How to Find an Agent: 101

Ah, literary agents. Those elusive, mystical creatures that you can only find at the end of a double rainbow. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like to a new author. After the excitement of completing your book has worn off, it’s time to take the next step to find an agent (if you’re planning to go the traditional route). Yes, you can still query certain small presses and publishing houses directly without an agent, but you have a better chance of getting your foot in the door if you have someone praising your book.

So, where do you start?

Books:

  • Favorite Books: Look at your favorite books that match the genre of the manuscript you’re trying to publish and take note of the publisher. From there, you can do a search online to see what agents work with that publishing company. If the agents accept similar books, they may be interested in taking a look at yours.
    • Some publishing houses don’t require you to have an agent. DAW, for example, accepts unsolicited fantasy and science fiction novels. So if you don’t want to take the time to find a literary agent, that’s another way to go about trying to get your book published.
  • Guide to Literary Agents 2019: This book, along with those in years past, can help you select an agent. It guides you in preparing a query letter and introduces you some of the current agents who are seeking submissions.
  • Writer’s Digest: Whether it’s in magazine form or online, Writer’s Digest always has a plethora of information about the writing world. They even have their own section on locating literary agents and will sometimes promote particular agents in their printed magazines (which I highly recommend). Not only that, they provide great advice on how to prep yourself to query agents/publishers/editors.

Query Tracker and #MSWishList

  • Query Tracker: This free site is a great way to scope out publishers and agents. Not only can you see who is or isn’t accepting queries, you can categorize what fields you’re most interested in (fantasy, YA, romance, etc). You have to sign up to do a specific search for an agent, but again, it’s free. The people on this list are considered legitimate agents as well, so if you hear about an agent who might be a good match for you, run their name through Query Tracker first.
  • #MSWishList: This site shows the manuscript wish lists of agents and editors and also provides advice on writing query letters. An editor is a good route to go as well because they may be able to connect you with an agent. Scroll through and see who’s interested in your genre and click on their names to learn more about them and what literary agency they represent. Also, make sure to put their names through Query Tracker for additional information.

#Pitchwars and #Pitmad

  • #Pitchwars: This is a Twitter mentoring program that happens once a year.  Published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. The mentors then help the writer perfect their manuscript to prepare it for an agent showcase. Participating agents review the lists of books and will make requests. This year’s Pitch Wars mentee application window opens on September 25th and will stay open until September 27th, so get those manuscripts ready!
  • #Pitmad: This is a “pitch party” on Twitter where writers pitch their completed, polished, and unpublished manuscripts in tweets they share throughout the day. Agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the pitch, which means you can query directly to them. Keep in mind that you have to be unagented to participate. #Pitmad happens quarterly, and the next one is actually this Thursday, June 6th! To learn more, check out the site, or you can read my past entry, Brace Yourselves: #Pitmad is Coming.

Make Literary Friends

  • Whether in person, through twitter, facebook, or instagram, try to make literary friends. Sometimes the best way to find agents is by learning about them from other writers. You can also follow agents on twitter and see when they’re looking for manuscripts to represent. And believe me, most of them are nice and won’t bite ;-). Just be yourself, and don’t harass the agents about reviewing your manuscript. Be patient. Just like you needed time to write it, they’ll need time to read it.

Important: Before you even begin reaching out to agents, keep these things in mind:

  • Look for an agent who represents your genre.
  • Take note of the agent’s submission requirements, because everyone has something different.
  • Make sure you have your manuscript polished and ready for review. If they make a full request, you don’t want to have to tell them that you’re not done.
  • Book summary: complete
  • Pitches: complete
  • Query letter (without the personal info directed to the agent): complete.

I hope this helps you take the next step to getting your book traditionally published. Remember, you’re not alone, and I believe in you.

Tips: Writing Query Letters

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to try out for the Zebulon contest through the Pikes Peak Writing Convention in Colorado. The goal is to submit 2,500 words of your story, write a mock query letter, and create a synopsis. Up until that point, I hadn’t tried to write an official query letter. I had made a draft of one when I was a student at the Denver Publishing Institute, but that was more a trial and error attempt. It was very, very real for the Zebulon. They even created a mock agent that you had to address.

I don’t claim to be a perfect query letter writer, but after that experience, I do have some tips I would like to offer to those of you who are trying to get your novels published. You can try to go through a publishing company without an agent, but from what I’ve read, you’ll have a better shot if you have an agent at your back. So, here are just a few tips:

  • Research your agent: Know what he/she is looking for. You don’t want to send a fantasy query to a person who only accepts non-fiction stories. Look at some of the stories he/she has already chosen. That might help you decide if you have the right fit.
  • Include information about the agent in your query. This makes the letter more personal and lets the agent know that you’ve taken the time to research her. This may include mentioning the books she’s acquired, or the types of things she likes to read.
  • Understand the query guidelines for your agent. One mishap can cause your letter to get thrown in the garbage.
  • Make your query letter only a page long, or follow the word count guidelines on the agency site.
  • Be confident, but not cocky. Make the agent believe that you have confidence in yourself, but don’t be arrogant.
  • Be professional.
  • Sell your book. Create a strong attention getter that makes the agent want to keep reading your query letter. Depending on what resource you go through, you might include the hook at the beginning of the letter, or right when you discuss your story.
  • Don’t talk too much about yourself. If you’ve had work published, then include that, and the numbers too of how many books were sold. If you’re a beginning writer…don’t say it. Just show that you’re confident in your book.
  • Include word count in your query letter. Agents can often tell just how much revision you might need by the amount of words in your story (i.e. 300,000 words might be a red flag for a first time fantasy book).
  • Know your facts. If your book falls under a very popular genre that’s sold millions of books, say it. This means that your book might be easier to sell, and therefore the agent might be more inclined to look it over.
  • If the agent asks for money upfront, RUN AWAY. This is not a legitimate agent. An agent should not be paid until your book has sold, and she’ll take commission from that.
  • Spell check. I can’t emphasize this enough. One misspelling is a good way to get your query letter thrown out.

These are just a few things that I learned. If you want additional guidance, you can check out How to Write a Query Letter.

There are a lot of resources on the internet, but your best bet is to go through the agency website to see what they require. Good luck!