Prior to any submissions, you should ask yourself the below questions to ensure you are putting your best foot forward:

Is your manuscript submission-ready?

You want your submission to be your best writing. This means in addition to self-editing, you should utilize beta readers and even a professional editor to help polish your work before submission. A well-edited manuscript or proposal will be much more appealing to agents than one that needs a lot of time and attention before it can be pitched to publishers.

Have you started building your author platform?

Your author platform is your ability to reach readers and sell books. For authors that want to get traditionally published, having a solid platform in place can greatly influence an agent’s decision as to whether or not they want to work with you.

Do the publishing houses you are interested in require agent representation?

Most big publishing houses do require agent representation and will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you are interested in publishing with smaller presses or publishing houses, check their submission guidelines to see if agent representation is necessary. Some will accept submissions directly from the author.

There are several important things to consider before submitting a book to agents.Do the agents represent books in your genre and are they currently accepting submissions?

As noted above, most literary agents represent books in specific genres. Do your research to make sure you are submitting only to agents that are interested in your book’s genre/subgenres. In addition, some agents are only open to submissions at a particular time of the year. Or, they might have a full plate and aren’t currently accepting submissions. Be sure to check their bios and guidelines to ensure you are getting the latest information.

Do the agents accept simultaneous submissions?

Some agents may require exclusive submissions, meaning they want the chance to review your manuscript/proposal and respond before you submit to any other agents. Most agents will allow simultaneous submissions, where you can submit to multiple agents at a time. Just make sure you review each agent’s requirements to understand if simultaneous submissions are allowed.

Do you know how to write a compelling query letter?

Like a resume for a job search, the query letter is your chance to get your foot in the door. In order to get the attention of a literary agent, it must be compelling, succinctly describe your book, and follow the industry standards for queries. CLICK HERE for valuable tips on writing your query letter.

Do you need to create and submit a synopsis or book proposal?

A synopsis is a super-condensed version of your book, beginning to end, and serves as a document for agents to make a quick assessment. Some agents will request a synopsis along with a query letter.

A book proposal is a business plan for your book idea and is used to pitch to literary agents and publishers. The document is typically required for nonfiction authors pursuing agent representation when a book is still in the concept phase. It can create a competitive advantage for fiction and nonfiction authors when presented with a completed manuscript.

Have you followed the submission guidelines exactly as outlined?

You’ll want to pay careful attention to the agent or agency submission guidelines. Each agent may have different requirements such as number of sample chapters, file type, and proposal lengths. Failure to follow an agent's stated guidelines will likely result in your submission being ignored.

The keys to finding literary agent representation are preparation and persistence. Be sure to utilize all of the helpful ALC resources linked above and visit the Agents section on the ALC to increase your chances of getting positive responses, and ultimately, a traditional publishing deal.