How Do You Find a Literary Agent?

One of the most common questions I hear from unpublished authors is “How do I find a literary agent?”

The question means different things in different contexts, of course. Sometimes the author wants to know about the query process; other times, they actually mean “how do I do the research?” Today, we’re looking at yet another variation on the theme:

Where should authors look to learn who appropriate literary agents are, when investigating who to query?

This might seem like a simple question to people who’ve been around a while, but many authors don’t know how to identify good agents to research. Let’s look at a few ways authors can learn about literary agents – who they are, and how to query them:

1. Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents (Print Edition and Blog).

Writers Digest is a trustworthy source for publishing industry information. Every year, Writers Digest publishes a new edition of the Guide to Literary Agents in print and ebook editions. Also, the Guide to Literary Agents Blog (written by Chuck Sambuchino) offers great information about agents and the publishing business. Both the book and the blog are great places to learn about professional literary agents, their query guidelines, and the types of books they represent.

2. Attending Writers Conferences – a great way to meet & learn about agents.

Many literary agents attend writers’ conferences every year, to speak on panels and to hear pitches from authors. Attending a conference gives writers a chance to listen to agents and to chat with them face to face.  Conference workshops and panels are a great way to learn what specific agents are looking for & to gain general industry knowledge.

A bonus: Conference brochures and websites post agents’  biographies and wish lists, making them valuable research tools, even if you can’t attend the conference.

3. Search for “literary agents” on Twitter (but do your research, too).

A Twitter search for “literary agent” (no hashtag) will bring up a list of accounts–many of which belong to legitimate literary agents, but be careful. Always verify Twitter results with an independent search of watchdog websites like Absolute Write, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors and the Writers’ Digest Guide to Literary Agents. Anyone can call himself or herself a literary agent. Before you query, make sure the individual is a legitimate, non-fee-charging professional.

4. Other websites that list literary agents – but beware the ones that want to sell you services. 

Publishers’ Marketplace, QueryTracker, and similar websites also contain lists of literary agents. However, some of these sites are more reliable than others–beware the ones that exist to sell paid services rather than to provide information. You DO NOT need a paid service to help you query agents–and in many cases, paid query services do more harm than good. Paid query or “agent search agencies” don’t actually provide any service or information an author can’t do or find on his or her own, and agents can tell when a query is an auto-generated “query company” form, and they don’t like them.

5. Word of mouth, and acknowledgements sections of books similar to your own.

Most authors thank their literary agents, by name, in the acknowledgements sections of their published works. Find published books similar to your manuscript or style, and check the acknowledgments for the agent’s name. Then, head to the next place to do research…

6. The Literary Agents’ Own Websites. (Note: cross-check against industry watchdog lists to avoid scams.)

While agency websites may not help you find other agents to query (read the website to learn if the agency follows a “no from one means no from all” policy – some do), it will help you learn more about the agents who work there, and the agency’s query guidelines too.

Other methods of researching and identifying literary agents do exist, but these are a few of the best ones to get you started. 

A lot to take in! Here’s today’s seahorse palate cleanser, little Weeble, who’s often as curious about the camera as I am about his antics:

16D20 Weeble

If you’re looking for an agent, tell me: which of these have you tried? And if you have an agent, did one of these help you identify her (or him)?

2 thoughts on “How Do You Find a Literary Agent?

  • April 21, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I was introduced to an agent in the early days of AOL by a friend. It seemed a magical time ~ flew to CA to meet him ~ with only an inch of copies of emails. He said he didn’t see ONE book ~ he saw Three or Four. He asked me to return home, write a 3 chapter synopsis and he’d begin shopping my book.

    My husband of the time became jealous and suspicious and the book never got written. It has always been a sense of loss more than the divorce that followed. Twenty years later, I still miss the book that came alive but was never born.

    • June 4, 2016 at 11:38 am

      I’m so sorry to hear that you never followed through – but could you do it now? It might be too late for that agent, but not for the book!

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