You’ve finished a book-length manuscript, and you want to sell to a traditional publisher. Do you absolutely need an agent? No. But your chances of getting an editor at a publishing house to look at your book are a gazillion times harder without one. Editors at publishing houses depend on agents to give them polished, marketable manuscripts specific to their interests. Landing an agent is one of the most important steps with the traditional publishing process. You want an agent who believes in your work and has the tools and resources to get it published. Here are a a few foolproof methods to finding the best agents to pitch.
1. Work your connections or make new ones
Referrals can get your foot in the door. Agents are far more likely to respond to your query if you’ve met them or if someone they know (or know of) referred you. Connections can be a friend of yours that the agent represents, someone you know in publishing, friends or relatives, friends of friends, relatives of relatives—you get the idea. So if you have a connection, ask him or her to refer you, have your query letter ready to send, and mention your connection in the first sentence or two. If you’re submitting electronically, mention your connection’s name in the To line, as well. For example, “Query | Name of Your Book | Referred by xxx.”
If you don’t have existing connections, get out there and make some. Many agents speak at writers’ programs, book festivals, and writers’ conferences. Some conferences even set aside blocks of time for you to pitch your book to several agents. You can also look for writers’ events in your community (inquire at your local colleges, libraries, and civic centers). If you can, it’s always great to introduce yourself at the end of their talk or during a break.
2. Find agents who pitch what your write
Agents gravitate toward specific types of books they want to represent. If you’ve written an urban fantasy, you don’t want to send it to an agent who represents self-help. If you’ve written literary fiction, you wouldn’t want to approach an agent who’s looking for romantic suspense. How do you know who represents what? You can start by going to one or all of the sites below.
- AgentQuery includes search options such as genre, keyword, and agent’s name. Your search will generate a list of agents, the type of books they’re interested in representing, their clients, their agency, and the best way to contact them.
- QueryTracker search options include agents, genre, agency, agents’ names, query method, gender, and location. Your search will yield the same results you’ll find in Agent Query.
- Poets & Writers provides a Literary Agents list that includes agents for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. You can also find details about the kind of books they’re interested in representing, their clients, and the best way to contact them.
- Publishers Marketplace lists agents who have pages on the Publisher’s Marketplace site. Just type “agents” in the search box on the right-hand side of the page. You can then either browse through the resulting list, or refine your search. Click Search Members on the left side of the page, click Agent, and then enter your search criteria. Think about signing up for Publishers’ Lunch, a free newsletter with updates about who’s publishing what.
When you find agents that looks promising, always click through to their agencies’ website to make sure you have the most current information. You can read their bios, find out if they’re accepting queries, and, if so, what type of manuscripts they’re currently seeking. You can often see their recent publications on their agencies’ sites or by going to Publisher’s Marketplace. Many agents aren’t listed in the sites mentioned above, so while you’re on the agency site, check out the other agents who work there. You might find a better fit. You’ll also find links to agents’ blogs or Twitter accounts. Take a look. It’s a great way to find out more about a specific agent’s interests and/or personalize your query by mentioning a tweet or blog that resonated with you.
3. Check out books and authors you love.
Put together a list of recent books that you love or that you think are similar to your work, and find out who represents the authors. Many authors list their agents on the acknowledgments page in the front or back of their books. You can swing by a bookstore to read acknowledgments, check out Amazon for a peek inside the book, or go to Publisher’s Marketplace, look up the book, and find the agent.
4. Create a tracking method.
Spreadsheets are great, but not everyone is as obsessed with them as I am. Whatever your method, you want to list the agents you’ve found, and record the comings and goings of your query letters, proposals, and manuscripts. Why would you want an agent pool? Hundreds of queries flood an agent’s inbox every day. If you send your manuscript to one agent at a time, it could take forever to find someone to represent you. I’m talking years. But if you’ve carefully honed a list of perspective agents, you can send your book out in waves, maybe 5–10 copies per week (personalizing each query letter and following the agent’s submission guidelines). Submitting your query in waves helps you judge its effectiveness. If you’re not happy with your initial responses, tweak your query and send another round to see if requests for material improve. Also, if you receive a “No thanks,” just go to your list and send out another query. Right away. You’ll help diffuse the sting of rejection, and keep your momentum until you find the agent who loves your book and you want to work with.
Here are some items you’ll want to track:
- Agent’s name
- Agency (If you’re tracking electronically, embed a link in the name of the agency, so you can easily check submission rules and agent’s status [whether they’re still accepting, and are still with that agency] immediately before sending.)
- Date submitted
- What you submitted (Each agency has a different requirement.)
- Average length of time before they’ll get back to you and what to do if they don’t (Some agents say if they don’t respond in 6–8 weeks, consider that a No. Some say to check back.)
- Date agent responded (And, of course, list the nature of the response—No thanks/Send more—in which case you’ll want to track what you sent and when.)
Since most submissions are now electronic, it’s a good idea to save all correspondence in an email folder. That way you can have a backup, save comments, and incorporate feedback that hits the mark.
Some say finding an agent is a job in itself or that writing a book is a breeze compared with researching and querying agents. But after slogging through months/years of drafting and revising and polishing, you’ve completed a book! It’s more than worth your time to do the research, and submit your query to agents who are interested specifically in what you do.
Stay tuned for upcoming blogs with tips about how to write compelling query letters and proposals that work.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? I’ve talked about how to build a list of agents that are right for your book.
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How can I help?
No matter where you are with your writing, no matter what stage of the process, I offer services as a writing coach and editor to help you with your work. If you’d like to discuss your project, contact me to set up a free, 30-minute consultation.