Is There a List of the 20 'Best' Agents?

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Q. Just bought your 2009 Guide from Amazon and am reading through it. I'd love to see a listing of 20 agents who have enough "clout" so that they would get the attention of a publisher; a publisher who'd say, "Well, if this agent thinks a book is good, I'm going to give it a serious look." Could you provide such a list?
- Meyer

A. Unfortunately, Meyer, no such magic list exists.
Let's examine this concept of a list for a second. If we were to compile a list of the 20 "biggest" agents making the "biggest" deals, that list would be of no value to you. A huge agent in DC or NYC who is selling multi-million-dollar celebrity biographies is not open for cold querying, so you can't contact them. What you should be looking for is an agent who has a track record of sales in the category/genre you write. Anybody who has a good track record obviously can get publishers' attention, so you know you're in good hands.
Also, I should say that list of sales is important, but it isn't the end-all-be-all factor here. You want to find someone who likes your writing, who is on the same page with you career-wise, and who you can get along with for years to come.

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Want more on this subject?

  • There is no list of the BEST agents, but there is a list of the WORST (scammers), and it's on Writer Beware's site.
  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!