Finding the Right Agent

Your mission is not to find an agent, it is to find the right agent. Do you want an advocate or a gatekeeper?

Some literary agents have a passion and a track record for certain kinds of books: cooking, travel, children’s, business, parenting and so on. To find the right agent for your manuscript, simply match the Work to the agent.

Look on that shelf in the bookstore where your book will be. Check the Acknowledgment pages of similar books; some authors mention their agent. Locate and call authors of works similar to yours. Ask who their agent is.

Agent Patti Breitman, (John Gray, Men are from Mars and Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff), is a confirmed and renowned vegetarian.

When she was new to the business, she attended many vegetarian conferences and let people know she was looking for manuscripts. After she sold a few, the word spread in vegetarian circles. Now, Patti represents the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Ingrid Newkirk (You Can Save The Animals); the founder of Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, Neal Barnard, M.D. (Foods That Fight Pain and Food for Life), the 4th generation cattle rancher turned vegetarian who got Oprah sued, Howard Lyman (Mad Cowboy) and several others.

Today, Patti receives several queries and proposals for vegetarian books. As she is not taking on many new clients, Patti must sometimes decline the chance to work with even the best vegetarian authors. Then she will suggest other agents and encourage the writers to persevere, as she shares their passion.

At writers’ conferences, try this non-threatening way of approaching agents: Do not ask an agent to read your manuscript. Place them in a more objective position by saying, “You are an agent and know most of the other agents. I realize agents have a track record in certain types of work. Which agents would you recommend for this manuscript?” You will be astonished at the positive reaction you get.

Good agents specialize. Successful authors know where to look for agents.

Dan Poynter, the Voice of Self-Publishing, has written more than 100 books since 1969 including Writing Nonfiction and The Self-Publishing Manual. Dan is a past vice-president of the Publishers Marketing Association. For more help on book publishing and promoting, see


  1. says

    Some helpful stuff in here. I know the temptation is there, particularly at the beginning, to take a birdshot approach. Ironically, being selective from the start may help speed the process.

  2. says

    Don Poynter always gives excellent advice. I write specialized books with headline stories originating in Africa, so if I decide to get an agent, I need to get one who represents this type of work – e.g. Blood Diamond. It never occurred to me until now. Thank you, Don.