I Need an Agent for My Poetry - Writer's Digest

I Need an Agent for My Poetry

Publish date:

As some of you may have guessed, I get a lot of e-mail both at my professional and personal inboxes. I try to respond to as much as I can, but it's occasionally an electronic tsunami that completely overwhelms me. So I was recently spring cleaning my inbox when I got an idea to start a series of posts in which I tackle recurring questions. We can consider it the Poet Inbox series, and I'll try sharing them on Fridays.

Here's the first one. I get a variation of this question every couple months: "I am looking for an agent to assist me with marketing a book-length manuscript of poetry. This collection has gone through three major edits and is currently placed with a number of contests. I have a sense of what I want to do with this collection; however, I think it would be a good time for me to get some feedback from a person with a marketing/editing background before I begin another edit."


How to Get an Agent


Many writers think getting a literary agent is the hardest thing they'll have to do as a writer. They think agents are looking to turn away writers, when actually many agents are actively looking to sign new talent. How do you find these agents that have open doors?

Learn the secrets from literary agent Carly Watters in her OnDemand webinar How to Get an Agent. In it, she teaches writers what agents are being told by the industry, how that helps shape the debut projects they sign, where to find the right agents that represent what you write, and more.

Click to continue.


For the most part, poets and literary agents do not mix. When they do, here's what is usually happening in 99.9% of situations:

  • Poet has already made it. Big time. Poet Laureate, books published by one of the big NYC publishers, and so on. Or...
  • Poet has a novel or memoir. Or something else of value that sells. Because poetry, for the most part, does not sell well enough to keep an agent in business.
  • Poet is being exploited by someone who calls themselves an agent. In this case, the "agent" is representing the poet for an upfront fee (and usually fees).

So why is this the case?

How Agents Work

Literary agents are hard to please, and the reason is easy to understand: They don't get paid until the author gets paid. Literary agents make their money by taking a cut (called a royalty) of the author's payment. This royalty is usually 15%, though it can fall anywhere in the 10-20% range depending upon the circumstances.

As such, agents need projects that bring home the money for their authors so that the agents can take a little of that money for themselves to pay for things like rent, utilities, employees (if they have any), and their own livelihood. Unfortunately for poets, poetry--as a whole--doesn't sell, especially when compared to fiction and nonfiction projects.

If you don't believe me, check out any chain bookstore's poetry section and compare it to the rest of the store. There are exceptions, surely, but not enough for agents to spend their time representing poets who have not already "made it."

What About Feedback

With literary agents eliminated as potential feedback experts, what's a poet to do to receive some feedback? There are a few options available to poets:

  • Join (or start) a writing group. Many successful writers of any genre point back to their writing groups. Some of these groups get up to a dozen (or more) writers. Others are as concise as two or three participants. The important thing is finding serious writers who will give you worthwhile feedback.
  • Pay for a critique. You may find these opportunities at conferences, on publisher websites, and as parts of poetry contests. Some poets offer paid critiques on the side.
  • Join a poetry workshop. You can go through an entire writing program at a college or university, or you can do something online. For instance, Writer's Digest University offers a regular poetry workshop.

As a poet who has gone every route, I know first hand that all methods are valuable. That said, all final decisions should be made by you, because you're the poet. Read widely and seek feedback, but use it to build confidence in your own abilities to judge your work.

Have a question/comment? Send me an e-mail at robert.brewer@fwcommunity.com. Your question and my answer may be featured in a future blog post.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, which means he maintains this blog, edits a couple Market Books (Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market), writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, leads online education, speaks around the country on publishing and poetry, and a lot of other fun writing-related stuff.


He graduated from the University of Cincinnati after spending more than 40 credit hours in writing-related courses. And he’s the author of Solving the World’s Problems.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


Find more poetic posts here:


Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.


Seven Tips for Intuitive Writing: The Heart-Hand Connection

Award-winning author Jill G. Hall shares her top tips for how to dive into your latest project head-first.


Bearing vs. Baring vs. Barring (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use bearing vs. baring vs. barring on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.


15 Things a Writer Should Never Do

Former Writer's Digest managing editor Zachary Petit shares his list of 15 things a writer should never do, based on interviews with successful authors as well as his own occasional literary forays and flails.


Evie Green: Imaginary Friends and Allowing Change

Author Evie Green explains why she was surprised to end writing a horror novel and how she learned to trust the editorial process.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The 3 Prime Rules of Horror Writing, Contest Deadlines, and More!

Welcome to the first installment of a new series! There's always so much happening in the Writer's Digest universe that even staff members have trouble keeping up. So we're going to start collecting what's on the horizon to make it easier for everyone to know what's happening and when.


Lenora Bell: When Fairy Tales Meet Reality TV

Bestselling historical romance author Lenora Bell discusses researching, avoiding info-dumps while still charming readers, and how her latest book was inspired by her life.


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.