People often ask me how to find a literary agent. Because literary agents work entirely on spec (meaning they don’t earn a dime until they sell your book AND the check has cleared their bank account), they’re not always easy to procure. This is my basic advice:

1. Go to and subscribe to Publishers Lunch, their newsletter, for one month (costs around $20). Research agents, editors, and deals made.

2. Check The Literary Marketplace, Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents, the latest editions. The second- and third-tier agents are listed here as well as some first-tier agents. Do not bother sending your query to anyone who does not list your genre as one of the genres they represent.

3. Check the acknowledgments pages of books that are similar to yours for the names of agents (whom the authors often thank) and even editors (it helps to have an editors’ list for when you do submit–keep track of which editors bought which books that are like yours). You can do this by looking at the physical book or through’s Search Inside This Book or Google Books (search for Thanks or Thank you or Acknowledgements or agent).

4. Read Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry’s trade magazine which is now online. Check out any round-up articles on your genre (memoir, self-help, etc.). Notice which agents and editors are quoted. The editor or agent quoted might specify what types of books they are currently looking for.

5. Google “literary agents” and your genre.

When you approach an agent–or if you’re daring and decide to approach an editor sans agent–mention WHY you chose to submit your query to them. Include statements such as  “I know you represented Marianne Williamson on The Gift of Change” and “Like (the title of a book the agent represented), mine is a poignant coming-of-age tale featuring a woman of mixed ethnic heritage/an erotic science fiction novel/a self-help book based on sound psychological principles and the latest neuroscience.” Making it clear that you did your homework and are familiar with other books this agent represents will go a LONG way toward piquing their interest.

Closeup of White and Black shaking hands over a deal.

Nancy Peske is a ghostwriter, developmental editor, and book publishing consultant who has done editorial work on books including bestsellers and award-winners for over 30 years.

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