Literary agents seeking new authors

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.

Pretty much every agent listed on out sister site, Agent Hunter, will take on new authors now and again.

When I was a complete newbie with nothing previously published, no connections, I sent my manuscript out to around a dozen agents. I got three positive responses. One of those three was from an agent who had not, I think, actually read my book. I binned him pretty quickly.

The other two offers of representation I took seriously. One was from a man who was, and is, at the head of one of Britain’s largest and best-known literary agencies. Another from a woman who had only fairly recently co-founded a two-person literary agency. I met both agents and went with the second one. (I thought they were both terrific but reckoned I’d get more personal attention from someone who really needed my business. It was probably the right call.)

The point, however, is simply this. 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. Which is that all agents have to submit to the same bunch of editors (and quite a small bunch at that: most books will be pitched to just 8-12 publishers in the first round of marketing). So it’s no good some newbie agent taking on somewhat weaker manuscripts in the hope of slowly building a business, because those manuscripts won’t sell. 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.

OK. That’s the homily. A homily which boils down, as ever, to the first and second commandments of getting a literary agent:

  1. Write a good book.
  2. If you need help with (1), get help.

But since I’ve now delivered myself of the homily, I am happy to tell you that, yes, it is 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 – but because a newer agent knows he/she has to work harder to build a list. So if you come 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.

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, (2) the 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 the bigger agencies, it’s fine to call the switchboard and ask for suggestions about which agents might be right for a particular project. Not all agencies (or receptionists) will be helpful, but enough will 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 have to be balanced against everything else. You’re looking for an agent who loves your book and believes he/she 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.

So get the book out there. Use our literary agent advice pages to navigate your way. Use our Agent Hunter for reference. And if your book isn’t taken on by the first 8 or 12 or 15 agents, then remember: it’s not because you’ve approached the wrong agents, it’s because you haven’t yet written a good enough book. Which isn’t something to get upset about. Writing a book is hard. Few people get there on their first attempt. And better still: we can help you with our inimitable brand of tough, realistic manuscript feedback – and we’ll be there to get you an agent when – and if – your novel or book becomes good enough.

 

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  • mike foggetta

    I’ve written a children’s book targeting middle graders. It’s about a group of kids living in a California beach town and who are into extreme sports, surfing, skateboarding, etc. It has plenty of humor action, and suspense.

    I’m looking for agents to send out my query letter and/or a sample chapter.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • Andrew Muir

    I have recently written a non-fiction book about my life. My friends say its a little bit like Nigel Marvens ‘Toast’. Any advice would be greatly appreciated or directions on what i should do? Many thanks
    Andrew Muir

  • Harry

    Not much advice we can offer for books we haven’t read! But either approach to agents (find names via Agent Hunter) or come to us for editorial advice first. Good luck!

  • Hello my name Is Chris Atkinson and I from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear.
    I am wriring a book about my life that I think you will be very interested in. I also write alot of poetry and the all the information is on my web site. I hope you have a chance to read the description and 5000 mages of the book that are on the site. I also hope you read the poetry and enjoy it. The book I am writing is called That Thing Called Life.

    Kind Regards
    Chris Atkinson

  • Adam Hills

    Hi
    I am attempting to write a novel in the superhero fiction genre.
    I was wondering if you could tell me if the superhero genre is frowned upon in the literary world? If it not as accepted by literary agents and publishing houses as the other genres.
    I really love my characters and my story (as all authors do) and would love to see it one day published. Thank you for taking your time to answer
    Adam

  • Harry

    Will an agent take on a bad, derivative superhero yarn? Of course not. Would they if the story was dazzling? Yes! These things always come down to quality, not the market. And the risk in writing your kind of book is that you have an impulse to imitate the stories that drew you into the genre in the first place. You need to not do that. You can let them inspire you, yes, and by all means draw on that tradition. But you have to do something new and interesting too. That’s when agents will sit up and take notice.

  • Emma

    Hello, I’m currently roughly through three quarters of the first book/first piece of creative writing I have written since Secondary… (10 years ago.) It’s fiction, which i’m to paranoid to tell you what it is about here because I believe in it so much. I can give you a general idea; it’s about our modern day society being turned on its head in such a way that barely any human on earth would be able to cope without being able to rely on strangers and battling incomprehensible events. It’s quite psychological and it tackles mental illness through my own experience be it slightly exaggerated with the main role who I have made a few years younger than myself. I’m hoping to push some boundaries and enlighten some people. There are plenty of moral dilemmas, which create intense situations. Unfortunately my vocabulary has shrunk over the years due to my social phobic anxiety that has left me talking to my Flemish husband most of the time for the past 6 years! I have picked up his improvised English terribly, although he is near to fluent and sounds like he is from the south west like myself its those adjectives that he mashes up and sentence jumbling that has given me bad habits. So would an agent be able to fix this for me if needed? I have a younger cousin proof reading for me, but I feel it will still need tweaking when I am finished. By the description I have given, I hope it would be intriguing enough for someone to be curious about it. I thought long and hard about the subject matter for around 2 and a half years so it isn’t something I have jumped into. I’m really hoping it has an effect that will make readers re-evaluate what is important to them. It would be a dream come true if on completion my book could be seen for what it is and published. But I am open to tough critique, it might be a little soul destroying, but if I’m knocked down, I will eventually bounce back up because of my belief in this.

    Thank you for your time to reply in advance – Emma.

  • Harry

    HI Emma

    No. An agent’s job is definitely not to correct any issues you may have with your language. An agent is there to sell a completed and well-nigh perfect manuscript to editors. If the manuscript needs a last little polish, the agent may direct you as to where he or she thinks you need to put in the work, but agents are not primarily about offering editorial advice. If you want that advice, then you need to get it from people like us. Editorial advice is what we do! We can offer copyediting as well, but it’s very rare that a book is perfect in every structural respect but still needs copyediting input.

    In short, therefore you are probably best off getting editorial advice from us as a first step, then figure out where to go from there. Hope that helps!

    Harry

  • Henry Nixon

    Dear sir.
    My first novel The Jew From Lodz was published a year ago and is on sale in Waterstones. The story spans thirty years starts and ends in Sunderland. I would like to take it further and just wondering if you could assist me in that direction
    Regards Henry Nixon aka The Jew Fro Lodz

  • Harry

    Hi Henry – I’m sure we can help. Just get in touch with the office on info@writersworkshop.co.uk and give them the necessary background.

  • Stuart Russell

    Hi,

    I wrote a book when i was 18 which was picked up and published by a company called Publish America, obviously being a complete novice i went with them as they offered to publish it for free and at 18 i didn’t have the resources or the knowledge to get it published any other way. At first it was great, i was only 18 and and my book was being published and released, but they provided absolutely no support or guidance when it came to promotion of the book and the whole process completely put me off.
    I have been struggling to get back into it ever since, but that first experience has always put me off. I am determined now to give it one last push and see if i can actually make something of my passion for writing and turn it from a hobby into a career. If you can give me any advice on whether i should get an agent first before looking for a publisher and also if you know of any agents who specialise in historical fantasy along the lines of Bernard Cornwell or Conn Iggulden. thanks

  • Harry

    Publish America is basically a scam: we strongly recommend that you avoid them. And OF COURSE you should get an agent before you get a publisher. And no, there are no agents who specialise in the area you mention: few agents specialise at all. Please read the advice on this site which gives you more info on how to go about your search – and use our sister site AgentHunter.co.uk to locate agents. Best of luck!

  • Mick

    Hi all, I’m passionate about reading and writing, I now think it’s time to write my thoughts down into a fictional book and wondered how I go about getting it published if it’s up to a good enough standard? Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mick.

  • lawrence

    I am anxiously in need of a literary agent who is or will be interested in shearing a message with and for the youths/students of generation with out job, competitors and anyone working in a group towards getting a project or a dream realized. This will be through a book issue of compiled data on the challanges, disappointment, mistakes, diception and rejection which surmont to failure of the above listed categories of persons to achieve their life dreams. The book is titled “THE VALUES OF FAILURE’ since the book is a compilation of long years of interraction with the yought and students, it is virtually finished and completed. what ever is left is on it, is just minor polishings to put it in its best shape. I am a student of the university of Yaoundé II cameroon, story teller and script writer. I am of Nigeria origin. student of the writers’ village creative tutoring school. Translator of french and english language courses and documents for students in the university of Yaoundé II Cameroon.

  • Al

    Hi I have recently completed a book on humour which I feel may has excellent potential for English speakers globally.

    Can anyone please recommend an agent who has a real interest in this genre? I believe that the UK is probably the best option. Thank you, Al

  • Harry

    Try Agent Hunter – we can’t suggest agents for books we haven’t read.

  • Sunny Jack Obande

    Hi,
    My name is Sunny Jack Obande. I published a Children’s Book, A Miracle for Daddy with Accomplish Press (a small Indie Publisher in the United Kingdom) in early 2015. The book was short-listed for the Nigerian NLNG Prize for Children’s Literature (2015).
    It’s presently on Amazon.com and a few other sites.
    I desire to give the book a deeper thrust in the literary corridor. The advice I received was that I needed to pile up reviews for it.
    Now, I have two questions.
    1. How do I go about getting reviews for the book?
    2. Can I approach an Agent for an already published book? If the answer is in the affirmative, can you kindly suggest one to me?

    I have both hard copy and e-copy, in case you are interested in perusing it.

    Thank you in anticipation of your favorable response
    Sunny Jack Obande

  • salvatore livolsi

    Grettings, read the articles on your site, dont really know what others are saying.I have been writing for years do not even know if its me writing , can not even dicern where it comes from , it just comes , very strange .Its like living two seperate lives, may be I am destine to write or not, but what ever it is I will continue to adhere to what ever compels me. Thanks for at least reading what I had to say