Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
April 2018

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 to do:


Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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