The Best Way to Land a Literary Agent for The First Time

Self-publishing your book can be a rewarding venture. You can save money and have more control over your book, from design to marketing and more.

But self-publishing can also sometimes feel like the weight of the world hangs on your shoulders. There are many decisions to make when publishing your own book — from cover design to manuscript editing to marketing strategy. It can become overwhelming for even the most driven writers.

Luckily, the book publishing industry provides an answer: literary agents. Literary agents can help elevate your platform and pitch your self-published book to an indie publisher or larger publishing house.

A literary agent’s job is to find a publisher for your book that will help with promotion, distribution, design, and more. They have access to big and small publishing houses, as well as connections to editors, designers, and marketing teams.

Going the traditional publishing route does diverge from your path as a self-published author — which can mean giving up some creative control and a percentage of your income down the road.

So, how do you know if you need a literary agent for your self-published book? And where do you start?

For writers and self-publishing authors, we’ve rounded up some simple guidelines to help you finally get your book on a shelf and in the hands of your readers with a literary agent by your side!

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

A literary agent (or “book agent”) represents you and your work in the search for a publisher. When you finish your book manuscript, a literary agent will help you find the most appropriate publishing houses and editors who may be interested in your book’s topic.

While not all book deals require an agent, if you’re looking to publish in a Big 5 publishing house, you’ll need an agent — these traditional publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited queries from authors.

Most literary agents are specialized by genre, and have their finger on the pulse of niche publishing houses that might be perfect for your manuscript. They also have access to other important industry figures, like editors and film producers who may want to adapt your book for the big screen.

A good agent will lead you through the entire publishing process. They’ll help with pitching, shaping your manuscript, and navigating contracts with publishers.

A literary agent will never charge you up front (if they do it’s a scam!), but they will get a percentage of the net sales of your book. As such, they have a vested interest in finding your book the best deal possible!

What Are the Benefits of Working with a Literary Agent?

Without a literary agent, you won’t be able to access bigger publishers. Many have their own submission guidelines to navigate, and some won’t accept submissions without a trusted agent’s representation.

Agents also work more on the business side of the book, so that you can focus on what you do best: writing! This includes marketing your book, helping you launch an author website, and ensuring you sell as many books as possible.

Because literary agents understand the complexities of the industry, they can also get you higher advances and make sure you’re a right fit for a specific publishing house. They’ll help you avoid anything suspicious (like those scams we mentioned earlier) and put in the time to get you the best deal.

Literary agents are always in-the-know about publishing trends, too, so they’ll be able to help you capitalize when the industry pivots. They know who’s buying what and which kinds of books are more likely to become bestsellers and feature films.

When you get the right fit, a literary agent can help guide your entire writing career and be a trusted confidant as you navigate each new book publication.

Why Should Self-Published Authors Work with Literary Agents?

If you’ve self-published a book in the past, getting a literary agent is a great way to give your book another (hopefully even more successful) run.

You can let your agent know how many books you sold the first round, and how you’d like to reach more readers with another publishing.

If a publisher is game, this is also an excellent opportunity to switch up your book cover, add a new chapter or 2, or get some more blurbs from influential writers that your agent has access to.

How to Find a Literary Agent

Literary agents are easy to find online. Sites like Agent Acquired, Publishers Marketplace, and Manuscript Wish List compile thousands of literary agent profiles and are searchable by genre. You can easily view their individual submission guidelines by clicking on their profiles.

Another unlikely place to find agents is on Twitter. Lots of literary agents maintain their Twitter profiles and often make calls for submission there. If you’re not ready to pitch one yet, you can still follow them and engage with their content until you’re ready to make the leap.

How to Submit a Manuscript to an Agent

Once you’ve got a list of a few literary agents to contact, spend some time familiarizing yourself with their individual submission guidelines.

Remember: some agents ask for a full manuscript, while others require book proposals, sample chapters, and even professional references.

The best thing to do when submitting your book manuscript to a literary agent is to do your homework. Make sure you know what they’re looking for now as well as books they’ve represented in the past. If you’re looking for an agent for your 600-page historical fiction book, don’t pitch a literary agent that’s only interested in children’s books!

Once you’ve put in the time to pitch, make sure you also give the literary agent plenty of time to respond. Remember that they may be highly-sought after and have a full inbox of writers looking to be represented by them. Some may provide a window of when to expect to hear from them, while others may not respond at all.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! Rejections are par for the course when looking for a literary agent, and it may take a few rejections to find your perfect agent. And when you do, you’ll feel incredible having someone to help promote your work.

Put Your Book Front and Center

Whether you’re looking to get a literary agent to go the traditional publishing route or you’re sticking to self-publishing, selling your book requires investment. You’ll need funds for a book launch, marketing strategy, and maybe some nice pens to sign your new book with.

If you’re not looking for an agent, you can still ensure that your book gets in the hands of as many readers as possible by raising money to beef up your book budget.

Here are our tips to raising money for your self-published book >

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