Many first-time authors want to find an agent who will sell their manuscripts to large publishers. But without a sales track record, it isn’t easy to find a reputable agent to take on your work. They need to show prospective publishers your book will sell and that there is a good-sized audience who knows your work and is willing to buy it.
But do you need an agent? If you are self-publishing, you don’t. If you are an author of academic or educational works, you don’t. If you are a poet, you don’t need an agent.
However, if you are writing fiction, history, memoir or biographies intended for a general audience, you need an agent. And especially if you hope to be published by one of the big four publishers.
First, do your research. Not all agents are the same. Many specialize in specific types or styles of writing. Look at their websites and see who their clients are. Ask yourself: is your writing similar to those writers.
Through this process, you will begin eliminating agents, and you will find a vast number of agents will be reduced to a handful.
Look at the submission guidelines for each agent. Follow the submission guideline! Don’t vary, don’t try to reimagine these guidelines. Just follow them.
Warning: many unscrupulous people take advantage of new authors. They will make you pay to read your work. Or lock you into contracts where they control everything you produce. Or sign up thousands of writers and represent them to publishers at all.
Always beware of agents you have never heard of.
So be polite, stay candid, and don’t rush into any decisions. Since you only get one shot when querying an agent, make sure that you get it right. You probably won’t get the agent you want with the first submission. But if you remain patient and determined in your search, you’ll find your long-term business partner sooner rather than later.