5 tips for finding a literary agent

So you have your manuscript ready, but how do you go about finding an agent to represent you?
Literary agent. Image is a young Caucasian person on the phone sitting at a desk and throwing pages in the air in frustration.

While it’s not essential to have a literary agent to do your bidding, having one can help ease the often confusing steps to (possible) publication. Many writers would prefer to just keep writing instead of having to break concentration to deal with random and fiddly business transactions.

Aside from being instrumental in helping to sell your work by sending it out to potential interested parties, and negotiating advances and royalties on your behalf, agents are also trained in tricky accounting areas like author contracts, so you don’t have to pore through small-print copy yourself trying to understand what the sub-clause about foreign rights actually means.

Many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, instead favouring those that have already been vetted and filtered through an agent.

Yes, they take a commission from your book earnings, but they can also wrangle a solid sale on your behalf. And a good literary agent can be your first editor and your biggest cheerleader.

It can be as difficult to find an agent to take you on as it is to find a publisher, but here are five tips to finding one.

Word of mouth

Some of your writer friends may have an agent already, so ask around your literary circle for recommendations. Bear in mind though, that the ones with an excellent reputation may already have a full intake.

Diligence in research

Before you start sending query emails to random agents, make sure you research thoroughly to check whether they are open to representing your genre. Some agents are selective in what they choose to accept. So do not scattergun widely, but target your approach.

Writers’ centres and author organisations

If you haven’t already done so, join your local writers’ centre, such as the UK’s trade union for writers, The Society of Authors. For a small annual fee, they provide a fount of knowledge, resources and advice, including current contact details of publishers and agents. Have a look also at the Association of Author’s Agents.

Writers’ festivals and literary events

Keep an eye and ear out for upcoming writers’ festivals and check their programs. Occasionally there are panels scheduled for industry talks and meets, with agents part of the mix. Look out also for conferences and workshops where agents participate.

Talking to them in person afterwards may bypass slow and laborious email exchanges and quickly give you the information you need. It may be a networking opportunity, but remember to remain professional; don’t throw your manuscript at them between the wine and canapés.

Read: 5 tips to beat writers’ block

Online platforms

Follow literary agents on social media platforms like X and LinkedIn and check their websites. Many agents share insights, submission windows and industry news through these outlets.

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy