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“How do I find an agent?”

Hello. If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve found one. But before you send me your children’s book or your romance novel, you should do a bit of research. It won’t take long to discover that I don’t represent either of those two genres.

“Is there an agent for me?”

Thankfully, there exists a plethora of agents, each with their own unique focus. It’s likely that among them lies a good potential match for your project. That is comforting, but it leads us back toward our initial question.

“Where do I look?”

If you wrote a memoir that shares a lot of similarities with Eat, Pray, Love, and you’re wondering who to send it to, you can start by going to your bookstore and picking up a copy. Seriously. Most works of nonfiction have within them an Acknowledgements section in which the author thanks their mother, their sister, their 8th grade English teacher, their cat Fifi and their agent. The great thing about researching at a bookstore is that Eat, Pray, Love is usually shelved alongside other memoirs. You can then browse and find similar titles with agents who you know for a fact have signed a manuscript in your genre. 

“Do I really have to spend all day in a bookstore?”

Well, no. I highly recommend it for several reasons, but if it just isn’t feasible due to location or time constraints, you could go about it a different way. In fact, even if you are able to do so, you should augment that research with other existing resources. The information you glean from a bookstore is limited by shelf space and their concerns about moving product. For example: they tend to stock some of the newest and hottest political books, which may be of use if that’s what you are writing. But they will also stock books written by public figures long dead, whose agents, if still living, have retired or moved on to a different genre. And meanwhile, a current book which may be similar to yours is not stocked because the public is more apt to buy Richard Nixon’s book on Vietnam. But perhaps the biggest reason to seek additional resources is that even if you find all the names you need at the bookstore, you end up with just that: names.

“How do I contact these people?”

There also exist plenty of good printed resources that list reputable agents who are appropriate for your particular work, as well as their contact information and desired methods of submission. My favorite of the books is the Jeff Herman Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. It thoroughly covers what an agent is looking for, even to the point of including interviews so you know their favorite books, what kinds of stories are important to them and other information to help you determine whether or not they are a good fit for your manuscript. Another excellent book is the Guide to Literary Agents. This is released by the same people who make the wildly popular Writer’s Market series. But take note: Writer’s Market itself has a lot of excellent general information regarding publishing in different venues, but it will not help you specifically search for an agent. In addition to books, there are also trade magazines that feature agent information. I was featured in the October 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, for example.

“Can’t I just Google it?”

You can, if you want to waste a lot of time navigating Google and not getting the best results. The Internet at large is not regulated in its content, so choosing to swim in that ocean leaves you vulnerable to sharks and scam artists. I’ll touch on tips for avoiding them in my next post.

“So, I’m to avoid the Internet?”

Actually, no. The Internet can be your most useful resource for obtaining the most up-to-date information. The books I listed come out once a year, and the appropriate trade magazines are released monthly or weekly. The Internet, on the other hand, brings you information in real time. The Guide to Literary Agents blog is an excellent resource that should find its way into your RSS reader. Its new agent alerts feature complete interviews and listings of what the agent is/isn’t looking for. Also online, you can sign up to receive Publisher’s Lunch via email. You can get a free version that will keep you up to date on happenings in the industry, or you can pay a small fee to receive notifications of recent publishing deals. You can also sign up for access to Publisher’s Marketplace, which is a paid service at around $20 per month. This provides a daily updated, searchable database that lists all reported publishing deals since the year 2000: the title, author, genre, a brief description of the manuscript, which agent represented it, which editor at which house bought it and roughly for how much. You can even search their database of agent and editor contact information.

“Cool. I’ll send my manuscript right away.”

Not so fast. There is one more step. After making your list of agents, take a moment and visit each of their websites. Submission requirements vary from agent to agent, even within an agency. People are different, and everyone has their own system that works best for them. Some prefer email attachments or pasted chapters, others just queries. Some even ask for hardcopies. That’s OK. It’s their system, and it’s in place for a reason.

And while you’re on the agent’s website, check to make sure that they are still looking for your type of manuscript. For example: 5 years ago, everyone and their mother wanted to represent teenage vampire stories. And now, publishers have all but stopped buying them. As a result, a particular agent may now be looking for zombies. Often, they will post their latest wish list on their blog. As with seeking litmags for your short stories, paying close attention to the type of work an agent is looking for will save you a lot of time and unnecessary “Not right for me” rejections. 


This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.