Everything You Need to Know about Landing a Literary Agent

It is cut-and-dried. No honest agent will charge you up-front. Fees and charges like these are unknown to good agents. They don’t co-exist. No matter how they explain the charges, it all means the same thing.

Here are some other items to watch out for:


  • An agent who refuses to offer a list of clients if you ask.
  • An agent who is overtly positive or negative. One which makes wild promises can be obvious. However, one which is inappropriately negative might just be preparing you for a horrible agenting record. If they haven’t ever sold a manuscript to a publisher, they might vindicate their failures with excessive negativity.
  • Agents who specialize in “new writers.” This is usually a breeding ground for fees and charges of all kinds. Good agents will have few new writers in their list of clients. They will accept even less.
  • Agents who solicit you. No legitimate agent with a full schedule of clients will have time to search the Internet for new material. Likewise, they will not be e-mailing writers to look for business.
  • Literary agent web sites or documents which contain errors. This should be apparent, however it is a statement of professional behavior. A good agency is like a good publisher, they won’t have spelling or grammar errors on their pages. Paper or electronic. Language is their livelihood and greatest love. They will adhere to English standards and proper usage. Poor quality in this area is a great indicator of the professional manner the agent will have.


Now that we’ve covered much of the dishonesty in the agenting world, what about the good stuff?

What a Good Agent Will Do:


  • Be honest and responsive. This is not saying you will hear from them everyday, or every week. They will contact you around once a month and notify you of any new developments with your material. You should receive any rejection letters from publishers they are, “pitching,” your work to. Likewise, you should receive information on the sale of your material as soon as possible.
  • Represent you in a professional manner. They should act accordingly with editors at publishing companies. Correspond with the large publishing firms in a timely manner, show professional courtesy towards such companies. Your agent should be someone you trust to behave in such a earnest manner.
  • An agent will normally take 15%-20% of your advance/royalties. There might be a clause within the foreign rights of your material where they retain 30% of your money. This is the industry standard. I intend on writing another article explaining publishing contracts and what they mean.


Now that you know the way agents are supposed to behave, how should an author or writer?


  • Research the industry completely. Learn who editors are, what they do, and what agents are best. Become familiar with professionals and agents who specialize in the genre of your material.
  • Their time is their money. Be brief and to-the-point with all your material.
  • Remember the best agents will be in New York. This is where the major publishing industries are. Good agents live here because they can attend meetings and have lunches with editors of these companies. An agent from New York can do much more than one from Where-am-i, Idaho, or Gee-its-really-quiet-here, West Virginia. Common sense applies in the area of location. Go with the agency in the same city as the publisher.
  • Follow their submission requirements rigidly. Do not attempt to sway them with something else, chances are it will end up in the trash before it is even looked at. You might think your synopsis title will appear best done “your way” in vivid fonts or flashy letters. If it doesn’t meet the requirements of the company, it will be trashed before it is looked at. They will open the package, see that you didn’t follow their instruction, and toss it in the wastebasket. They will not be clamoring for your material, agents usually have hectic schedules full of aspiring clients. You might be asking them to work for you, but they have every opportunity to refuse if you aren’t professionally respectful with them.
  • Don’t think, “My idea is so good, they’ll forget their genre.” Agents become familiar with their respective genres, and openly list what material they are seeking. If you submit a horror novel to a romance agent, no matter how good, it will be rejected. The same goes if you try to submit a drama novel to an agent handling the Action genre. Or if you attempt sending poetry to a Horror agent. They will all be rejected or trashed.

Laura Wright is the author of While I’m Dying and is a freelance writer/photographer for The Business Journal.