Monday, February 26, 2024


By Lisa Amstutz

You’ve done the research. You’ve written, revised, and polished your manuscript until it’s as shiny as you can make it. Now what?

If you want to publish in the trade market, you may want to find an agent. It is possible to sell your work on your own, especially to smaller publishers, and many authors build successful careers that way. However, an agent can open doors for you. They handle submissions and contracts and may help edit your work, give marketing and career advice, offer a shoulder to cry on, and more.

Unfortunately, finding an agent is easier said than done. While agents are more accessible than ever before thanks to the Internet, competition is stiff. Agents receive hundreds if not thousands of queries during open submission periods, all competing for one or two spots on their list. It sounds discouraging, I know. But you can improve your odds!

1. Start with a strong manuscript. Study the market to see what is selling; read new releases to learn what styles are popular and what feels overdone. What will make yours stand out on the shelves?

2. Know your book’s genre and target audience. An agent or editor will have a hard time acquiring a manuscript if they don’t clearly know how to position it in the market.

3. Research agents who represent your genre. QueryTracker is a good place to start. Writer’s Market guides are another good resource. Find out who represents other nonfiction writers too. Google can help, or ask around in the writing community. Check out agency websites for current submission guidelines. 

One caveat here: I sometimes have to reject projects I like—even ones with offers!—because they are too similar to something else on my list. I can’t ethically set up competition between clients. So the ideal agent may represent clients whose work is similar—but not too similar.

4. Write a standout query letter. Start with a pitch that grabs the reader’s attention. Include the genre, age category, and word count of your book as well as several comps. These should be trade books published in the last three years, if possible.

Write a bio that highlights any relevant writing or educational experience. It’s nice to share a personal detail or two, but don’t overshare. Do mention if you’re a member of SCBWI, 12 x 12, or other professional organization.

Keep it professional. Don’t oversell or undersell yourself. Your book likely isn’t the next Harry Potter. But be positive about it—and yourself! Be polite and friendly.

5. Remember that while writing is an art, publishing is a business. Agents have to earn a living too, and many work on commission alone. So they look for books they think they can sell. That means books with an appealing hook, a clear market, strong writing, and a fresh take on a topic.

I see a lot of submissions that, while nicely written, feel vaguely familiar. They’re too similar to other books already on the market to really stand out. The ones that give me goosebumps are those that feel so exciting, lovely, or unique that I am still thinking about them the next day. Those are an easy yes!

Finding an agent is not easy, and it may take time. But if you hang in there and keep learning and growing as a writer and putting your work into the world, I am confident you will succeed!

Meet the Author:

Lisa Amstutz joined Storm Literary Agency in 2021 after sixteen years as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of more than 150 children’s books for the trade and educational markets and a member of the Nonfiction Ninjas. See for more info.


  1. Thank you for the sage advice Lisa. Searching for the right agent is indeed an arduous task requiring resilience and persistence. Finding the fit is not just for the writer, but also the agent, and once I realized that - as well as how many other people with whom I am in competition - the rejections became a teensy bit easier to accept.

  2. Thanks so much for this helpful and encouraging post!

  3. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your thoughts about seeking an agent.

    Suzy Leopold

  4. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and encouragement, Lisa. Sometimes I think a crystal ball would help!

  5. Thanks, Lisa. I agree that it's not easy to find an agent even if writers do all the thing.

  6. These are all fantastic insights. It really helps as a writer to understand things from an agents point of view. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Sometimes I think I look for agents that have works that are too similar, so I appreciated the reminder on #3!

  8. Thank you for the tips, Lisa! My favorite is writing a manuscript that has the agent thinking about it for days. Goosebumps!

  9. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I will look more carefully at an agent's clientele to see if they rep someone whose work is too similar to mine. That's a great tip!

  10. Robin.currie1@gmail.comFebruary 28, 2024 at 12:49 PM

    True that - I am very lucky to have gotten a starting out agent and grown with him.

  11. Thanks, Lisa, for the hint to not be too close a match tot eh agent's other's clients. Great post!

  12. Lisa, thank you for sharing these tips to consider while researching a possible agent.