Where are all the Agents?
There's, like, a database, right?
The steps to being a writer are:
Become bestselling author
Easy, right? You can get stuck on any of these steps, but once you clear #1, it can be a shock to get stuck on #2. Agents want books! You have a good book! Why is this so hard?
It’s hard to find an agent—as in, it is hard to gather the information you need to make the important decision about who you want to consider your work. You don’t just want to send it to any warm body you find. A bad agent (for your book) is worse than no agent at all.
And we know. Us agents know that our information is spread all over the internet and some of it is outdated or bad or confusing. Unfortunately, we don’t control all the internet, and we can’t delete old posts or interviews we did when we were still looking for vampire romances. Because there is no central database of all the best and most up-to-date information you need on literary agents (no really, this doesn’t exist. Anyone that says different is selling you something), here are the resources and strategies I suggest writers use to make sense of the mess of information out there.
Publishersmarketplace.com. This is my #1, go-to website for researching agents. It is a subscription-based website, and I know that isn’t attainable for everyone. It is, however, a relatively low-cost option ($25/month) and you can pay for just one month right before you’re ready to send out your work and do all your research at one time.
On PM, you’ll find the Deals database. In it, editors and agents list book deals they’ve done. And you can search it by genre, agent, editor, publishing house, keyword, whatever! This isn’t all deals ever, or all deals by an agent or author, or even all agents out there, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got to an updated database. Here’s why a search for me and “memoir” looks like.
From this you can see that I’ve done a few memoirs, and a few more recently than others, but it’s a genre I’ve been selling in for several years. Publishers Marketplace will help you amass your big messy list of agents to whittle down to the number you will actually query.
AARonline.org: This is the website of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, the governing body for literary agents. Not all agents are part of the AAR, but all agents who are part of it are vetted and verified. They might not be the right agent for you, but they aren’t going to be a scammer. Agents submit this information, but fair warning, I don’t know how often it is updated. It is another resource to use to add to your big messy list of agents.
Twitter: I know. Twitter is horrible. But there are a lot of agents on Twitter. As you make your list, search those agents on Twitter. You can see what they’re talking about, if they seem like someone you want to work with, if they’re posting about projects they’re looking for (check out the #mswl hashtag). Not all agents are on Twitter, but a lot are.
Actual books: Think your book is like X, Y, and Z already-published books? Then look in the back of those books at the Acknowledgment page. Most often, the author will thank their agent (and if they don’t say “my agent,” you’ll be familiar enough with a lot of agent names from your research to figure it out), and then add those names to your list. A trip to the library or bookstore can be immensely helpful here.
Agents’ own websites: The most reliable website for agent information is that agent’s own website. It should include the most up-to-date information (and if it’s not up-to-date, that’s the agent’s fault, not yours. This should be your last step, usually, to verify genres and agencies and to make sure you’ve got the best information available.
You may notice that I haven’t mentioned other popular websites like AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.com. I don’t count them among my recommended resources. You might find them useful, but I have not always found them reliable.
These are the places to start your agent research. It will be hard and possibly confusing. You will not know exactly everything you want or need to know to make this decision. It will take time. We know it’s annoying, but it’s just the way it is. You’ll note, too, this isn’t how to query, but how to find information on agents. We’ll get into how to query another time.
Good luck. Thanks for reading. If you’d like me to cover something specific (no pitches, please) feel free to reply to this email.