So let’s say you’ve finished writing your novel. You took a step back for a few weeks (or better, months), made changes, had a professional editor review it, made a few more changes, and then proofread like it’s your job (because at this point, it is—but that’s another post).
Or let’s say you’ve hit a roadblock, you’re sick of editing, and you’re downright anxious about whether anyone else in the world will ever see your work.
Either way, it’s time to consider the next step in the publishing process: agent hunting.
The world of literary agents is a mysterious and sometimes terrifying place. You want to find an agent that’s interested in projects like yours, but isn’t saturated in them already. You want someone who gets what you’re working on . . . but there’s always the chance that someone will want to step a little outside of his or her comfort zone to take you on. It’s a delicate balance. So where to start?
Create a spreadsheet with the following columns: agency, agent, what referred you to said agency (see below), what relevant authors they’ve published (along with titles and publishing houses—editors, too, if you can find that), website, submission guidelines, submission prepared, submission sent, agent’s reply.
You might also include a ranking system for how interested you are in each particular agent, 1-5, 1 being your dream/reach agent, 2 being someone you’d love to have, 3 being your B-list, 4 being someone you likely won’t submit to, 5 being a bust—no contact information available; actually into sci-fi, not historical non-fiction; you get the idea. Among other things, consider how professional they appear to be online, how recently they’ve made a sale and to whom (if you’re willing to pay for a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace, the information is at your fingertips), and whether they’re still taking on new clients.
Once you’re ready to capture your information, it’s time to make a list of potential agents. It’s an arduous process, but you’ll learn a lot along the way.
As you’re working, read around on potential agencies’ websites. Do web searches for the agents to read interviews with them and get a sense of their likes, dislikes, and personalities (be aware of how recent these interviews may be). Agents move around sometimes, so be sure they’re still where you think they are. Follow them on Twitter to see what they’re paying attention to and what drives them crazy. Use this information for your rankings. Make notes if you need to, so you can keep everything straight.
A couple ways to start making your list:
- Find a copy of the most recent Writer’s Market. Use the agent section to develop a list of potential agencies and agents for your type of book. Then check out all of these online for the most up-to-date information.
- Make a list of books like yours (in industry-speak, comp titles). Go to the authors’ websites and look for their agents to be listed on their contact pages. You might also do a web search for “[Author’s name] agent.” If you can’t find the information there, go to the bookstore or library and check the book’s acknowledgment page. (This is also a good time to read the jacket copy, to help you get a sense of how much of your story to tell in your cover letter.)
Taking it all on at once can make your head spin. Challenge yourself to research five new agents every day. Once they start to blend together, take a break. An old colleague of mine once told me, “Nothing in publishing is the end of the world.” Be patient. Be smart about it. Like anything else, rushing won’t get you the results you want.
Approaching agents can be a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. With diligent research, you can have some fun with it and learn a heck of a lot about writing and the publishing industry along the way.