Why do I need a literary agent?

There was once a time when authors and editors were bound by loyalty for life. John Updike never needed an agent, John Kenneth Galbraith never had an agent, many very successful authors felt well treated by their publishers and didn’t need anyone to advocate for their work. Times have changed. Editors move frequently, publishers are keeping a firm eye on the bottom line, and rapidly changing circumstances in electronic publishing require the expertise of a literary agent who stays up to date on developments in the publishing industry.

You need an agent who will be your advocate and advisor throughout the publishing process, who will help guide your long-time writing career, who will explain the vagaries of the business to you, who can make multiple submissions to publishers, negotiate contracts, and help settle problems that may arise with the publisher – so that you can concentrate on your work.

What should I look for in an agent?

You want an agent who knows the publishing industry, who has worked with a variety of houses, who is well known and respected by editors.  A good agent has a reputation for honesty and integrity. A good agent will offer you advice and counsel at every stage of your book’s life, from the drafting of a proposal to suggesting publicity angles for the book. A good agent will understand what you are trying to accomplish with your book, will give you constructive feedback on your proposal or submission, will step in to make editorial suggestions when necessary. A good agent will return your phone calls or emails within a day and keep you posted at every stage of the submission process.

A good agent will send you a written letter outlining the terms of your engagement with them. A good agent will maintain a separate escrow account for clients’ funds and will send the appropriate tax forms at the end of the year. A good agent would be happy to have prospective clients check for references with current clients.

How can I attract an agent’s attention?

Please follow our submission guidelines. We look for clients who can read instructions!

More important, we look for clients who are writing books that matter, books that change the way we think about things, books with a strong narrative voice and story, books that will last.

Be sure to do your research and submit only to agents who handle the kind of book you want to write. Follow instructions about drafting non-fiction book proposals or submitting fiction. We don’t represent diet books, so don’t send us any! We do look for strong work in narrative non-fiction, history, science and nature, literary fiction, works for young adults.

Put your best foot forward. Be able to describe your book succinctly, in writing (not on the telephone). Tell us your credentials – why are you the best person to write this book? Tell us your platform.

What is “platform”?

Platform is publisher-speak for reputation. Will you be able to attract attention for your work? Are you known as an expert or emerging expert in your field? Have you published stories in literary magazines? Have you been interviewed on NPR? Do you have a teaching position? Have you published any articles about your topic? Has anyone written an article about your work? Do you know anyone in the media world? Do you have a blog that people visit regularly? Do you have a presence on the web?

Submission Guidelines

Detailed instructions for writers interested in submitting a query to us.

Proposal Writing Suggestions

Our author's guide to writing  Non-Fiction proposals.