Skip to content
Home | Blog | How to get a literary agent in the UK

How to get a literary agent in the UK

Representation from a literary agent is key to getting traditionally published, as most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts. This post covers how to get a literary agent in the UK, including top tips for perfecting your agent submission pack.

If you’re looking for how to find a literary agent in the UK, my other post explains where to find literary agents accepting submissions.

Image by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Do you need a literary agent to get published?

If you dream of seeing your book in bookshops, or you just don’t want to deal with self-publishing, you need a literary agent. Because publishing houses like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House don’t accept unagented manuscripts, there’s no way to contact them to get a publishing deal.

Your only alternative is to win a novel competition where a book deal is part of the prize – but these are extremely limited. Not to mention incredibly competitive and sometimes expensive to enter.

Unsure if traditional publishing is for you? Read more about how to decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Some small, independent publishers might accept unagented manuscripts, but this is a hard and lonely process. There are many benefits to having a literary agent, such as being supported through the publishing process and their experience helping you to secure a book deal.

When to get a literary agent

Once you have a finished manuscript, it’s time to start querying literary agents. If you start too early, you might not have a finished manuscript in time when it’s requested.

Remember: an agent’s interest in a book isn’t going to last forever, so you don’t want to delay sending off your novel after they request a full manuscript.

Ideally, you should have already:

  • Drafted the story
  • Edited the story
  • Created an agent query pack

You can also get feedback from beta readers while editing, or even while you’re querying. The feedback you receive from beta readers might help you in perfecting your query, by using keywords pulled out from their responses.

Think of it like a review. If a beta reader describes your manuscript as “feel-good romance” or “immersive”, you can use these words in your cover letter. You might say something like: “Beta readers have described my book as a fast-paced thriller akin to the Mission Impossible movies.”

Top tips on how to get a literary agent in the UK

Here are some top tips for how to get a literary agent in the UK, compiled from various sources online:

  • Create a longlist of literary agents you’d like to work with, and keep track of when you’ve contacted them. This helps you organise your querying, and you can start by reaching out to your favourite agents while gradually going down the list.
  • Always look for submissions guidelines on the literary agency’s website. This should be the most up-to-date version of what their agents expect to receive. Some agencies ask that you don’t query more than one of their agents, so make sure to make a note of this.
  • Follow all submissions guidelines – double check you’re sending the query to the right agent, in the right way, with the right information. While most guidelines are similar, information such as how they want to receive your cover letter (in the body of your email vs within a Word document) and how many words or chapters they’re expecting can differ.
  • Find a healthy way to cope with rejections. You’re going to receive them, and most won’t be personal. It’s all about timing and interest. Set up your own writer’s self-care kit and don’t respond to rejection emails unless it’s a polite and professional thank you.
  • Perfect your cover letter as much as possible, and always personalise it for an extra chance of impressing the literary agent. This is your first chance to get their attention on your book and you. A poorly-worded cover letter or a letter riddled with mistakes isn’t going to make a great first impression.
  • Look at who else the agent or agency represents – if they represent comparative books to your manuscript, they already have experience with selling that genre/trope/story to publishers, so they might be able to sell yours more easily based on their track record. Include the comparative title or keywords in your cover letter.
  • If you want to meet a literary agent or get feedback, there are opportunities online and in-person, usually at a small cost. I recommend I AM In Print’s Agent 1-2-1s or Jericho Writers’ agent 1-2-1s. Outside of these events, literary agents don’t typically have time to give feedback, so these paid opportunities are ideal if you can afford them.
  • Social media presence isn’t a requirement for every literary agent, but it can help. Look at who else they represent and what kind of social media following they have. If you run a big Bookstagram or book review blog, include it in your cover letter – it’s a selling point they can use to market your book.
  • Your literary agent doesn’t have to be based in London. The publishing industry in the UK is starting to become more inclusive to regional agencies, and video calling is easier for most agents to have contact with their authors. Don’t focus too much on where their head office is – it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to attend events in London to pitch your book.
  • Feel free to ask questions when you do exchange emails with a literary agent, especially before signing anything. You might want to ask how they prefer to communicate, or what they expect from you, or how they will support you.
  • Don’t give up! It can take over a year to get any real progress, and you can modify things as you go. Some agents will let you resubmit after a certain time period, provided you’ve edited more.

What are literary agents in the UK looking for?

Literary agents in the UK are looking for authors who are professional, write the genres they’re interested in, and have a story to tell.

To know exactly what an agent’s looking for, you should visit their literary agency website. Most UK literary agencies have a submissions page on their website with guidelines as well as what they’re broadly looking for. They might also have a page dedicated to what individual agents represent or want to see more of.

WordPress Cookie Plugin by Real Cookie Banner