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 on how to find a literary agent:

1. Go to and subscribe to Publishers Lunch, their newsletter, for one month (costs around $20). Research agents, editors, and deals made. Do not bother sending your query to anyone who does not list your genre as one of the genres they represent. You will likely not receive a reply, but if you do, it will almost certainly be a rejection letter.

2. 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).

3. Check out Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry’s trade magazine which is now online. Look 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.

4. Google “literary agents” and your genre.

When you approach an agent, mention WHY you chose to submit your query to them. Include statements such as  “I know you represented (such and such a book)” 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.” In other words, use details that make it clear that you did your homework and are familiar with other books this agent represents. Doing so will go a LONG way toward piquing the agent’s interest.

Also, you may not need an agent. Many small publishers don’t require you to have an agent to serve as a gatekeeper for them, and you might decide you want to self-publish your book. If you’re trying to figure out your vision for getting your book written, published, and discoverable, contact me about my vision plan service so I can help you.

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.