Qualities to look for in a literary agent?

So… I just had a literary agent write me and say he liked my manuscript and wants to talk to me on the phone to discuss my book. He also said that he wants to discuss what qualities I’m looking for in a literary agent.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what qualities I should be looking for in an agent. To be honest, I was just querying any agent from my Writer’s Market book who looked like they might be interested in a story like mine. I’m just kind of in shock right now and have no idea how I’m not going to sound like an idiot on the phone.

What should I say?

I don’t have an answer for your question. But I just want to pop in to say a huge congratulations!

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Thank you so much!

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Well, some literary agents are very hands on. Other are very hands off. Some are editorial. Some are lawyers or business people. Some came from publishing itself. Some have experience in selling foreign rights. Or TV rights. Some are open to indie publishing – some absolutely hate it. Some only want career writers. Some don’t care if you want to write only the one book. Some will rep your later works no matter the genre. Some have a specialty and will want you to stick to that one genre.

What do YOU need?


Think about your communication style too. Do you need someone who reaches out frequently, even when nothing is happening? Or are you comfortable with months of silence, because nothing has happened? Do you need immediate replies to email? Is a day too long? Two days? If you send them something to review at what point do you start panicking because they haven’t written back?


Thank you so much! This was all very helpful!

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Another thing to consider is if you do get a contract offer from a publisher if they are going to fight for the terms or, if the publisher won’t budge, try to get you to sign anyway. These days publishers often want to lock up all your rights (translation, adaptation, etc.) - you don’t want to lose those as if you did end up with someone wanting to option your story for film or TV (or even just translate to another language) they’d have to be approved by the publisher as well (and they may take a chunk of whatever profit you make from these deals).

And don’t accept terms that include more than 15% going to the agent from your royalties/advances.


Thank you. That is something I wouldn’t have even thought of considering. This book is my baby, so I would like to hold on to as many rights to my own work as is feasible. Thank you for your insight.

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The best agents are the ones who will fight for your book no matter what. They have the arguments with a publisher so you don’t have to and can keep your relationship nice and cordial :blush: Good luck with the agent, and congratulations on a successful query!


Thank you so much!

Ask them whether they are interested in repping just this book, or your subsequent books. What happens if you produce a book outside the range of genres they usually rep? What happens if they move agency, are you signed to them personally or the agency?

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