How to Locate a Literary Agent

How to Locate a Literary Agent—a Talk Given at Sacramento Public Library on January 26, 2010

On Tuesday of this week, I gave a talk at the Sacramento Public Library on “How to Locate a Literary Agent.” Here’s what we talked about:

Why is an agent important to find?

Agents act as brokers between authors and publishers. We are professionals who have connections to big-city publishers of all levels and leverage those contacts to help you sell your book.

Hopefully, your relationship with your agent builds long-term projects for you, instead of becoming a one-hit-wonder.

Can you sell your book by yourself, without the help of an agent?

Sure, as long as the publisher you’re approaching accepts unsolicited, un-agented manuscripts. Check publisher’s guidelines on their website to confirm whether they do, and follow submission guidelines as indicated. A few things to consider, however: Agents often have a better sense for what publishers are looking for in what types of projects, and could probably get you a better deal for you than what you can get on your own (because it’s our expertise!). We also understand the ins and outs of publishing contracts, so we can negotiate points within those contracts to get you a better deal, as well. 

Where Can I Look to Find an Agent?


As in much of life these days, many aspects of book publishing are going online—including agencies and resources for finding them. Here are a few sites to get you started:

  • A free online database that helps authors track query letters to agents and publishers, and tells authors the best agents to pitch based on genre, response times, mode of response, etc.
  • Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog: Put out by Writer’s Digest, this blog is a companion to the annual Guide to Literary Agents (see below) edited by Chuck Sambuchino. Sambuchino also edits this blog. Chock-full of info for writers looking for agents, it also features agent profiles, and a free monthly e-newsletter with submission tips, etc.


  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers’ Editors, and Literary Agents: This annual guide lists agents/agencies, as well as book publishers (organized into conglomerates, independent publishers, academic presses, and international presses), what they’re looking for, and how to submit, as well as other resources for writers.
  • Writer’s Market: This well-known writer’s resource (also an annual guide) features listings of large publishers, agents/agencies, as well as trade publications and consumer magazines looking for writers (a good resource for writers looking to build their platform). *Note: The 2010 Deluxe Edition gives an access code to Writer’s Market Online for FREE. (A subscription to currently costs around $30/year.)
  • Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents: Edited by Chuck Sambuchino, this annual guide exclusively features agents/agencies, how and what they’re accepting, and also lists writers’ conferences where writers can meet with and pitch agents face-to-face.


Want to rise above the e-query masses? A good option may be to meet an agent at a writers’ conference, many of which feature one-on-one sessions with agents (usually at an extra cost to you) where you can pitch an agent looking for submissions in the subject or genre you write in. Come prepared with a professional but friendly pitch, and bring materials in case the agent requests them.

Check out and click on the “Writers Conferences and Workshops” link for dozens of international writers’ conferences.

Once you’ve located an agent, what should you look for?

Make sure that the agency looks reputable. Do they display their approach and their history with the publishing business? Do they feature titles or cover art of the books they’ve sold? Also make sure that they do not ask for a “reader’s fee” to consider your work for representation. Agents work on commission only.

Look for an agency that has connections to New York publishers and other reputable publishers throughout the U.S. and even internationally.

Check the agency’s web site, including individual agents’ profiles, carefully for areas they currently represent to make sure you’re pitching the right agent. Once you’ve determined they represent your subject or genre, check their submission guidelines and follow them carefully. The guidelines are there for a reason!

Last of all, good luck! It can be a challenging experience, but it only takes one agent to say “yes” to bring you that much closer to getting your book published.

Check our “Classes” page on for upcoming classes and workshops.


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