We get asked a lot of questions over the course of a month, but perhaps the commonest questions boil down to these: how do you find a literary agent? Do you know literary agents who are taking on new and first-time writers?
And the answer, of course, is yes.
Nearly all agents, great or small, take on new authors. If they didn’t, they’d go out of business. Not straightaway, maybe, but out of business nevertheless.
There’s a second point here, too: all agents need to submit to the same bunch of editors (and a small bunch at that: most books will be pitched to between eight and twelve publishers in the first round of marketing).
By and large, agents are all looking for manuscripts that meet a certain quality threshold. If they find one, they’ll agree to take it on. If they don’t, they won’t.
That’s the homily. A homily which boils down, as ever, to the first and second commandments of getting a literary agent:
- Write a good book.
- If you need help, get editorial advice where you can.
It’s somewhat easier to secure a less well-established agent than a Giant of the Industry. That’s not because quality standards are lower – they aren’t at all – but because a newer agent knows he or she must work harder to build a list. If you went to such an agent with a novel that is dazzling but imperfect, they may well be prepared to put in the work needed to fix it. An agent with a longer list may (regretfully) turn the book down.
That’s worth remembering.
If you want to find a literary agent who genuinely welcomes first-time authors, as opposed to merely accepting them, you will do well to approach those who have been less long established in the business – basically, you’re looking for youngsters, or those who have come into the profession from elsewhere in the industry.
It is not a sensible strategy simply to pick smaller agencies, because (1) there are plenty of one- and two-person agencies who have been in the business a long time, and whose lists are already amply populated. Also, larger agencies will all have new recruits who are hungry to build up their lists. You shouldn’t rule those people out from your search.
With bigger agencies, it’s fine to call the switchboard and ask for suggestions about which agents might be right for a project. Not all agencies (or receptionists) will be helpful, but enough will be, to make it worth your while. Indeed, it was good advice from an office receptionist that encouraged me to approach the Well-Known Literary Agent who ended up offering to represent my first novel.
As always, though, these guidelines must be balanced against everything else.
You’re looking for an agent who loves your book and believes they can sell it. That’s all. If that agent works for a big agency or a small one, is young or venerable – doesn’t matter.
You, the book, the agent. If those three things gel, nothing else much matters.
Use our literary agent advice pages to navigate your way.
Use our database for reference.
And if your book isn’t taken on by the first fifteen agents, then do consider editorial feedback as an option. Writing a book is hard and few get there on their first attempt. We can help.