Where and How Do You Find an Agent?
When I was looking
for publication in the late 1990s, it was common to query editors
directly. There were many editors at big houses who still accepted
queries directly from authors (though even then there were some who
didn’t). I first got an offer for myself, then used that to get
an agent. This is no longer the way the publishing industry works. I
don’t think there are any big 5 editors who accept queries
directly from authors with the exception of editors you meet at a
conference, and frankly, I think there are a lot fewer editors who go
to conferences than agents.
For most authors
looking to get published in 2017, you MUST have an agent first
(indie, small press and local press editors are the exception to this
rule). That means you will have an extra step in publication that I
didn’t have. You will go through a round of queries to agents,
find an agent, and then wait for the agent to create a proposal and
query to send out to editors. You may or may not sell the book that
got you an agent. Obviously, your agent will think that this book
should be published, but it’s not a guarantee and you should
not assume that your agent is useless if you end up without a book
deal from your first (or even your second) book. Ask for a list of
editors sent to if you are worried that your agent might be one of
the “bad” ones. If you at any time suspect your agent is
not legitimate, is not making money from selling books, or is not
actually submitting your books, here are some resources you can use
to look for scams:
So, how do you find
a literary agent in this day and age? You need to write a great,
clean query. Don’t stress about this too much, but don’t
write up a slap-dash query and send it out, either. Your query should
be short (three paragraphs with the center paragraph telling about
the book) and professional looking. Avoid typos if at all possible.
Avoid sounding like a crazy person (This
book will make you rich! I’m the next J.K. Rowling!).
Then send out a query to a few agents at a time. There is no need to
send to one agent at a time these days.
Check the agency
website to see what they prefer (some want a query only and will ask
for pages, others want pages to begin with). You will be looking for
an agent who specializes in the genre of the book you are querying.
There are a few generalists out there who do everything, but most
feel obliged to be experts in one field or another. You may write
several different query letters highlighting different parts of the
book or using a different hook in the central paragraph, just to see
what’s working and what isn’t.
Here are some
websites that can help you find agents to query:
There are other ways
to find agents that are less direct. You might consider looking up
recent conferences in your genre and seeing what agents attended. I
don’t recommend pretending that you went to the conference, but
it’s still a useful way to see who’s acquiring currently
and who is considered good enough to invite to a conference. You can
also look carefully at Acknowledgments pages in books you love to see
if the author thanks agents (this is very common these days—it
was less common twenty or thirty years ago). You can ask for
recommendations directly from author friends who are published.
You can also pitch
through Twitter, though I hasten to add that there is no reason you
MUST pitch this way and that many, many novels need more than 140
characters to describe them well and many, many agents don’t
participate on Twitter pitching. Still, it’s direct and it’s
quick. Here is a list of Twitter pitching from 2017:
For advice on query
letters and what NOT to do, you can always go see this archive. Miss
Snark is no longer active, but I think her advice and her sample
letters are invaluable.
Janet Reid is Query
Shark and she is still actively giving advice. She’s brilliant,
so go here to see what she has to say about publishing and what NOT
Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison