Finding and Researching Agents: Step-by-Step


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Are you ready to start your agent search in earnest? Are you a little overwhelmed by the prospect of researching agents? Fear not! Sub It Club has a step-by-step process to help you build your agent query list.

1) Start with a good list. Before you begin your research, get a good list of agents that represent your category and genre. For me, it’s faster to cross people off an existing list than to create a list from scratch. Because finding an agent is a numbers game, I suggest starting with a list of at least 100 agents who rep your genre/category. There are many resources to help you generate such a list as a starting point.

  • With the free membership you can search under “genre.” Searching “literary fiction” yielded a list of 662 agents (YOWZA!). Searching  business/finance in the nonfiction category led to a list of 271 agents. Not all will be legitimate agents or a good fit, but this is a great list to use for research.
  • Manuscript Wishlist also allows you to search agents (and editors) by genre to generate a list. In some genres, the list is small, so you’ll need another source too. Get started here.
  • Sometimes authors, editors, and people who teach classes compile lists too. For example, author Shari Schwarz maintains a list of 170+ agents who accept picture book submissions on her website. You might Google “your category” + agents to find these lists.
  • If you are already a subscriber, you can use Publishers Marketplace to generate a list of 100 top agents in your genre/category, but it’s a paid service ($25 per month). And at Sub It Club, we like to do things for free as much as possible.

2) Then, keep your eye out for new agents. New agents come on the scene all the time and can be a wonderful opportunity since they often are building their list. Look for agents coming from editorial at well-respected publishing houses, or agents without editorial background but who are being mentored at well-established agencies. Beware of new agents with no editorial background at upstart agencies. Here are some places to find new agents.

  • Writer’s Digest sends out new agent alerts. You can follow the blog here to get announcements.
  • Publisher’s Weekly Publisher’s Weekly has a free PW Daily newsletter you can subscribe to. Each edition includes “Job Moves,” and you’ll find new agents listed there. You can also find all recent job moves posted here.

3) Places to research. Once you have your list together, you are ready to research the agents so you can make sure they are legitimate and prioritize them. There is so much free information on the internet. aggregates much of this information, and Heather has an excellent post (right here!) with places to research (MSWL, Twitter, Google to name a few). I’ll also offer one more tip. Plug an agent’s name into the Publisher’s Weekly search function, and you can access lots of information, including deals and reviews of client books FOR FREE! Through this research process, you’ll cross some people off the list as you discover they aren’t a good fit, don’t have a good track record, etc. That’s perfectly fine. You should only query people you want to work with.

4) Beware of predators. Double check agents on places like WriterBeware and AbsoluteWrite’s forums. Not all agents are on the up and up. If they ask for money up front (reading fees) or steer you toward paid editorial services, these are red flags. I also recommend reading Jen Laughran’s post about “schmagents.” These are sometimes legitimate, but just really-bad-at-their-job agents. You’ll find the post here.

5) Put together your final query list. You can keep track of agents and your queries in a simple Excel spreadsheet, or you can use a service like QueryTracker, which allows you to track your queries online. I’ll go into more detail about this next month, but if you are building your own spreadsheet, you want to note of the agent’s name, the agency, when you queried, which MS you queried, how you queried (snail mail, email, form), average response time, times you nudged, and response.

Getting an agent is a numbers game and it can take dozens, even a hundred queries before you find the right agent for your work. Only query people you want to work with, but make sure you cast  a wide net. And good luck!

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