Do I Need a Literary Agent?

One of the most frequently asked questions in publishing is “Do I need a literary agent?” Well, that depends on your goals, genre, resources, and which publishing option you choose.

If you are pursuing a traditional publishing deal, an agent is essential. Most traditional publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning that they only accept manuscripts they’ve commissioned or that are represented by a reputable agent. Not only does the agent act as the middle man—and the first line of defense for the hundreds of slush submissions that publishers would otherwise have to sift through—the agent also acts on your behalf in the negotiation process when a publisher is ready to purchase the rights to your book.

Now, if you are either self-publishing or going after an independent publisher, an agent is probably not necessary. If you are self-publishing, there is no advance to negotiate and no submissions process to get through, eliminating the need for a middleman. Independent publishers often accept submissions from authors and contract directly with them. They typically don’t require a third party to represent you in any part of the process—though you should always have a lawyer take a look at all contracts before you sign.

If you’ve decided a literary agent is the way to go, you need to do your homework to learn the best way to approach the agent and how to identify which ones represent your genre. Start by checking out the Guide to Literary Agents blog and We also developed a one-sheet that covers the basics of getting an agent and another on how to craft the query letter, which is the first hurdle in the process.

One thing you have to remember about looking for an agent is that it takes time to find one who is the right fit for you. Publishing is as much about personal preferences as it is about quality writing—which makes it essential that you take the time to find an agent who truly “gets” you and who will be a fervent advocate for you and your work.