Researching Agents: 4 Steps for Identifying & Connecting with the Right Literary Agents

Researching literary agents feels daunting, but so is writing a book! And you’ve already done that. You definitely can create a list of agents who should be a good fit for your work. Here's  how.
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by Leslie Zampetti

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You’ve written a book. Revised and polished it with the help of your critique group. Composed the perfect query letter. Now it’s time to send it off to every agent open to queries, right?

Wrong.

Sending your query blindly is like playing pin-the-tail on the donkey. You might get lucky and get a request or two, but more likely you’re just going to get rejections.

Do your homework first.

Create a list of agents who seem like a good fit; this increases your chances of getting requests to see at least part of your manuscript. And increases your chances of getting an agent to offer you a request for revision or helpful feedback – or even better, representation.

Researching literary agents feels daunting, but so is writing a book! And you’ve already done that. You definitely can create a list of agents who should be a good fit for your work. Here's how.

1. Identify your genre and category.

First, determine the genre and category of your manuscript. Easy! You should have already done this for your query letter. Keep it simple: pick one genre (two at most) and one age category. Your manuscript may cross over genres or audiences, but that’s for another time. For example, “TITLE is adult paranormal romance.”

2. Choose your resources.

Next, determine which resources you’ll use. There are many excellent directories and guides to find agents, both online and in print. The best, most current ones will require a paid subscription. Can’t afford a subscription? Check with your local library. Most will have access to at least some of these resources for free. (If you do choose to use print resources, make sure you use the most recent version.)

Some of the best resources:

There are many other directories of literary agents out there. Other good sources are agent bios for conferences, pitch slams, and query contests. And one underused resource is available in your favorite books: check the acknowledgments. Your focus should be on what the agent represents and less on what deals they’ve made at this stage.

Join us at the Agent One-on-One: First Ten Pages, an online boot camp by literary agents that combines instruction on writing effective queries and opening pages with personalized critiques.

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3. Make sure the agent is a good fit.

Third, verify that the agent represents the genre and category of your manuscript. Directories can be broad, and agents usually have specific tastes. For example, an agent may represent urban fantasy but not epic fantasy, or adult sci-fi but not YA sci-fi. Check the agency’s website for an agent’s profile, search for interviews under their name, and look at their social media profile, if they have one. Not being on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean the agent isn’t a good agent; it just means they don’t use social media.

While you’re verifying the agent’s preferences, you should also verify that they are legitimate. Do they work for the agency they claim to? Who do they represent? Publishers Marketplace is an excellent resource for this, but you should be aware many reputable agents do not always report all their deals (and new agents may have deals that haven’t been reported yet). Another excellent resource is the AAR website. If an agent isn’t listed in either of these resources, at least verify that the agency they work for is listed.

4. Tailor your query to that agent by learning more about them.

Finally, target your query. Liked an interview with them? Say so. Enjoy their podcast? Say so. Found out they’re looking for a YA epic fantasy about twin princesses dueling to the death on Manuscript WishList, and that’s a perfect match? Say so. But if you don’t find specific information, don’t worry. Save your query space for information about your manuscript.

Once you’ve made your list, follow the agents on social media. This not only gives you a sense of what they’re looking for, but also who they are. Will you enjoy working with them? You need to trust, like, and communicate well with each other. Know what you want from your agent: some are hands-on and editorial, some are not. Some negotiate foreign and film rights in-house at their agency, some partner with other agents to do so. Newer agents have fewer clients and sales, but they often have more time to invest in you than an established agent with lots of high-profile clients.

Now you’re ready to send off those queries!

About Leslie Zampetti

Leslie joined Dunham Literary in June 2016. Previously, she was an intern for The Bent Agency. A former librarian with over 20 years’ experience in special, public, and school libraries, Leslie has cataloged rocket launch videos and Lego rocket ship models, presented SEC documents and story times, and negotiated with organizations from Lexis-Nexis to the PTA. Her experience as a librarian has given her a distinct perspective on publishing and readers. A writer herself, Leslie is very familiar with querying from both sides of the desk. Leslie graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in English and has a Master’s of Library and Information Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

For information on what she’s seeking, see http://www.dunhamlit.com. You can follow her on Twitter @leslie_zampetti

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