Friday, March 25, 2011

16 Ways To Find a Literary Agent

Best Query Letter

Query agents in batches of no more than ten at a time. That way you'll get some feedback on your submission and will be able to tweak it if necessary without having burned all your bridges. If you get all rejections there is probably something wrong with your query letter. My former agent used to have my query letter up on her site as an example of the best query letter she ever got. Here's a link:

Karin Gillespie
Agent Query

Everywhere I go online regarding authors talking about the agent hunt, this one site is always mentioned: Also, the way I started my own agent search ten years ago was to go to the bookstore and grab every book off the shelf that was packaged/marketed or looked remotely like what I envisioned for my own novel, and also books by authors I loved, and then I looked through the Acknowledgments page to take note of their agent, who is usually the first person thanked in the Acknowledgments page. It's a great way to make a list of agents that fit within your own genre or style.
Melissa Senate


There are many online resources these days for finding agents that specialize in particular fields - Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery etc - but those who are serious about a career in writing should also consider paying the modest fee to join Backspace: There are over 1000 registered members, from just getting started to NYT bestsellers, and a wealth of threads on every writing/publishing subject imaginable. And anything to do with finding an agent, choosing between agents, what to put in a query letter etc is there as well. There's even a place for writers to post queries for critique. You can't beat Backspace and I only wish it had been around in the eight years I was struggling to get published. I'm sure it would have shaved years off my struggle and I certainly would have felt less alone.

Tell them Lauren Baratz-Logsted - - sent you!

A Funny Thing Happened…

I have a funny story on my website on how I found my agent and the process. It's an audio clip so not sure if it would work but it's the last line of my bio page at

Bad Agent Worse than No Agent

I had always read that having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. In hindsight, I’d have to agree. Although, I wouldn’t say my first agent was bad. She was well-intentioned but inexperienced. She’d come from an editing background and was making the transition to literary agent. In other words, her grammar was far superior to her sales skills or ability to advise an author. After almost two years, I moved on. My current agent is at the opposite end of the career spectrum, which can also be intimidating. However, after a hefty revision and solid advice, she sold my book in a few weeks. As for landing her as an agent, once I got a nibble, I didn’t give up. Polite perseverance paid off and she eventually signed me.
Laura Spinella

Research Pays Off

The first thing you need to know—the thing that most writers don't want to hear—is that for a novel, you have to have your whole book written before you can even begin to query agents. So, get your manuscript in great shape—go to writing classes, attend workshops, and get yourself into a writing group in order to get your book in fighting shape.
You'll need to start with a reputable guidebook—I suggest Writer's Market but I’ve also heard that Jeff Herman’s guide is quite good. Read about how to write a query letter and the etiquette of querying agents. All of that stuff is key—it’s just like applying for a job. Just because they are agents doesn’t mean you can be any less professional in your communications. You should also do internet research on each and every agent you plan to query. (Specific agent, that is, not merely the agency, although you should research the agency, too!) Remember that you should never pay an agent to read or review your work. Agents get paid by selling your work and then taking 15% of the sale and royalties.Allison Winn Scotch’s blog, Ask Allison, has amazing info on finding agents (she's also on myspace). Read the links starting from the oldest. Her advice is really spot on.If you prefer your advice with a bit of attitude, check out Miss Snark. She no longer updates the blog, but the archives are invaluable. This website breaks down how to write a query letter.
Finally, it’s really important to find out what agents are looking for, and to make the best impression by being knowledgeable about the field. If you were applying for a job, you'd research the company you were applying to and make sure that your cover letter and resume were a perfect fit.

Brenda Janowitz ,

Throw Yourself to the Shark

I always tell writers who are about to begin querying that it's worth investing several hours reading through the archives at the queryshark blog ( There's simply no better way to get an education on what works and what doesn't in a query letter.

Ellen Meister,

Agents Work For Writers

Remember agents work for authors. Often it feels like the reverse is true, and authors are afraid to make demands on their agents. But the agent works for the author. The agent is paid for by the author. The author should remember they’re not finding an agent; they are hiring an agent.(Easier said than done, I know. I'm on my fourth agent right now, and I've been turned down by many agents over the years. The power balance often seems skewed. But the reality is, my agent works for me, and if I'm not satisfied with the quality of work I'm getting from that agent, and I try without success over a period of time to improve our working relationship, I fire the agent. Nicely--I still have very pleasant relations with my ex-agents. But I think, if I'm not happy with the way my agent is working, I can move on.)One reliable resource for checking out agents is the website "Preditors and Editors" ( (Yes, "Preditors" is spelled that way on the website.) They list agents (by first name, for some reason) and note if the agents have ever had serious complaints or law suits filed against them, and also if they've put together big deals. Another step to take before signing with an agent is to contact some of that agent's other clients. Most agents have websites listing their clients or recently sold books. Go to those clients' websites and email the clients, asking for their honest opinion of the agents. If you're in a writing group or belong to a writing organization, some of the other members might have information, pro or con, about particular agents.

Barbara Keiler/Judith Arnold

How to Find an Agent in Three Easy Steps

1. Write a great query. There are lots of websites and even classes about this "art form" but generally it boils down to 3 paragraphs and one hard and fast rule:
First, a hook as to why you are contacting that particular agent (see #2 below) and something to put your book in context ("in the vein of ..." "a noir detective novel" "Harry and Sally meets Turner and Hootch"). If you have a personal connection (“I met you at the such and such writing conference and you suggested I contact you.” “My friend Your Client suggested I contact you”), lead with that and then go into why you are the right client for her.Second, a few sentences summarizing your book. Think jacket copy. Work, rework , have other writers read it, work it some more, until it is one polished paragraph Third, a few sentences about yourself: A hook between you and your work (i.e, it's a legal thriller and you are a district attorney, or it's about a child with Down Syndrome and your brother has Down Syndrome -- you have one; something sparked your interest in writing your book), your education, especially writing courses you have taken, and anything else that will make you stand out from the zillions of other queries. Don’t be cutesy or corny; make it fresh and real.And the Rule: DON’T have any typos. Use spellcheck, proofread and proofread again. If you are querying multiple agents and cutting and pasting, make sure you change your salutation to address each query to the right agent. (Side rule: never address a query “To whom it may concern” or any other generic salutation.)

2. RESEARCH agents. You always hear people say "it's a chemistry thing" and they are right. You need an agent who is passionate about your work AND has the right contacts within the publishing houses to get it to an editor who also will be passionate about your work.
Start with -- it's a good, searchable website. Find agents who represent your type of work. If you write sci fi and they say they don't like sci fi, cross them off your list. If they say they are not accepting new clients, cross them off your list. Pay attention to what they want to receive (only by email, just the query, query plus 10 pages, etc.) – you’ll need that info for #3 below. Read the acknowledgments in books you like – often the author thanks his agent. Read the announcements in Publishers Weekly. Be aware of where the agents work – if it is a small agency, you are much better off picking the one agent with whom you think you have the best connection, because they talk to each other and you don’t want to look like you are sending queries to the world. When you have a list, Google each agent. Preditors and Editors and Backspace are also great sources for information. Undoubtedly, she has blogged or spoken at a conference, or someone has blogged about her. Read what she has written and get a feel for her attitude and tastes. If she says something that turns you off, cross her off your list. If she says something that clicks with you, use that in your first paragraph.

3. Be organized. Make a table with several columns: The agents you have queried, when and what you sent them (If she wants the first page, don’t send the first chapter), their initial response (No thank you, or please send the whole manuscript, when you sent your manuscript (if requested), and their final response. You might also have a column with why you contacted that particular agent and any connections you have with her (same school, your friend whom she represents). This will save you much time and potential embarrassment. You will get rejections – many successful authors started out with 50, 100, 200 rejections. Take note of any comments in the rejections. If they are all saying the same thing about your query or your manuscript, then go back and see if you agree with them and if so, make changes before you send out more queries.

Amy Bourret, Author of MOTHERS & OTHER LIARS (comes out Aug. 3)

Advice From a Mega Seller

I totally agree w/ Lauren--Backspace is a fabulous fabulous fabulous resource. Any serious writer wanting to be published owes it to pay the minimal stipend to belong.

Thought I'd relay the advice from Kathryn Stockett, who spoke the other night at the opening of the Virginia Book Festival (she was beyond delightful, by the way, so if you have a chance to go see her, do!). Someone asked a similar question and she sifted through her fat files on her lap and pulled out a stack of rejection letters for The Help, which was rejected by over 60 agents.
Rather than giving up, she took the advice from the rejections and helped it to make her book stronger each time. Of course some of the rejections were nonsense, and you have to use your gut to know whether recommendations are meant to change your novel too much, but think about that--her book has sold 3 million books in two years time, and SIXTY agents scoffed at it.

Jenny Gardiner,

Get Your Foot in the Door

Mystery author Jerrilyn Farmer once said to me, "Getting an agent is like a marriage. You don't really know if it's going to work out until you're in it." That was apropos in my case, as the agent who got me my first deal with HarperCollins--and who reps some amazing authors--wasn't a good fit for my career or personality. I've had another agency for the past six years, and I love them to pieces! But I likely would not have lucked into them without first having my foot in the door. I've found the best information on agents comes from other authors. If you don't have published author friends to ask directly about their agents, you can Google an agent's name and find out if he/she has been gushed about on author blogs or if he/she has been interviewed, giving more insight into what they're looking for. I also like Kristen Nelson's PubRants ( as there's endless scoop in her archives. And I always recommend that folks check the listing of agents and agencies on the AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives) at They have a lot of information on what agents want, whether they take email queries, etc.


Check the Acknowledgements

I poured over the Guide to Literary Agents, attended writer's conferences where I could meet with agents to pitch my work, and entered writing contests. I won a contest and that gave me a hook for the first paragraph of my query letter. The Acknowledgment section of books similar in style and tone to my work in progress were a gold mine of agent names--I kept a running list of possible agent names. It took a little while to track some of them down, but it paid off for me.
Sara Rosett

From Bad to Good

In my case, I did at one time have what you could only call a bad agent. It's been 7 years since we parted ways and the effects of the bad agenting still come back to haunt me. The effects include things like heinous contract terms (she essentially lied to me about what they meant when I questioned them.) and, perhaps most important, she did not give me career advice when I asked for it. It was my expectation that she would.So, when I was searching for a new agent (eventually with a contract in hand) I had some VERY specific requirements; things I knew I wanted in an agent. I also knew I needed more than just whatever the agent said in promotional materials (websites, listings etc). I went to the RWA national conference and attended every single panel with agents or about agenting and took notes about who said what and my impressions of these agents. I hung out in the bars and lounges and asked other writers who they were with and whether they were happy and I also asked people who they thought was the best agent out there. I also crossed at least one agent off my list due to behavior I observed in the bar.I ended up with a list of agents and a LOT great knowledge about agent-author relationships -- some of which I knew were not for me. I started querying (documenting who I queried etc) and when I had offers, I contacted clients and chatted with them about their experiences and I talked with the agents about what I was looking for and how that fit with how they liked to agent. The agent I ended up signing with also sent me a copy of her agency agreement so I could take a look at that, and I would recommend that anyone considering signing with an agent ask to see the agency contract (though not every agent has one).Make sure you're clear about your expectations and needs (career development? editorial input? Hand-holding? etc) and listen to the responses.Carolyn Jewel

It’s a Journey

I think writing is a never-ending process of becoming more comfortable with yourself. Not only with the words we put on the page and the stories we're driven to tell, but with the people we have in our lives. As we grow as writers, we have new experiences and, sometimes, we discover we need different people to help guide our careers than we may have originally anticipated.

So, I think the first thing to do is to find an agent who really loves and understands your writing as it is right now. Someone you communicate well with and who will help you polish your work and get it before the right editorial eyes. You want an agent who will be an advocate for you today and, hopefully, for several years down the road. But don't put too much pressure on yourself -- or on your agent -- to be everything to you for now and all time. It's wonderful when that kind of client/agent relationship happens, but some of the most successful, long-term career writers I know have had several agents over the decades -- different people at different stages of their careers. Sometimes they became good friends with their agents. Sometimes they were simply excellent business partners. I think the more you come to know your strengths as a writer, the more you'll know what type of agent you'll need to complement those skills. Best of luck!
Marilyn Brant

Keep On Keeping On

Just don't give up! I quit my first agent search 30 years ago on my first novel after 5 great rejection letters, which I took as the END OF MY LIFE. For my second book, four years later, a William Morris agent loved the first 50 pages and then suggested revisions for the full novel. Which I wrote and she then turned down. I didn't even try another agent...Again, the END OF MY LIFE. Then I had kids (which we know is when the writing life ACTUALLY ENDS). I eventually wrote another book, which I submitted to one and only one agent. She said she loved my work, that it was charming and engaging but that she couldn't sell a book of letters. The only thing harder, she added, were short story collections. (She obviously didn't see forward to the year that Olive Kitteridge and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society topped the best seller list.) She encouraged me to write a novel and let her see it. I did. She left me a voice mail telling me how beautifully done Diana Lively is Falling Down was but that she didn't LOVE it enough to be passionate about it. So, I did the agent search for a while, ignoring a woman three people had suggested because she was British and my novel had English characters and I didn't feel they'd pass the sniff test for dialog. Finally, in desperation, I had my husband (who knew her) ask if she'd read my novel. She said of course. I sent it. Didn't hear from her for a month. Decided it was worthless. Decided that all my friends (to whom I'd sent the book but hadn't heard from) hated it. I listed them in order. Rhian hates the book. Scotti hates the book. Terry hates the book. ... et cetera. Then, with tears dripping down my face I wrote, "But I LOVE this book." I decided I would self-publish. The next day I got an email from my agent saying she'd enjoyed reading the novel and could we talk the next day. When I answered the phone she told me she was surprised by my accent. She'd assumed I was British too. We fell in love, got hitched and have lived happily ever after.

Sheila Curran,

An Agent Who Found an Agent

The running joke in my family was that I had to become an agent to get an agent. I actually was a motion picture literary agent at ICM when I sent the first four chapters of my manuscript to my colleague in New York. Without my name on the chapters. I truly believe that the first thing you have to do to get an agent is write a kick ass book. And then rewrite the kick ass book. And then rewrite the kick ass book. And then again rewrite the kick ass book. And finally when you are really tired of the book and your family and friends and critique partners are tired of your book....rewrite the kick ass book once more. Then (and only then) query your agent. I am a big believer in personal contact. Having sat on both sides of the table as a writer pitching and an agent listening I think personal contact is key. Once you have the truly kick ass book go to a writer's conference but do your research before you go on what agents you want to stalk make contact with. Then, make contact. Whether it is at a pitch session, an elevator, a panel session (but preferably not while they are trapped in a bathroom stall) pitch them. Get a yes. And for goodness sake once you get the 'yes, please send it to me.' from your dream agent don't yammer on and talk them out of their yes.

Maggie Marr

Keeping It Real

I have had three agents. One for eleven years, one for eleven months and this latest for over a year. There are no similarities between how they work, how I got them and how well they produced. The only similarity was that I started out with great expectations that were often unmet. Not blaming them-the agent/author relationship is like a marriage and you will not always agree on strategy, ideas, execution, etc. Also like a marriage, you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve got it (and the agent could say the same thing). You don’t know if they’ll return your phone calls and emails, be responsive when you have questions/concerns, really be an advocate for you or just add you to their roster like a baseball manager who needs more left handed pitching.

Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to land a reputable and respected agent, be realistic. This is no guarantee that they can or will deliver you to the promised land of best seller lists and Hollywood deals. All it means is that the possibilities for getting published are greater because you have solid representation and (hopefully) someone who believes in your work.

The final outcome depends on luck, timing, compatibility, worth ethic (yours and theirs) and ultimately the best, damn book you can write (and re-write). In other words, once you land an agent, that’s when the hard work begins.

Saralee Rosenberg,

Girlfriend News

New post at The Byline of Being Read. Contest for a signed copy of Beautiful Disaster runs through the end of March.


  1. This post is such a fabulous resource -- thank you. I'm going to put it on my author facebook page.

  2. Lots of great information here -- thank you!

  3. As always, the collective braintrust that is the Girlfriends Book Club offers the most valuable guidance to emerging novelists. I'm so happy to be on board and even happier when I learn something new as I do with all of these great posts.

  4. very helpful collection. it's nice to see so much great advice put together in one place.

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