Everything You Need to Know about Landing a Literary Agent

At some point in every writer’s career, we are faced with a big decision. To agent, or not to agent? That is the question.

While some authors prefer the control they have with a smaller publisher, some opt for the “bright lights” in publishing. They wish to hand over their future to a reputable agent, which will locate a suitable publisher. Such publishers as Random House, require all submissions be agented. Branches of Random House also require an agent, these are places such as Signet, Pocket Books, Avon, Penguin, and a host of publishing firms.

How do you know what your specific needs are? For starters, you might need an agent if:


  • You intend on writing as a career with numerous books.
  • You intend on submitting to a publishing firm (i.e. Random House, Pocket Books, Penguin, Bantam Books, et.). Agents are associated with these publishing firms and can “pitch” your material to editors they already know.
  • You want someone else to worry with rights and legalities of your manuscript.
  • You need someone with inside information on the publishing industry.


With all these things in consideration, how do you know if you won’t need an agent?

Here are some scenarios:


  • You wrote a non-fiction book on your local area.
  • You don’t plan on authoring any more novels and intend on seeking the services of a book printer. (Pay-to-publish company)
  • You want complete control over your entire career. (Do your own submissions, your own searching for publishers, etc.)
  • You only intend on distributing your book to a localized area.


For these reasons, it might be in your best interest to seek a small publisher who will work with you on an individual basis.

When you decide to retain an agent, how do you find one? It is tough, in today’s market, to locate a reputable agent.

The best way to find good agents is to look through the list at the Association of Authors’ Representation (AAR). This will give you the address and name of legitimate agents which do not act in a dubious manner. They must pass a certain criteria to become members. While these standards are rigid, it is important for an author to always keep a guard against questionable practices.

Rule number one, agents do not charge upfront fees. At all. Here is a list of what to look out for:


  • Reading Fees
  • Evaluation Fees
  • Marketing Fees
  • Submission Fees
  • Office Fees
  • Filing Charges/Fees
  • Representation Charges/Fees
  • Misc. Fees
  • Submission expenses (If they are doing their job, they will already have the money to invest in their business without involving new clients. They are claiming to run a business, you can’t be their only source of income. If you are, it’s best to find another agency to represent you. After all, if they are paid up-front, why should they work hard for you? Do not indulge them, make them work for you and when you get paid, they can get paid.)
  • Sliding-scale fees (The more you pay, the more work your agent will do. See above.)
  • Editing fees. Beware any editing company the agent has an interest in. (In-house editing, et.) Chances are, the agent is getting paid, not to send manuscripts to publishers, but to editing companies.
  • “Book-Doctor” fees. Another term for editing fees.