How to find the right literary agent

Looking for an agent? There are five basic rules to finding the right agent for your work. There are no cast-iron guarantees that following them will land you an agent, but what they can guarantee is that paying attention to them means you’re giving your work the best possible chance to be noticed.

Keyboard typing1. Do your research

It used to be you could just pick up a copy of The Writer’s Handbook and research potential agents that way. Times change and one of your best research tools is now the internet. Agents have websites, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, Facebook profiles: all of these are avenues for you to explore, to get a glimpse at who this agent represents, to discover what interests them, and to learn how best to approach them.

Take your time with this stage. There’s no point querying an agent whose clients are all crime writers when you write historical romances. There’s no point querying the first agent who takes your fancy without first finding out their guidelines for submission. Do your research. Do it well.

2. The query letter

Once you’ve found an agent or two that you think would be the right match for your work the next stage is to get in touch. Do NOT go wild and rush into contacting them. You need to ensure that you know exactly what they wish to receive in an initial query letter or email. Check their guidelines first and stick to them. Keep your cover letter brief and professional. Say a little about yourself without going into your life story. Never send your synopsis and sample chapters within the body of the email: these should always be separate attachments. If you have an online presence provide links to where the agent can look you up; if an agent’s in the least bit interested in taking you on as a client you can guarantee they’ll be Googling you at some point. Save them some time and show them the way.

3. The synopsis

As with your query letter check the agent’s guidelines on synopses. Generally agents don’t want to see more than 2-3 pages for a synopsis, though this can vary. Make sure all the relevant plotlines and characters are included and ALWAYS reveal the ending. Give it a final proofing before sending it off, then proof it again. If you’re making basic mistakes with your own plot and characters in the synopsis, if you’re not paying attention to basic grammar and punctuation, you’re on a fast-track to rejection.

manuscript4. Sample chapters

Check those guidelines again. What does your potential want to receive with regard to sample chapters? Some ask for the first three chapters, some ask for the first fifty pages. Send the agent what he or she has asked for. Never send random chapters or more than has been asked for in the guidelines. As with your synopsis, make sure you are sending in the best possible copy. Check and double check for errors in formatting, spelling, grammar and punctuation. It could just be you’ve written the next big thing to hit the publishing world, but don’t bank on that possibility making up for shoddy craftsmanship. Make every word and page count.

5. Patience is a virtue

So, that’s it then. You’ve done your research, found your potential agent, and sent off the best possible query according to his or her guidelines. What comes next? You wait. You may receive an acknowledgement of receipt, but don’t expect one. You may receive a reply within a week, but don’t expect one. Every agent is different, with varying workloads and schedules, and you must respect professional boundaries. If an agent states on their website that responses can be expected within a certain time frame, always leave it until after that date before getting in touch with a polite query about your submission. Pestering and stalking (yes, it does happen) will get you nowhere other than on a blacklist. Stay positive and continue to write while you wait for a response.

Good luck!


Sharon RingSharon Ring is a literary agent and freelance editor. She currently represents Simon Bestwick and Gary McMahon. She can be found on Twitter as @AgentRing

Sharon Ring Website


  1. Sharon, I’m trawling for an agent at the moment so this was very useful for me. Suitability match aside, are there any resources to check into an agent’s bona fides? I know about Predators and Editors, but would things like a very short client list, or a client list where nobody seems to have a web presence normally be taken as alarm bells?

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