Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part II

This is the second in a series of posts on finding an agent. I'm sharing the things I've learned about the publishing industry over the last few years in the hope that it will be helpful to you.

To start, here are the steps I listed last night:

1) Know Your Manuscript
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

Last night, I suggested that you begin by identifying the genre of your manuscript. You MUST be able to tell any potential agent a single specific genre. DO NOT cross genres with a description like, "My manuscript is a fantasy sci-fi romantic suspense." Pick a genre and stick with it.

The next step is to begin identifying potential agents. I strongly suggest that you start this process at least six months before you are ready to submit your manuscript. That way you'll have developed a list of potential agents by the time you're ready to query.

There are several ways to build your list. I'm giving some of these below, starting with the least expensive and working up to the most expensive:

1) Go to the bookstore and check the dedication pages of books in your genre. Many writers will thank their agent by name in these dedications. You can make a list of potential agents representing your genre that way. You'll then need to track the agencies and addresses down.

2) Go to They have a free searchable database in which you can look up an agent by name or by the genre they represent. The database has expanded enormously over the last eighteen months. It includes mailing addresses. It does not include names of clients represented by the agents.

3) Buy a copy of Writers' Market or Guide to Literary Agents. There is a problem in that there is a long lag between the time when the data for the book is collected and the time when the book is released. Data becomes outdated very quickly.

Alternatively you can subscribe to for a year ($29.99) or month-by-month ($3.99/mo). The site has a searchable database. You can query agents in a genre, or agents by name. The database is more current than the hard copy of the book. The database also gives you info on the clients represented, whether the agents are currently accepting queries and the way they like to receive the queries (snail mail, email).

4) I mentioned Publishers Marketplace last night. They operate two lists. One is the Free Lunch, which arrives once a week. The other is the paid Daily Lunch which arrives every weekday. The paid Daily Lunch is a $20/month subscription. When I originally subscribed to the Free Lunch, they included some of the deals being made in the publishing industry. I talked with a writer friend today who is currently getting the Free Lunch, and she advised they no longer list the deals being made. You now have to pay to get access to that information.

I subscribe to the Daily Lunch because I find it a valuable resource for a writer interested in keeping track of the industry. Their Daily Lunch lists all the news in the publishing industry. In addition, the Daily Lunch provides a once-a-week-list of the deals agents are making (including the author, genre, publishing house and approximate size of the deal) and a searchable database. I can look up a specific agent and see any deal they've reported for the past several years.

When I was searching for an agent, I made index cards for any agent who'd made a deal in my genre. An option might be to subscribe to the paid Daily Lunch for a couple of months or a quarter while you're building your list.

Just developing your list is NOT enough. You need to check out the agents whose names you have collected. There are four ways you can do that:

1) Google each agent's name. Start with a search that just includes the agent's name. Do a separate search for the agency. Find out everything you can. Pay particular attention to complaints.

2) Check the agent's name out on Preditors & Editors. This is a database originally compiled by the sci-fi writers. It is now widely used by writers to check out agents and publishers. While not foolproof, it usually identifies the obvious scammers in the industry. Site:

3) Check Writer Beware for any recent alerts on the agents on your list. Website:

4) Network. Join writers' groups and loops where you can ask questions about agents and read about other writers' positive and negative experiences with agents. You'll find most writers are supportive of each other and willing to share important information, if sometimes only in private.

Networking will also help you keep aware of the trends in your genre and the industry. Don't underestimate the value of gossip. I waited too long to join writers' organizations. I've gotten a huge amount of help from both RWA and Sisters-in-Crime.

RWA has online groups for various genres as well as geographically-placed groups around the country. As an example of the kind of information you can obtain, the RWA loops and chapters were talking about the over-saturation of the chick lit market long before the market actually slowed.

Sisters-in-Crime operates several online groups for new writers (called Guppies for the great unpublished), including one called AgentQuest. Such groups can keep you informed about agents moving from one agency to another, agents who are slow to respond to queries and agents who are retiring from the business.

We'll stop here for today and pick it up again tomorrow.

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