Hunting the Elusive Agent

By Tim Suddeth

One of the biggest steps for a new writer who has finished their first book and wants to publish traditionally is finding an agent. Agents are such an elusive prey, seeming to hide on the highest, craggy peaks and only coming out when the sun is in the fifth quarter or under the purple moon.

At least that’s what I thought when I began writing. They all lived in New York City, wearing ascots or long glittering dresses to the parties they attended every night. They dined with their rich and famous authors and laughed at the commoner who dared send them a manuscript without a SASE. Hahahaha.

And then I met some. And that was exactly who they were.

Okay, maybe they weren’t quite like that.

We writers who are struggling on our writing journeys often see the job of getting an agent as just so hard. We’ve been told we have to get one or We … Have … Failed. And we will never be a proper writer.

But not everyone needs an agent. In fact, the vast majority of writers are doing just fine without one. But there are also many writers who are very indebted to their agents.

How to Know if You Need an Agent

Most people who write articles will go directly to the magazine, newspaper, or blog and query themselves. To write for them, you don’t need an agent.

Are you writing just one story that has been in your heart? If you don’t have plans to continue writing, you are usually best served by finding your own publisher.

If you have all these characters walking around in your head, babbling and telling you stories you just have to write, then an agent—and a counselor—is what you need.

I’ve talked to people who bristle at sharing any of the pittance they hope to get from their yet-to-be-published book. Why should they share their money with anyone else? Just as an athlete needs a trainer, a singer needs a voice coach. Many of us have financial advisers. The art and craft of writing are enough to blow anyone’s mind, so doesn’t it make sense to get someone to help you with the business side?

There are many people who are happy to take this on themselves. They either shop their manuscript directly to publishers or self-publish. And both are legitimate options. But you need to recognize all the additional tasks and decisions that come with those routes.

What Do I Expect from an Agent?

  • Someone who can recognize when the book is ready to sell.

It is important that you make the book the best you can, but you or your writing group can always find something else to change. There comes a point when you are just shifting cushions on the couch and not making the room any better.

When you feel you have done all you can, that is when you need to get an agent or an editor. Yes, the publisher will still have their changes to make, but the less the editor thinks they have to change, the better.

  • Someone who knows the editors and the market.

It is my job as a writer to understand the niche I’m writing for, but I want my agent to know which publishers are open to my story and which would be a waste of time.

Some publishers only look at submissions from agents. This gives me a better shot at getting someone to look at mine.

It also helps after the sale, when your agent can work as a mediator between you and your editor. Instead of battling to the death over every change to your baby, they can take a more neutral view and help you choose the battles that are really important, keeping you from burning any bridges in the process.

  • Someone who has been there before.

I don’t know about you, but I always like visiting a new place with someone who has been there before. Whether a restaurant, a new city, or even a different conference, they can guide you to the things that interest you and save you a lot of time.

That is what I want my agent to do for me. Protect me from the unseen hazards that can trip me up and introduce me to the people I need to see.

  • Someone who can see a future for my work.

Writing is a lonely business, even with your writer friends supporting you. There are going to be rejections. Ask any successful writer, and they can tell you of a tie when they were ready to call it quits.

J. T. Ellison at the Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference said, “Wouldn’t it be awful if you quit just five minutes before you have success?” 

Writing is a lonely business, even with your writer friends supporting you. There are going to be rejections. Ask any successful writer, and they can tell you of a tie when they were ready to call it quits.

There will be times when your agent may tell you they have sent your proposal to everyone, and you may need to get started on another idea. But they should also be able to tell you not to pull the plug yet.


Getting an agent shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. Remember, they don’t pay you, you pay them. But an agent can be worth much more than their commission by guiding you to the right publishers and helping you make your manuscript better.

No matter which path you choose for your writing journey, I wish you the best. And remember, whether you get an agent or not, if you are writing for God, you never write alone.

(Photos courtesy of, AKARAKINGDOMS and mrsiraphol.)


How do I know if I need an agent? via @TimSuddeth (Click to tweet.)


Tim Suddeth is a regular attendee of The Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference and a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He’s currently working on his fifth novel. He has a monthly post on The Write Conversation and is trying to make a dent in his to-read bookcases. You can follow him at on his blog at or on Twitter @TimSuddeth.




  1. Thank you for this encouraging message. I have prayed about seeking an agent. I look forward to being alert for God's guidance.

    1. That is the best first and overarching move. I look forward to seeing what you have in store.


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