4 Things to Consider When Researching Literary Agents

Oh-Boy-Youre-Having-A-GirlThere are hundreds of reasons an agent will pass on your pitch—doesn’t connect with your story, not currently looking for clients, reps thrillers and you submitted a romance, is a Red Sox fan and refuses to rep a Yankees fan, etc. Your goal is to find agents most suited toward your writing to minimize the reasons they will pass.

When I was ready to pitch OH BOY, YOU’RE HAVING A GIRL to agents, I didn’t have time to waste. A publisher had approached me about taking the writing style of my blog and turning it into a book. Within weeks I had an offer (which was amazing!), but still, I needed help understanding and negotiating my rights.

I spent hours researching agents using Writer’s Market and the Guide to Literary Agents and doing follow-up legwork on the Internet. I didn’t have much time to waste, so I asked myself the questions below in order to narrow my search to find an agent whom I thought would be the best fit for me. You should ask these questions in your search too.

1. Is the agent accepting new clients?

Some agents are always accepting new clients. Others rarely take them on. Sometimes agents have windows—say, the month of September—where they are accepting submissions. It’s important to consider this when angling for a particular agent. If the agent you want rarely takes on new clients, you must keep a close eye on when his or her window opens. When pitching OH BOY, I needed a fairly quick response (and being able to include “I have a contract offer” in the letter certainly helped the query get looked at more quickly than usual), so I could only pitch to agents who were currently looking for new clients. Didn’t want to waste my time and efforts on agents who wouldn’t be accepting queries until later in the year.

2. Does the agent rep your genre?

If you ask an agent what’s the number one reason he or she rejects a query letter, most will say the same thing: The author pitched a genre that I don’t represent. [Help others by sharing this important tip — Click here to Tweet it!] So my first order of business was to define my book. OH BOY fits into several categories: nonfiction, humor and parenting. When I set out to find an agent, I focused mainly on the nonfiction and humor angles. This narrowed my search, giving me an opportunity to examine each agent more thoroughly before shipping off my queries.

[Did you know there are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass? Read about them here.]

3. What is important to you in contract negotiations?

Contract negotiations are where agents excel. We all want big advances, sure, but what else in the contract is most important to you? Foreign rights? Free copies of your book? Holding on to your e-publishing rights? One of the most important assets I was looking for in an agent was knowledge of film and TV rights—and the ability to take those rights and shop them through his or her agency. While I have no idea if my work will ultimately translate into that medium—and I know selling those rights are a long shot—I do know that it does happen. By finding an agent and an agency with a track record for successfully handling these rights, I could rest confidently that I had given my work the best chance to find success.

4. Anything special that may connect an agent to your pitch?

One unusual thing I took into account when I was looking for an agent was whether or not the agent had young kids. The topic of my book is about the early years of raising daughters, and I thought an agent who was also a newer parent would relate better with my topic and writing style than ones who didn’t (after all, an agent who has never changed a dirty diaper may not find the hilarity that can be found in changing dirty diapers). Keep this open-minded approach when creating a list of potential agents for your book. Does the agent have a connection to World War II (which is the setting of your novel)? Is the agent’s favorite TV show “Game of Thrones” (and you’re writing a unofficial guidebook for it)? While not always available, sometimes it is—and agents give it away in interviews and on social media outlets like Twitter.

Asking myself these questions and targeting the right people led me to the perfect agent for OH BOY: Tina Wexler, with ICM Partners. She represents nonfiction and humor, works for an agency that is well known for its TV/film development department, was accepting new clients and has a young son. After some email correspondence and one amazing phone call, it was clear that she was the agent for me (and, thankfully, she felt I was a fit with her as well). It was and is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a writer. Hands down.

Good luck with your agent search!

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

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19 thoughts on “4 Things to Consider When Researching Literary Agents

  1. Mary Sadler

    I have grovelled my knees to the bone at various and numerous agents, without avail. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they realise that basically they are dependent on us writers and it should be a symbiotic relationship, not a subservient one (on the part of authors) as it is at present.

  2. Marie Rogers

    #1 and #2 are no-brainers (or should be) but I admit I’ve been guilty of magical and/or clueless thinking at times. Contract negotiations — now that’s something important to consider. Finding an agent who is a good fit is probably the best advice I’ve heard on this topic. By the way, I find it interesting that folks like you who are in the business still struggle with the same issues we commoners encounter.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Publishing is a hard business. I can tell you that all the editors on the WD staff are writers as well, and we dish the advice to help the writing community (and we are also enthusiastic members of that community). 🙂

      Online Editor

  3. Katie

    Hi Brian,

    I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all the advice you give in your articles. Someday, I hope to be able to tell you that your experience has helped me to land my own agent/editor/publisher.

    My Dad heard an interview you did on the radio and loved it, so I would very much like to win a copy of your book for him. Your blog posts remind me of him a lot, and I know he would enjoy reading OH BOY immensely (and I would too). He’s a veteran at raising girls (myself and my two baby sisters), but your book would be going to a loving home. I realize your choosing your winner randomly — I just had to say it anyway.

    Thanks again.

  4. Honiilove

    I am a “newbie” writer who has kept my musings on cocktail napkins, every piece of torn paper from anything close, post-it’s, and tissue paper, for the last 20 years. It’s now or never to share my writings. I need quick and concise information from writers. I like your personality and the warmth which shows in your picture.
    Thanks for the information shared with the writing community.

  5. Wendy

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks so much for all the great advice! I’ll definitely keep it in mind when I’m at the exciting stage of looking for an agent.

    I already have the kindle version of your book, but would absolutely love, I mean LOVE, an actual living, breathing, cuddle worthy, make-a-display-case-for, autographed copy of your book. It would definitely be one of my prized possessions! Crossing my fingers that I’ll be one of the fab five winners. 🙂

    Hi-fives from Maui,
    Wendy (@Gr8fulGirl11)

    P.S. I haven’t finished your book yet, but attempted to read a couple of chapters while on the treadmill the other day. That was a bad idea. I laughed so hard that I stumbled, fell off, broke my jaw, sprained my wrist, and twisted my ankle. No biggie though, I just kept on reading, and the excessive laughter numbed the pain.

    P.P.S. That didn’t really happen … I just stumbled and nearly fell off. Had you worried there for a minute though, huh? So sorry.

      1. Wendy

        Anytime! You’re very deserving of those kind words. :o) And just for you, I’ll risk reading your book on the treadmill again. There’s a pretty good chance that it’ll prompt at least one of those injuries, or maybe a more desirable one, like excessive-laughing-induced mouth cramps … that’s the injury I’m voting for (fingers crossed). Actually, I think I might have early onset of that condition already–without the use of a treadmill. I’ll keep you posted.


  6. Dave Benneman

    Thanks Michael,
    I read your post all the time. You are providing some great information and I always find it time well spent. I’ve read dozens of books on getting published. The thing they all seem to have in common is, the Authors have published non fiction. whats a fiction guy to do with all this great information. Some of it of course applies across the board, but in the end the timeliness and topic of non fiction seems to pave the way.

    Dave Benneman

  7. sassy

    Brian, I appreciate and look forward to reading all your articles. Thank you. The “hitch” to your free offer is that I am a grandma to a teenage girl who lives out-of-state. My “children” are two grown-up “guys.” How honest is that! Better to give to a young couple who need your advice.

    But, I like your writing and your advice so much, just wanted to let you know. I was a too busy mom to get deep into my writing long before the internet and computers. Love both. I was born too soon (sigh).

    Good luck on your book and your promotion. 🙂


  8. Michael G-G

    Like the publisher, I like the writing style of your blog, Brian. I’d also like to win your book.

    Hence, to give myself a leg-up, I’ve tweeted about the giveaway. I’m on Twitter as @MGMafioso.


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