One of the questions I get asked frequently is how I found my agent so I thought I’d share my thoughts and process. This isn’t a post about whether you should work with an agent (personally my answer to that is yes) but is more geared to how you go about finding an agent once you’ve decided you want to work with one.
Often I think writers are so excited about finishing a book and wanting to move to the next step that they begin to rush the process. This can mean short-changing the amount of time they take to revise their book (which is what I did with my first book) or not spending enough time doing research on agents. The very first time I sent out query letters (for a romance I wrote right out of college) I took the mindset that I had in ninth grade when asked if there were any boys I wanted to date: “I’m interested in any who are interested in me.”
As you can guess, that didn’t turn out well in ninth grade and, unsurprisingly, it’s still not a great way to enter into a professional relationship. But I do think the dating metaphor is apt — just because someone might be perfect for your best friend doesn’t mean they’re perfect for you.
When approaching agent research it’s important to figure out what you want from the relationship. Are you someone who wants a hands on agent who will work as an editor before passing along projects? Do you communicate better via email or telephone? Do you work better with more hand holding? Do you want a boutique agency or one that’s larger? A veteran agent or someone starting out? Someone who only reps your genre or whose list is broader? These are all the types of questions you can ask yourself to figure out what you want/need before starting your search.
The next step is creating a long list and there are a ton of resources out there for this:
1. AgentQuery.com: this database website allows you to search for agents in a variety of ways and also has a ton of resources for authors. There are several ways to set up your searches: either for genre or you can type in authors/titles you think are similar to what you’re writing.
2. Publishers Marketplace: this is a subscription database that probably has similar search capacities as AgentQuery. The biggest difference is that you can also search deal announcements to see a list of recent deals any agent has announced (I’ll talk about this below).
3. Acknowledgements: Sometimes one of the best ways to find agents is to look for books and authors that are similar to you. If you can’t find out who their agent is on their website or databases (or by simply googling) then check out the acknowledgements of their books — most of the time authors will thank their agent.
4. The Community: Other ways to find agents is through your communities — if you have published friends, who represents them? If you read blogs or visit message boards, who reps the authors you chat with?
I’m sure there are even more resources out there now that have sprung up since I went through this. You can often find these by reading author blogs or visiting author message boards (AbsoluteWrite or the VerlaKay Blueboards (a great message board for PB/MG/YA authors))
Once you’ve created a long list of agents, it’s time to narrow it down based on what you’re looking for. This is where you start to dig in and do more research. I admit that I did a LOT of research at this stage of the game but mostly that’s because (a) I started this process early and (b) I went through a lot of revisions so I had time to do research while waiting for crit partners to read and get back to me.
There are several ways to winnow down your long list by learning more about each agent:
1. Blogs/twitter: check to see if they have a personal blog/twitter or if their agency has a blog. This is a great way to get a glimpse into their personality and learn more about what they’re looking for. Unless it’s part of what you want from an agent, don’t be turned off if an agent doesn’t have a blog or a social presence online. When I was going through this process I was able to cross a few agents off my long list just because I could tell from their blogs that our personalities wouldn’t mesh. That doesn’t mean they weren’t fantastic agents, it just meant they probably weren’t right for me.
2. Interviews: Google their name and if that has too many results add the word “interview.” Like blogs, reading interviews with agents is a great way to get a sense of their personality and style.
3. Publishers Marketplace: this is that paid service I mentioned above (I think $20/month). I know a lot of authors who will subscribe for only a month in order to run searches. Essentially Publishers Marketplace, in addition to being a database of authors/agents/editors/etc and an aggregator of industry news, has a database of recent sales (generally in format that includes the author, a quick blurb of the book, the agent, editor and sometimes a range of the sale amount).
I’m not going to lie, I love this site and find it fascinating and, yes, addicting. You know how everyone says you can’t judge a trend by what’s on the shelves because those books likely sold 1-2 years ago? With Pub Marketplace you get to back that timeline up a bit and see what’s selling now but won’t be released for a year or two.
However, there are a couple of caveats: (1) just with announced print runs, sometimes the deal announcements can be a bit puffy in terms of the size of the deal (and not all agents/publishers will announce the size of the deal) and (2) not all deals are announced, nor are they announced as soon as they’re made (frex, we never did announce the third book in my Forest of Hands and Teeth series nor have we announced my next deals yet).
When I was researching agents I liked to use this site to see what kind of deals an agent made, not necessarily in terms of size but to see what kind of houses they sold to (i.e., did they seem to have a broad range of editors or were all their sales to just one/two people/houses?).
4. The Community: If you’re part of a writing community you can chat with them to hear their thoughts on various agents.
Once you have a short list, it’s time to do even more research. This is when I started to hone my google-fu in terms of looking for interviews and reading up as much as I could on each agent. I checked out their clients’ website and maybe even read or thumbed through their clients’ books. I started making notes about their submissions guidelines (and any sub pet peeves they might have mentioned in interviews/blogs) so I could make sure to follow their rules.
After all of that, I queried. And I realized that while I’d done a ton of research, I still didn’t really know that much about the agents I was sending letters to (at the time I wrote a blog post about that here.) I learned that while you can do a lot of research on the front end, often what will help you figure out who’s the best agent for you is by talking to them. Sometimes you do this at a conference or by interacting with them online or by chatting with them on the phone if they offer to represent you.
I can’t stress enough that latter point: I had several agents that seemed wonderful on paper (and I’m sure are wonderful agents) but once we talked I realized we just weren’t that well suited for each other. That’s when I ended up (a) talking to their clients to get a feel for how the agents worked; (b) talked to other friends in the community to get a sense of the agent’s reputation; and (c) tossed all the research aside and go with my gut (a truly terrifying leap of faith).
At the end of the day, I signed with an agent I love. I have several friends who ended up with agents that didn’t work out for them and they’ve switched to new agents and while that was stressful for them, it wasn’t career ending. Sometimes that happens — no matter how much work you put into trying to find the right match, it doesn’t work out and that can be okay.
What’s funny is that my agent would probably tell you that I tend to over-think things and you can see from this post he’s probably right There are plenty of authors who went about their agent search in a different way and ended up in a place that works for them. And maybe I did go a bit overboard in my approach to my own search, but there’s one thing I kept in mind: once an agent sells a book, he or she (or their agency) has a right to 15% of that book for life (the length of time may change from agency to agency). To a certain extent, this means that you become partners in your career and it’s important not to rush that step but to make sure you end up in a situation you’re happy with and that works for you.
Happy agent hunting!