What Literary Agents Want From Authors Of Fiction

What Literary Agents Want From Authors Of Fiction

In this post, our guest author, Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb, includes details of what literary agents want from authors of fiction.


As someone working within major trade book publishing in New York City, I am often asked what agencies are looking for from authors of fiction.

I have provided a quick, and hopefully helpful, list used in evaluating a writer of fiction.

These are not all of the factors that make writers attractive in the eyes of representatives and publishers. They are some of the major factors that come into consideration. 

What Literary Agents Want From Authors Of Fiction 

Quality Writing

Good writing will always win the day. Especially in fiction writing – as authors become household names because of the quality of their writing.

For this reason, fiction is often more author-driven, whereas nonfiction is more idea-driven (we will get into that in another article on nonfiction).

Loyal readers will come back to a writer of fiction time and time again, knowing what to expect.

What is good writing?

  1. In commercial fiction, this often means a strong plot that propels the narrative forward.
  2. In literary fiction, this means character development and the quality of the writing. It might even be a matter of the cadence of the words.

Potential Endorsers And Blurbs

Having one, or even better, a few blurbs from bestselling or award-winning authors can help a writer hoping to become a published author.

Publishers try to do the same thing by reaching out to their own authors. I do the same thing for my own clients.

Short of having at least a blurb in hand, a writer should have a strong list of potential endorsers for their manuscript. This is a list of bestselling or award-winning authors that the writer has access to.

Ideally, these endorsers should write in the same genre and for the same age group as the author. These endorsers should also be very likely to commit, or have already committed, to providing a blurb once there is a publisher in the picture.

Writing Credentials

It is also helpful for writers of fiction to demonstrate their writing credentials from institutions or other groups.

Sometimes, this is a matter of showing that the author has attended a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, or that they have studied journalism. This can be at the graduate or undergraduate level, even post-graduate.

Writers can include that they have attended prestigious writers’ workshops or conferences, perhaps even well-known writer groups or communities and organisations, and so on.

 Relevant Writing Experience

It is important for a writer to show they have obtained writing experience alongside those credentials.

That can mean experience with publishing short stories in literary magazines and journals. Other times that can mean writing articles for popular publications such as magazines and well known sites.

This shows that the writer was able to get some of their publications placed in popular or prestigious venues. The writer has begun building a writing community around himself.

This means that there are potential venues to support a book publication by excerpting a book in these venues.

Links To Social Media Pages Or Site

It is good for a writer to demonstrate that they have an online presence. It is even better if it is a big online presence with many followers.

At the very least, having an online presence will show publishers that the author will have a place to connect with potential readers and that they are engaged.

The author is central to the marketing and promotion of a book since fans will want to hear from them, before their publisher or retailer.

Look at examples of websites from successfully published authors when constructing a writer website or social media pages.

Comparative Or Competitive Titles

Evaluating fiction is often about the timeliness of a book.

For instance, Dan Brown created a hunger for treasure hunting books with church conspiracies. That made any similar book ripe for the marketplace.

Listing at least two or three comp (comparative or competitive) titles can show the potential success of a book. A good comp title is a bestseller published within the last five years and it should be of the age range and genre.

Before that, books were written and published differently. A very old comp such as Shakespeare would be neither ideal nor realistic.

The comp title should also share a similar aspect to the manuscript under consideration. It helps publishers place a book with a retailer wondering where to shelve a book.

To End

Hopefully this article proves helpful to any writer looking to put together a checklist.

While this list does not include everything, it does contain many of the major items publishers use in evaluating the sales potential of a book.

Authors should not worry about covering every base here, but having at least some of these items in place will greatly help.

by Mark Gottlieb. Mark Gottlieb is a literary agent at the New York City literary agency Trident Media Group. He has worked with bestselling and award-winning authors at Trident Media Group. He has placed books with movie and television companies. Follow @Mark_Gottlieb 

Posted on: 26th July 2019

1 thought on “What Literary Agents Want From Authors Of Fiction”

  1. Seriously! Of six points one relates to the work. Is everything dependent on presence? Endorsements, credentials, experience, comparisons and media; how is a person to have time to produce? No wonder self publishing is rising in popularity, who would want to be associated with such arrogance.
    What of voice? Character? Setting? How about fluency, capability, vocabulary? What about an author who has a work ethic and would partner with editors?
    Seriously? Endorsements fro other authors?

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