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Literary Agents: Guardians of the Big 5 Publishing Galaxy

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

If none of last week’s information threw you off – and I’m not saying it should have – you might very well need a literary agent.

What’s a literary agent? To answer that question, let’s go on a journey together for the next couple of paragraphs…

On this journey, we’re walking along the road of life when – suddenly, out of nowhere! – you’re hit with an idea. And not just any idea, but a story idea!

It actually hits you so hard that it sticks inside your brain, refusing to dislodge on its own.

Instead of getting operated on, you decide to live life with it… even though it’s big enough that it keeps pushing your head down literary paths. Before you know it, you have a whole entire manuscript on your hands and you’re walking the road to publishing town.

But getting hit with an idea and walking wounded from then on in doesn’t mean they’re going to let you into publishing town automatically.

They’re going to make sure you or your insurance provider can pay before they let you in.

That may or may not have been a bit of a mixed metaphor above. But I'm sure you get the drift.

So here’s the pre-Writing Challenge bottom line: If you’re going sick with the desire for a Big 5 publishing contract… you’re not getting the medicine you want until you tell these guys what they want to hear.


Literary Agents:

Remember what we said last week about how the Big 5 publishers don’t have time for you? That’s where literary agents come into the picture. You can look at them as middlemen or perhaps, more accurately, as keepers of the gate. They’re in-touch industry insiders whose job it is to get you through the publishing-world front door.

They identify writing talent, then shop it around to their publishing company contacts until they find one to take on the costs involved in turning that manuscript into a published, profit-making book.


One clarification before we continue about what we just read above: They identify examples of their understanding of writing talent, then shop it around to their publishing company contacts.

As we’ll discuss in further detail later on this week, that understanding can be a commentary about them. Not necessarily about you.

You’ll see what I mean on Friday.

For today, we’re going to finish up by noting where to find these literary agents creatures.

Should you so choose, you can start out by simply doing an internet search. But not just for "literary agents."

That’ll bring up some charlatans, for one thing. It’ll also bring up a whole lot of “good” actors who aren’t looking for what you wrote.

Literary agents are almost always particular about what they’ll consider. Which is why you want to search for “literary agents looking for fantasy” or “literary agents looking for historical fiction.” Or whatever your specific genre is.

That should narrow it down sufficiently.

You can also go onto sites such as It gives you a certain number of free search pages for agents and agencies. All you need to do in that case is look to the top-ish left-hand side of the page.

Where it says “Quick Agent Search,” select a nonfiction or fiction genre, then take it from there.

And by “take it from there,” I mean make sure to read Thursday’s guide on writing a query letter. Otherwise, your search for literary agents is going to be all for naught.



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