Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Getting a Literary Agent—Am I Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

One of the most frequent questions I get from people getting started in the writing business is “How can I get an agent?” or “Can you help me find an agent?” Three people have already asked me that question this week and it is only Tuesday!

Before I answer those questions, let me say one thing I have discovered. Many people who ask those two questions are not ready for an agent. In fact, the entire publishing business often exhibits “cart before the horse” situations.

I usually reply to questions about agents with several other questions.

1. Why do you want an agent? 
I hear lots of answers to this question.
  • “Because I need someone to help me edit my work.” Agents are not editors. Agents will offer suggestions as to how you might make your work stronger but will not rewrite it for you.
  • “I don’t want to do anything else. I wrote the book and now want someone else to take it from here.” If you sign with an agent, you are contracting to be a team. The agent will do his or her part and you will have to do yours.

2. Are you writing fiction or nonfiction?
If you are writing fiction, you will need an agent to get it published, especially if you want to target a large publisher. If you are writing nonfiction, lots of opportunities exist for writers to market their books themselves. However, you must attend writers conferences and meet publishers and learn what they are looking for.

3. Is this your first book?
You may wonder why that matters. You have written what you are sure is the next best seller and you are sure someone is going to snap it up if an agent can just get it to the right person. Finding an agent for your first book may require finding someone who can help you learn the publishing business as well.

4. Is the manuscript finished?
Especially for a first book, agents won’t really be interested in the book unless they can take a look at the entire manuscript. They will be glad to listen to your pitch but if they are interested will probably ask you to contact them again when your manuscript is complete.

“Shopping” for an agent is personal. Personalities have to work together and you have to agree on common goals. Asking someone else to help you find agent is somewhat like asking someone to find you a mate. It works much better to find one yourself who is a good fit for you in every way. Don’t hesitate to talk to many agents to find out what they represent, their plan for working with clients, and anything else you would like to know. Read their blogs.

Agents are great helps to writers. They can sell your manuscripts, negotiate payment, tweak markets, stand in the gap if a dispute arises, and give you direction for your career. Agents are the ones in the know for the general publishing industry. They have to keep up with what each publishing house is looking for.

Asking writers who have agents to share their experiences is helpful. If you are ready for an agent, there are lists in the market guides and many online lists. Many agents attend writers conferences and are happy to chat with you. Once you decide you are ready for an agent, pray about which one is right for you. Ask God for His direction and you can’t go wrong.

So, leave the horse in front of the cart. Study the craft and learn how to write with excellence before you look to partner with an agent. And when you are ready, look for the very best agent you can find. They are well worth the small percentage you pay them and will become your greatest cheerleader.

Getting a literary agent—Am I putting the cart before the horse? @LindaGilden (Click to Tweet)

4 things to think about before you start looking for a literary agent - @LindaGilden (Click to Tweet)

Linda Gilden is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She loves to take one subject and create multiple articles from that information. Linda finds great joy (and lots of writing material) in time spend with her family. Her favorite activity is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing children.

To find out more about Linda, her writing, and her ministry, visit You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Linda, Great article. I pray many read this poignant post. As a new agent I get the same questions. Thank you for confirming my responses to those questions. God bless you for all you do.

  2. Thanks, Cherrilynn! Many blessings on your day!

  3. Great article. Curious: What are the chances of getting an agent if an author has been self-publishing books?

  4. Great information and good questions to consider before you start shopping for someone who could be so important to you.