How to Research Literary Agents

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Most large publishing houses won’t consider your work without an agent presenting it to them (there are exceptions to this, e.g. when taking pitches at conferences or opening up imprints that specifically consider non-agented authors). Why won’t they? There are too many writers who shove poorly written books at editors and become indignant, or even angry, when they’re not taken seriously. The agent is responsible for cleaning up projects so that they can be presented in nearly publishable condition. This pushes agents to always be on the lookout for great writing talent. So how does the average writer get their work in front of agents? By knowing where to look for them.

In no particular order:

Publishers Marketplace

Mediabistro

AgentQuery

Romance Writers of America

Mystery Writers of America

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

Authors Guild

Preditors & Editors

Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)

Now that you have some places where legit agents list their services, you can then focus on the crucial part of your agent search: research. Figure out what type of agent you need (one who specializes in genre fiction or commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction or memoir) and then begin the search for a list of those agents. Remember, if you only find one or two agents representing what you’re writing, you may have to redefine the category you’re writing. Book people like to throw around fancy titles (I’m guilty of this) so opt for something that’s one step back from being micro-specific.

On your first round of research, look for 10 agents. That way you’re not overwhelmed by looking through reams and reams of information. There are 3 questions you need to keep in mind: is this agent open to queries (so many close to manage their submissions list periodically to consider what they have in their inbox already), do they represent what you write, and can you see yourself working with them? That last one is tricky because a good working relationship is hard to manage. You don’t want to be overly formal, but you should keep it mainly business oriented. Chances are you’ll have 3-5 names at the end of this search to put on your list of agents to pitch. Repeat this process until you come up with 10-15 names of agents you’d like to query. Then you’re ready to pitch your book–remember to do a bang up job on that letter you’re sending. It’s both introduction to you and to your work.

(photo: © peshkova – Fotolia.com)

6 thoughts on “How to Research Literary Agents

  1. I have recently started a blog, the info you provide on this website has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

    1. Absolutely! Genre fiction is romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, western, and horror fiction. Commercial fiction is general fiction, which can include women’s fiction. Genre fiction focuses on the element of the genre, i.e., romance novels focus on the love story between the two protagonists and overcoming the difficulty keeping them apart. Commercial fiction focuses on the journey of the main character or characters. These rules aren’t exclusive, but the focus of the book is what defines which category it will fall into.

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