How to Find a Legitimate Literary Agent

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Finding a legitimate literary agent can feel like a daunting task, especially for emerging and unpublished authors. The publishing world is fiercely competitive, and nearly all writers will experience their fair share of rejections before they get published. 

However, you can’t allow the fear of rejection to stop you from putting yourself out there. Unfortunately, no one will come knocking on your door if you keep your manuscript buried in a folder on your laptop, so promoting yourself and pitching your work is the only way to get it into readers’ hands. Don’t worry, though; you don’t have to do it alone.  

We can put together a list of targeted agents and publishers who match your criteria, as well as a query package, improving your chances of securing the best agents and publishers for you and your book.

Keep reading for tips on spotting the right (and wrong) types of literary agents. 

What is the job of a literary agent?

Let’s start with the basics. Literary agents represent authors on the business end of the publishing industry and negotiate contracts with publishing houses, always striving to protect their clients’ interests. Although not all books and authors need a literary agent (you could always go the self-publishing route), if you want to work with an established publishing house, you will definitely need a well-connected agent to market and sell your manuscript on your behalf. So, where do you start?  

Do your research

As in any industry, not every literary agent out there is legitimate or good at their job, making the task of discovering the right one that much harder. For one thing, authors must find a good fit for their work—an agent who knows their genre well, has the right connections in the industry, and comes with a proven track record. In addition, writers have to be vigilant so they can avoid scams and disreputable agents preying on emerging talent. 

It can be difficult to know whether the literary agent you’re interested in querying is indeed legitimate, so before you commit to anything, make sure you do proper research.

Fees, track records, and “beware” lists

Look out for agents who charge fees upfront! Legitimate ones will earn a commission (usually 15%) on everything you make from your book, like advances and royalties. Commission-based contracts ensure the agent will work hard to sell your book as that is the only way they’ll make money. Any attempt to charge you upfront is a huge red flag: That agent is probably trying to scam you. 

The same goes for agents who refuse to disclose their sales information since anyone with a strong sales record would be happy to share it with potential clients. Do keep in mind that sales numbers can greatly depend on genre, so look at this data in context. Some agents are also newer to the industry, meaning they may not have impressive sales numbers. 

It’s important to be able to tell the difference between agents trying to scam you and those who haven’t yet had the chance to prove themselves. By extensively researching any potential literary agents, you will be able to weed out the frauds and move a step closer to ensuring that your book ends up in the right hands.

You also want to make sure an agent doesn’t appear on any “beware” lists, which are databases where agents with a proven track record of dishonesty or shady dealings are commonly named and shamed. If your prospective agent shows up on any of these lists, run! Run fast and far away! 

Of course, not every “bad” agent will appear in a database, so research diligently their history, their client lists, and the books they’ve represented. If they are legitimate and seem like a good fit for you and your book, feel free to query them.

New vs. established agents

Working with a new literary agent can be great as they’re trying to build their client list and will work hard to get you the best deal. Newcomers to the profession are, unsurprisingly, more open to teaming up with fresh talent, and they tend to be more responsive than established agents. Remember that their success depends partly on yours, meaning they will do everything in their power to make your book as successful as it can possibly be. 

Once you’ve confirmed that the agent really is new to the industry and not just trying to cover up a less-than-impressive career, you should check what agency they work with, how long they’ve been with it, and what its history is. If you feel their experience and knowledge will benefit your manuscript, go ahead and query them.

Established agents will likely have more connections and experience than someone who’s just starting out, but they can also be too busy to take on new clients. Don’t let that discourage you! Many established literary agents love to introduce new writers to the industry, but they will only take on outstanding manuscripts from unknown authors. This doesn’t mean you can’t try to query them, but it is a good rule of thumb to query an equal number of newer and more established literary agents. This will improve your chances of hearing back from someone. 

Finding the right literary agent might not be the easiest (or most fun) part of getting a book published, but you’ve already done the hardest bit—finishing your manuscript!—so don’t give up now. Do your research first and check out our services for authors to learn how we can help make the process easier with targeted lists of agents and query packages.

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