Getting a good literary agent


Getting published is not easy. Getting a literary agent helps but getting an agent is no easy task.

This article is an update to one I published on the now retired Thanet Creative Writers website which has now moved into the Author Buzz UK blogging network.

The advice in “How to become an author (according to the Internet)” was get a literary agent. How do you do that?

Getting a literary agent might be the single most important thing an author does. Rather than give you the benefit of my admittedly limited knowledge, this (revised) article is going to take you on a tour of the best advice I have found.

Reasons you will not get a literary agent

From what I have read, the number one reason writers cannot get an agent is that they have tried sending out work that was not ready.

For example, 5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Work from Ending Up in an Agent’s Trash” by Bethany Cadman (author of Doctor Vanilla’s Sunflowers) lists not following the submission guidelines, poor spelling, and bad query letters among the reasons writers get rejected.

To avoid these common mistakes, it makes sense to have a finished product before you offer it to anyone. Grab some beta readers and get back to work.

Assuming that you avoid the common mistakes here is a selection of advice from writers about getting a good literary agent.

if you want a literary agent, platform matters

Getting your author platform set up matters. For some agents, it matters a lot.

Forbes contributor Nick Morgan, writes Here’s How To Catch The Eye Of A Literary Agent. One of the key points here is that it pays to build your platform. We talked about author platforms in greater detail in “A comprehensive introduction to author platforms” but the short story is, build a good following.

If you want to build a platform you are going to need to build a following. A collection of followers delighted to hear from you and very likely buy your book when they do. Blogs can help with that.

Avoid scams

We talked about this before in “Relax, no one is going to steal your ideas” but scams are a problem and avoiding them is not always easy.

A sad but true fact is that Science fiction, a genre close to my heart, has suffered from more than its fair share of fraudulent scammers (pretending to be agents) over the years.

Science Fiction Writers of America has a solid article helping you to find a real agent and identify scammers (hint: a real agent does not ask for upfront fees). Read it here even if your genre is something else entirely.

Finding your agent

Jane Friedman has compiled a fantastic in-depth look at how to get published and specifically what you need to do to get a good literary agent. How to Find a Literary Agent for Your Book looks at how to assess your work’s commercial potential, how to decide if you even need an agent, and how to research agents. There is so much more in there, just go read it.

Writers & Artists have a huge selection of articles about getting an agent including advice for first-time writers, getting your foot in the door, and why you should beware of vanity publishers.

Piers Blofeld, a literary agent, tells you how to get an agent in the video below.

Don’t forget the cover letter

One of the most important things that Piers Blofeld says that you need is a cover letter. You’d know this if you had not skipped the video (in which case you are missing out scroll back up and watch it now). Below, agents talk about the best, or at least most striking, cover letters that they ever got.

Over to you

I hope that when you are ready to seek out a literary agent for your new masterpiece that this guide will help you find success.

  • Have you been published? Did you self-publish, go directly to the publisher, or did you use an agent? What advice would you add?
  • Have you found a great agent?
  • Have you tried to get an agent and suffered frustration?

Tell us about your experiences in the comments.


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative Writers as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.