Stack of paper bound in red twine with 'Manuscript' printed in large black letters on the top. You’re a budding author. You’ve finished your manuscript and you think it’s in pretty good shape. You now want to get it published. Should you submit your manuscript to a publisher or a literary agent? The simple answer is ‘literary agent’. Although some writers have been very successful submitting their manuscript directly to a publisher, I always recommend approaching a literary agent first, for a number of reasons. Let me explain.

We’ll assume that you’ve done your homework and found a publisher who handles your type of story. You submit your manuscript to the publisher but your manuscript ends up on the slush pile. What do you do? Your options are limited, as publishers won’t take a second look at a manuscript. You can’t re-submit your manuscript to the same publisher, even if you do improve it. Equally, you can’t get a literary agent to help you improve your submission and try again. Literary agents can’t submit your manuscript to any publisher who has already seen it. When you’re approaching a publisher your first shot is your only shot, so it needs to be your best.

Although an agent will eventually take a percentage (usually 15%) of anything you earn from your book, what you get in return is a much greater chance of being published. Literary agents have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience. They know how to prepare and present a submission to a publisher. They should also be able to critique your manuscript and help you improve its marketability.

Literary agents have a vast network of contacts in the publishing industry. They won’t send your manuscript out randomly to publishing houses. They know which publisher is on the lookout for the next great crime writer, who is looking to fill a gap with a fantasy series, and whose books are full. They use their knowledge and contacts to send your submission to the people who are most likely to be interested in it.

By submitting your work through a literary agent your manuscript is more likely to go to the top of the pile; acquisition editors know that manuscripts from agents have already been thoroughly screened.

The benefits of having a literary agent don’t end there. Literary agents understand publishing contracts and it’s in their interest to negotiate a really good contract for you. They also know what your rights are as an author and will ensure that they are not infringed. They will handle all your business dealings with publishers, leaving you free to continue writing.

The support of a literary agent is invaluable. They will offer encouragement, help you keep to deadlines, and even assist with your career progression as an author.

So, now that you’ve finished your manuscript, you need to know how to find a literary agent and give yourself the best chance of being picked up by them, so you can get their expert help