How to Find a Literary Agent in 2021

With traditional publishing houses not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, it’s essential to search for a literary agent in order to get your book in the right hands. But how do you find them?

Here’s how to find a literary agent in 2021:

  1. Write and finish the manuscript.
  2. Research agencies and individual agents.
  3. Prepare and submit your submission package.
  4. Wait for at least six to eight weeks for a reply.
  5. Submit the full manuscript upon request.
  6. Work on requested edits.
  7. Re-submit manuscript.
  8. Potentially sign with the agent.

In this article, I’ll cover the steps of finding a literary agent in more detail, expanding on what to expect at each step of the journey.

Finding a Literary Agent 

Before the advent of ebooks and the surge in e-readers in the 2000s, the only way to successfully get a book to the public was via a publishing house. These massive companies held the monopoly on whose work would be viewed, printed, read, and critiqued.

Unfortunately, almost no large publishing houses have, or ever will, accept unsolicited manuscripts. Because of this, an author needs to seek the services of a literary agent.

These agents work with authors to edit their manuscript until they believe it is worthy of publishing. They will then send the story to the publishers they think will want to buy the rights and publish the book.

To find a literary agent in 2021, you need to research online. It is vital to find an agency and an agent that are looking for what you’re selling. Once you have found the right person, carefully read all submission guidelines and take your time with your query. One spelling error in the initial email can ruin your chances before they even read your work.

1. Write and Finish the Manuscript

Literary agents rarely accept book proposals from unknown authors and often require access to a full and finished manuscript.

Check out my post, " How to Start Writing a Book" for some helpful tips on where to begin.

During the first query, they will usually ask for a complete synopsis of the book, telling them exactly how it ends. This is so they know they have finished work, and they can better understand the story as a whole.

The author must be able to send a fully completed manuscript upon request.

2. Research Agencies and Individual Agents

When looking to submit a manuscript, the first step is to research the many literary agencies in your country.

For the most part, an author should look to agencies in their country of residence rather than reaching out to other countries. If successful, the agent will then decide if the work should be sent abroad.

Agencies will often accept books of varying genres. However, some will only accept submissions from one specific genre, such as children’s books. Similarly, there may be a dozen agents accepting submissions, but they will all have different criteria.

Typically, they will have biographies for each agent, including requests for specific genres, and more importantly, what they do not accept.

Research is vital to ensure your work gets seen by the people most likely to want to read it. Though they often state that they will send your work to another agent, should they think it would suit them better, it will appear lazy and unprofessional to send a YA manuscript to an agent that specifically states they do not read YA.

3. Prepare and Submit Your Submission Package

A submission package will usually include:

  1. An email with a cover letter and a brief description of the book.
  2. The first few chapters or a specified number of words.
  3. A synopsis (with a specific number of words) including plot points, twists, and the ending.

Each agency is likely to have slightly different specifications, and each submission will be different.

Thoroughly read through each agency’s submission page to ensure you have the correct word count, the desired information in the email, and, most importantly, that you have submitted the correct format.

Many agencies require PDF copies sent as attachments, and others ask for Word documents. It is unusual to see agencies asking for Pages documents.

4. Wait at Least Six to Eight Weeks for a Reply

Most agencies will state a minimum number of weeks that an author can expect to wait before hearing back.

However, some will note from the start that they do not respond to every submission unless they are seeking to read the full manuscript and potentially move forward with a contract. In many cases, if the allotted time has passed, chances are the agent did not feel that they could represent the work.

5. Submit the Full Manuscript upon Request

If an agent likes what they read from the submission package, they should contact you asking for the full manuscript. In most cases, you will have only sent the first few chapters - which should be enough to pique their interest.

Asking for the full manuscript is not a guarantee that they will choose to represent you, but it is a hopeful step in the right direction.

They liked what they read enough to want to read more, which is a good sign for the future.

6. Work on Requested Edits

It is not uncommon for a literary agent to have suggested edits. These can be anything from cutting a character to clarifying certain aspects of the story.

Again, this is not a guarantee that they will ultimately represent you. There are unfortunate stories of people making edits and the agent passing in the end anyway.

This is the sad fact of querying. Rejections are many, and it takes a lot of work to find representation.

7. Re-Submit the Manuscript

Once you have made the necessary edits and checked over for any errors or mistakes, you should resubmit the whole manuscript again - not just the parts you changed.

It could be weeks between readings during which the agent has likely read a hundred other submissions.

Send the whole thing and allow them to re-read the full story or find the edits they asked you to make. You could highlight the text’s amendments by making them bold or asking the agent if they have a preference.

8. Potentially Sign with the Agent

This is the goal. You worked for this, and this is what you wanted. If the agent sees potential in your work, chances are they will offer you representation.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to sign anything immediately. You can read and ask for changes if you’re not happy with something.

And ask questions! You’re entitled to clarification if something is unclear.

And then the real work begins!

What Comes Next?

Once you have signed with an agent, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Typically, you will work together to make your manuscript the best it can be.

There might be a lot of downtime while they shop your book around, and there could be weeks during which you won’t hear from them.

Some agents will ask you to work on your book’s proposal, sharpening the synopsis and blurb for future publishers to read.

Similarly, they may ask you to work on your online presence. This can include social media presence and an author’s website.