Writing, Community & Government

Finding an Agent

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 10:37 min

Finding literary representation can be one of the most critical and daunting parts of a writing career. Roxane emphasizes the importance of protecting your intellectual property and how an agent can help.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Finding an Agent · Negotiating Contracts


[MUSIC PLAYING] - When you start to write books or think about writing a book, once the book is written-- and I cannot stress this enough-- you need to finish a book before you try to get an agent-- you're going to want a literary agent. A literary agent is an advocate. They work for you on commission, and they try to sell your book to publishers for as much money as they can get, and to help usher your book into the world. They're going to make sure that you have a say about the cover. They're going to make sure that your publisher advertises and publicizes your book, ideally sends you on tour, and does everything to position your book for success. In exchange for all of that work, your agent takes 15% of everything you make for that book forever. And it's worth it. It's worth absolutely every penny. And so you'll know you're ready for an agent when you have completed a book. In general, for fiction writers, you're going to need a novel. If you have a short story collection, you still need to pair it with a novel. If you're a nonfiction writer, you can, in many cases, submit on proposal where you write a proposal for the nonfiction book you'd like to write, what it's going to take for you to complete it, and a few sample chapters. And then you submit it to an agent. And it can be challenging to find an agent. Sometimes you only need to submit to one agent, and sometimes you need to submit to 111. And there's no telling. It's all very subjective. Just because an agent rejects you is not an indication that you're not worthy of finding an agent. There are all kinds of resources on the internet to help you figure out who might be the best agent for you. Agent Tracker, Agent Query-- they list agents, how they respond, if they respond, and so on. But the first thing you want to do is go to an agency's website or an agent's website and see what their submission guidelines are. And again, follow the guidelines to the T. In general, what they're going to ask for initially is a small piece of the book. And they're going to decide if that intrigues them. And if they want to see more, they'll then either request a partial, which means maybe half of the manuscript, or a whole manuscript, in which they really just want to read the entire thing and see if they want to represent you. Another way to find an agent beyond just googling great agents is to look at who's representing your favorite writers. Pretty much every writer out there will have some information about their representation on their author website. I include that on the About page of my website, for example. And you can look and see if that agent is open to submissions at that time and then query them. There are no mysterious, secret ways of finding an agent. I actually found my first agent by looking for agents online. And I started following a few on Twitter, of all things. And I noticed this young woman named Sarah LaPolla, who was an agent at the time at an agenc...

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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