Thursday, July 19, 2018

Researching Literary Agents

You've got your book.
You've got your query.

You want to be published by one of the Big Five publishers, which means you now need a Literary Agent.

So how do you find a Literary Agent that will be a good fit?

Thankfully it's an easy, two step process  ... that may or may not consume your life with how long it can take and how much energy you pour into it. Shhh.

  { see also my Query Resources }

Finding the perfect Literary Agent for You:

Step 1: Compile a List of Literary Agents

Open up a spreadsheet, and make a list of at least 50-100 agents that:

1. Represent books like yours
2. Represent your age category (Adult, YA or MG etc)
3. Represent your genre (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary etc.)
4. Have a track record of sales

How do you find agents who represent books like yours?

Grab a book where you could imagine yourself saying: "Well, my book is kind of like THIS book, except ... [Insert difference]." It could have similar themes, or the writing is similar, or the subgenre and world have a similar feel to yours, or just something about the book really jives with you.

a. Flip to the acknowledgements. Writers will usually thank their lit agent there.
    If the agent loved this book enough to represent it, maybe just maybe they'll love yours!!

b. Visit QueryTracker's Who Reps Whom:
     Select the first letter of the author's last name, and you're off!

c. Visit Query Tracker's Agents By Genre Search
     You'll need a (free) subscription to Query Tracker to do this,
     but you will want one when Querying. Believe me! 
     I could write an entire series of posts on all the gems buried in Query Tracker.

After you've done that, do a double check on their agency or agent website guidelines. Are they still representing your age/genre? Yes? Good. Add them to your list!

How do you find agents who WANT books like yours?

Agents might technically represent your genre, and may have even represented the best Comp Title to your book once upon a time, but that doesn't mean they are looking for another book like it now. So to find what they really want, you'll need to dig deeper. This is where things start to get tricky and you can waste a lot of time. BUT. Taking the time to do a bit more sleuthing can also be a gold mine. Full disclosure: twitter stalking is how I (somewhat indirectly) found my agent.

So how do you find what they want now?


  • Agency or Agent Websites
    Not all agencies will do this, but some will have mini wishlists on the sidebars of their site, or list wishlist items on their bios. Unfortunately these are not always dated.
  • Manuscript Wish List
    This website is amazing, pure amazing. Search for an agent or a genre, subgenre or other keyword and find an agent who has said they want just what you're serving. Thank agent Jessica Sinsheimer for this MSWL miracle!
  • MSWishList
    This is similar to the above site in some ways, but simply pulls #MSWL listings from agents' twitter accounts.
  • #MSWL Hashtag on Twitter
    This will be the best way to see the most recent Manuscript Wish List requests from agents
  • Agent Spotlight
    Though some of these will be older interviews, they are a great way to get to know agents and their tastes!
  • Twitter Stalking
    Okay, not actual stalking, but in all seriousness, one of the best ways to get to know an agent's tastes might just be by following what they have to say on Twitter. The link above is to my list of over 500 Lit Agents on Twitter!

Okay, have you found 50 or 100 or 500 agents that you could potentially query? 
Great! Now it's time to do a little more research:


Step 2: Research and Rank

If an agent on your list has already sold a book to a well-known and respected publisher, it's fairly likely that they are a reputable agent, and worthy of a query from you. BUT NOT ALWAYS.

Red flags? 


  • Fees
    The biggest is if an agent tries to charge you for anything up front. A reputable agent will never charge you anything until they sell your book.
  • Lack of Sales
    Some agents will not have a track record of sales. Maybe they only sold that one book. Not necessarily a red flag, but could show lack of experience and connections, so dig deeper. How long have they been operating as an agent? Have they been around forever but few sales? Red flag. Are they brand new but interned and assisted at a few reputable agencies? Are they at an agency with a good track record now? You may want to give them a query!
  • Shoddy practices
    Some agents will play a numbers game: sign a lot of clients, don't read (or edit) the entire manuscript, then send that work out scattershot style to a horde of publishers all at once and see if something sticks. Obviously, this is NOT the kind of agent you want. They might sell one or two things, but if you're one of the many clients whose work doesn't sell, your work (which might not have been quite ready) cannot be fixed up and shown to those editors again. You just missed your shot.


Before submitting to any agent, do your research:


  1. Visit AW's Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Checks:
    Again, you'll need a free subscription to Absolute Write Water Cooler, but these forums are writerbee gold.Once there, scroll past the adverts to the top of the forum threads and click the small dropdown menu header to the right that says "Search Forum"
    Search for the name of the agent or agency you are trying to research.
    If there is dirt on an agent, chances are high it will be here.

  2. Check out Writer Beware, read their Literary Agent Red Flags, and their Thumbs Down Agencies List.
  3. When in doubt, ask:

    If you know a writer who has been through the querying trenches a time or two, chances are they know some of the shoddy agents and agencies by name. I can think of several in my head right now.  o.O

Now, go forth and polish up your manuscript, fix up that query letter, and query all those agents!*

*In batches of 6-10, ideally including first mostly agents from your A and B tiers and maybe a C or two. You did rank the agents in your list, right?? Whoops I forgot to mention that step!

If you need help with your Query, I've compiled some resources for that here:
Querying Resource Roundup


Additional Agent Researching Resources:

How to Find a Literary Agent - Jane Friedman || Researching Literary Agents - Susan Dennard || 25 Things Writers Should Know bout Literary Agents - Chuck Wendig || How to Research and Target Literary Agents - Writers In The Storm || How to Research a Literary Agent - Nathan Bransford || How Do You Know if Your Agent is Any Good? || Bookends on Bad Agents ||

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