What Literary Agents Want to See in a Manuscript

authors header image

Explore Author Services

We talk a lot about what authors should look for in a publishing or literary agent—a successful track record, compatibility, reputability, and availability—but how about what agents want from an author? What are they looking for in a manuscript? It won’t matter if you find the best, most suitable agents for your manuscript if you can’t offer what they’re looking for because you don’t understand their perspective.

Basically, agents want a book they can sell. They negotiate deals with publishers on behalf of authors, and, at the end of the day, publishing houses are businesses concerned with their bottom line. They don’t care about your creative vision—they care about generating profits for their shareholders. 

Of course, there’s a market for pretty much every genre and style out there, and while that’s not to say any book can automatically sell, most manuscripts can at least be turned into marketable projects with the help of editorial professionals.  The key is finding the right agent to market your book to the right publisher. If all of this sounds overwhelming, we can provide you with a list of relevant agents and publishers tailored to your needs. 

So, what would draw an agent to your manuscript? 

It’s finished

Agents are not editors, and most of them simply don’t have the time to help emerging writers through multiple drafts, which is why many of them will only consider taking on writers who have completed their manuscripts. 

They also aren’t going to sit around and wait for months or years until you finish the manuscript; the memory of you and your story will quickly fade into oblivion if you fail to produce the full manuscript upon request. Agents want to see that you can follow through and are independent, motivated, and ready to put in the hard work needed to publish a book. So, having a finished manuscript that’s nearly flawless (i.e., has been thoroughly reviewed, edited, and proofread) before you start querying agents is a crucial step in the right direction. 

It’s marketable 

As we said, agents want books that will sell, so your manuscript has to be marketable. Stories with a wide market appeal are the most likely to be picked up by agents and big publishing houses since they can be expected to generate higher sales. Of course, niche genres can also make a killing, so if that’s your thing, don’t shy away from it. However, if you are writing for a niche audience, it’s even more important that you pitch to agents who already work within the genre and have a proven track record with your style. 

Still, agents don’t just work within genres; they work with target audiences, too, which is why having a clear demographic is so important. Is your book for young adults or someone going through a midlife crisis? For expecting mothers or kids? The more clearly you identify who your book can be marketed to, the better your chances of getting a positive response from prospective agents. If you don’t know who your target audience is, you’re not yet ready to reach out to an agent. Take some time to reflect on the type of person who would most likely be interested in your book and cater to that demographic.

It stands out

Literary agents will read thousands of manuscripts throughout their careers, so you have to make yours stand out. Presenting a professional manuscript that’s been proofread and polished is one of the first ways to grab an agent’s attention. It’s not so much that a professionally edited and proofread manuscript is impressive as that an agent won’t bother reading past the first few pages of a text full of typos and clunky sentences. It also has to be memorable—if the agent can’t remember what your story is about a week later, they’re not going to take you on as a client or send your manuscript off to a publisher, so be creative without straying outside the realm of marketability. 

Make your story original, give the agent something to think about, help them see things from your perspective, present them with a story they haven’t read before, and make sure there are no giant plot holes or trite character arches. Basically, you have to leave an impression or you risk being forgotten. This is no easy task, which is why it’s so crucial to get help from professional editors.

However, no agent is going to read your manuscript unless you first send them a query letter that possesses all of the qualities described above. Your query letter is your introduction, your first chance to impress an agent, so if it’s not exciting, original, and professional, they aren’t going to request a synopsis of your book, let alone your full manuscript. Check out our tailored query packages, which will save you time and boost your chances of landing your dream literary agent. 

Explore Author Services