How to find the RIGHT literary agent
SO you want a literary agent… (if you could still go either way, you might like to check out my previous post on all the good stuff about agents).
To get an agent, FIRST you need to FIND THEM. There are a few ways to track down the right literary agent for you—RIGHT being the operative word. You’ll just be wasting your (and more importantly THEIR) time if you approach agents who don’t represent your genre or demographic (if you think YOU get a lot of emails…). That means if you write romances about goblins with a penchant for wearing tutus for young adults and you approach an agent who represents military history, you’re going to get a serve of a BIG FAT NO, with a side of did you do ANY research at all?
In terms of research, there are an AMAZING amount of places where you can go to find the RIGHT (that word again) literary agent for you, as follows:
Acknowledgements: Grab a book in your genre (preferably one of your absolute favs) and flip to the acknowledgements. If the author is agented then they’ll almost always acknowledge their agent (would be kinda rude not to, methinks).
Author Websites: Jump online and visit the websites of successful authors in your genre. Their agent’s often listed either on their ABOUT or their CONTACT page.
QueryTracker: QueryTracker was INVALUABLE when I was looking for an agent. It not only assists you with finding the RIGHT agent, but allows users to enter comments about their dealings with said agent, e.g. Submitted in April. Heard back in October. Slow responder. OR Have just been asked to submit a partial! (cue gritted teeth congratulations from other users) OR Agent has just tweeted that they’ve cleared out their inbox. If you have a submission in and have heard zilch, you should resubmit. Seriously—it’s like having a team of people to help with your submission process. They’ve updated their website since I last used it (about three years ago), but that probably means it’s even more awesome. An alternative to QueryTracker is AgentQuery: I only used this as a quick reference guide, so I’m not as familiar, but from my limited experience I’d say it’s also very good. Both websites are FREE (cha-ching!), but QueryTracker does have a premium subscription option and AgentQuery suggests mentioning them in your acknowledgements if you get published (good karma and all that).
Publisher’s Marketplace: Publisher’s Marketplace is the quintessential website for the book industry. It can be extremely useful in identifying literary agents who are getting their authors top deals. There’s limited information available for free, however. To access the REALLY juicy info about book deals, you’ll need to subscribe. I found it a useful resource while looking for agents and would suggest at least subscribing for a couple of months to get a good sense of who’s selling and who’s buying.
You should get yourself a list of at least ten to twenty agents who you’d LOVE to represent your work. Once you have their names, you should undertake further sleuthing to double, triple and quadruple check they still represent your genre and are accepting submissions (you can do this through their agency’s website or through their social networking platforms, e.g. twitter.) Also, Google their name to see if you can pull up any interviews they may have undertaken to give you a sense of who they are and what they like. (I decided to pitch to my agent due to an interview I read where she said she liked teen romance that was outside of the box. My YA books definitely fall into that category!)
The agency the literary agent works for should also be checked out PRIOR to submitting (and DEFINITELY if you’re considering signing a contract). Absolute Write Water Cooler has a forum called Bewares, Recommendations and Background Checks. You should check there are no red flags relating to your proposed agency here. You can even leave a comment, asking if anyone has had any dealings with them (be mindful that your comment will be public and will hang around the internet for the foreseeable future, so you may want to use a pseudonym.)
Their agency should also have a full list of the authors that the agent represents (if they have a decent website, which is always a BIG TICK from me!). Double check the books written by these authors are in line with your genre. This can actually be a handy way to start a query letter—I note you represent <insert name here> and I feel my latest manuscript is in a similar vein to her stories of <insert any combination of betrayal, lust, love, friendship, adventure, torment, as appropriate>. Do NOT compare your manuscript to their books, however (in terms of quality). It’s enough to say it has similar themes. Also, your book is NOT the next Divergent or Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey. Unless your book is about your unparalleled clairvoyant abilities, you’re simply NOT in a position make those kind of claims, as tempting as it is (and trust me, many of us have given in to that temptation)!
I’ll be writing more on query letters in a future post though, so STAY TUNED!
Ernest Hemmingway famously (and arguably) said that writing was like cutting open a vein and bleeding onto a page. Sheesh. I shudder to think what he would have said about getting published! Every Tuesday, I dust off my creative writing degree (yes, from an actual, real-life university) and share my learnings about the process of writing and getting published (yes, I know learnings is technically not a word, but I worked in public relations for a number of years and we like to make words up. Helifordite?). You can check out all of my Tuesday Tips here.