If you decide to go the traditional publishing route, it pays to do some research to find a literary agent who reps your genre, and who has the right experience to back that up. The Internet is a great resource, but conducting searches using broad terms like “literary agent” is like searching for that proverbial needle in a haystack.
If you’re ready to seek out an agent to represent your book, you’ve reached a significant milestone. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing, invested a considerable chunk of time and money in professional editing services, and spent lots of time revising and rewriting (if you haven’t, it’s time to get very honest—is your work ready to compete with the pros?). After this much work, you’re not handing over your baby to just any old literary agent, and why waste time submitting to people who aren’t interested in your type of book?
To help you out, here are some more productive ways to find a literary agent who is right for you.
One of my favorite tips is to browse the acknowledgments of other novels in your category or that seem similar to your book in themes, style, or target audience. Authors often thank their agents in the acknowledgments. If you go this route, be sure to mention in your query letter that you’re submitting to this particular agent because he or she represented Author Smith for her book TITLE. It’s always good to show agents that you’ve done your research!
Target Specific Publishers
Another great way to approach the agent search is to figure out which publishers would be a good fit for your book, then do an Internet search cross-referencing the publisher’s name with phrases like “book deal” and “sold novel.” This often turns up press releases and blog mentions announcing new book deals, which in turn will feature the names of agents and a brief description of the book he or she just sold. This will help you see which agents have an established relationship with the kind of publishers who might be interested in your book, which means those agents might be interested in representing your book.
If you don’t have any luck with an organic search, you can also join Publishers Marketplace, a website that allows you to browse archives for details on book deals. Archives are only open to paid subscribers, but if you’re actively submitting, the information you receive will be worth the price of access.
Ask Fellow Writers
Don’t forget about your fellow writers. Get recommendations! If you belong to any writers’ groups or associations, post a brief description of your novel and ask folks if they have an agent or know of one who represents books like yours. Attending conferences or conventions that focus on your genre or category can further lead you to published writers and staff editors who may have agent suggestions. Many such events also bring in literary agents to do panels or meet with writers one on one, which is one of the most effective ways to find a literary agent who reps your genre—once they’ve met you, they are more likely to read your work and, even if they’re passing on it, to offer some valuable feedback.
Search by Category
Finally, there are several print and Internet resources that will allow you to search by categories when you want to find a literary agent. The most well-known of these is the Literary Marketplace, a multi-volume set of reference books found in any library that will detail different agencies, the agents who work there, and what kinds of books each represents. There are dozens more resources available online, including:
Note that there are some services out there promising to review your work and identify a targeted list of agents for you. Some, such as Writer’s Relief, will even manage your submissions entirely. This sounds like a great time-saver, however, I have no experience with these and don’t know if they’re worth the money, so as usual do your homework, ask around, and read the fine print.
Let me know how your search to find a literary agent is going—what problems are you running into?
And if you need help with your query letter, consider the Writer’s Ally Query Letter Review service. Sign up for your Free Project Review to discuss it here.