Do Literary Agents look for new authors? If so, how do I get one?

by W. Terry Whalin

Question:Do Literary Agents look for new authors? If so, how do I get an agent?

Answer: I'll begin this answer with a question: Have you written a book proposal on this book or the entire manuscript?

Even if the manuscript is short, you still need to write a book proposal. Many people make this mistake when they try to publish a nonfiction book.

If you are writing a novel and are an unpublished author, then you need to write the entire novel (yes, all 90,000 words of it). Many fiction editors have been disappointed with contracting a great proposal, synopsis and a few sample chapters then the novelist wrote themselves into a corner and didn't know how the story ended. This situation happens much more often than you would suspect so if you are writing fiction, then write the entire book. If you are writing nonfiction, then you need an excellent nonfiction book proposal and a sample chapter.

I've written a book on this topic, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. This book includes a full example of a nonfiction book proposal which I wrote and sold several years ago for an advance over six figures. A book proposal includes a number of important elements for the publishing consideration process that are not in the completed manuscript--and the agent or editor will need that material.

As far as agents, every agent that I know (and I know a number of them from my work as a book acquisitions editor) is open to new clients--the key is that you have something different to say than the other stacks of things coming into their office unsolicited--and that your material catches their attention.

To get an agent, you need to ask other writers who have agents. Ask a series of questions such as the list over on the Association of Author Representatives website. Not every good agent is a member of the AAR but they have some membership requirements that make an AAR member a worthy agent to consider.

Also track down this book: Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction by John F. Baker (Hungry Minds, 1999). Baker who writes for Publisher's Weekly profiles a series of literary agents who have been in the business for many years. You will learn a great deal about agents reading this excellent book--and it may give you some ideas about who to approach with your project. There are some good agents out there but as with editors, the good ones have their hands full.

Some times it's more difficult to find an agent than to get published in the first place. While you are talking with agents and waiting for a response, work on getting published in magazines and building some publishing credits. It will help you catch the agent's (and the editor's) attention.

Another good way to talk with agents is at a writer's conference. Look over the program and select a conference where there will be several agents attending. Take the initiative to talk with them and make a personal connection during the conference. After the conference, follow up and send them your material (or show it to them on the spot). That could be the major break through that you need.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and one of his latest is Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). See more about his writing at For more than 12 years Terry has been an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as CBA Marketplace and BookPage. He is the former Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Books. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2008 W. Terry Whalin

The Writers Store