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Traditional Publishing (PART 4): What is a Literary Agent & Why Do I Need One?



An agent will speak on your behalf to publishing houses and other industry connections. Agents only make money after you make money, so you do not pay an agent up front. Instead, agents take a percentage of your earnings. The average cut for an agent to take is ten percent.

Agents are the most surefire way of finding an editor for your book, as well as landing a book deal. Without a literary agent, it is very difficult to get recognition from large publishing houses.


Finding a literary agent is the most important part of the traditional publishing process. There are a couple different ways to find literary agents. First, you can check the acknowledgments in books that may be similar to yours. More frequently, though, agents can be found in online searches.

Sometimes, online pitch events are held on certain websites. In these online pitch events, agents browse posted author pitches. If they see a pitch and like it, they will invite you to query them.

Besides online pitch events, some of the most commonly used sites to find agents at the time of this writing are QueryTracker, Duotrope, etc. On these sites, you are given a database of literary agents and how they accept queries (via upload to the individual site, email, or snail mail). It will also show if the agents are currently open to accepting new queries or closed to queries.

It is very important to do research before you query an agent. Do this by looking over each individual agent’s website, manuscript wishlist, or agency’s page. There you will find a list of genres that that agent accepts. Also be sure to check what an agent will not accept. For example, an agent may be interested in fantasy novels but will not want stories about angels and demons. Do not pitch to agents who do not represent your genre. Not only is it disrespectful of their time, but it also adds to the response time of writers who are in the slush pile. (The slush pile refers to the hundreds of queries any agent or editor has at any given moment.)

Publishers Marketplace is also a good resource to see any recent deals each agent has made and how big the sales were. It is also worth researching each agent’s client list to see if the agents represented authors have been successful.

Once you select an agent to query, you will need to carefully read the instructions they provide. Be mindful! Each agent will ask for something different.

When you query agents, you should always address the letter to each specific agent. (Do not write “Dear agent!”) It’s optional to personalize your query letters. For example, if you notice that a certain agent likes to skydive and you’ve also recently been skydiving, you could use this for a more personal greeting to segue into your letter. More commonly, you might see that an agent loves a book you just recently read. If your book is similar to that book, all the better to mention!


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PART 4: What is a Literary Agent & Why Do I Need One?

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