5 Steps for Researching Literary Agents

Studying_Scott_AkermanBy Cecilia Lewis

So, you’ve finished (and revised and polished) your manuscript. You’ve written (and revised and polished) your query letter. Now, who should you send it to? How do you know which agents are legitimate? How do you find agents that represent your genre? With so many possible agents out there, beginning your research can feel overwhelming.

It takes time and effort to research, but it is worth it! Here are the steps I used during my own successful query process. Not all of these tips will be right for everyone, but I found them invaluable for conducting my own research.

  1. Organize your research

One of the first things you will need to do is decide how to organize your research. How will you keep track of each agent? Personally, I used a detailed spreadsheet with columns for each agent’s name, agency, the genres they rep, authors they rep, how many clients/sales they have, submission guidelines, average response times, links to their website/social media/PM page, and other information. Once I actually started querying, I also used this spreadsheet to mark which dates I sent out queries to which agents and what their responses were. I also grouped agents at the same agency together, since you can only query one agent per agency. Later, as I tried to narrow down my search, I used color-coding to mark which agents I wanted to prioritize or eliminate.

Whether you’re using a spreadsheet, another program, or simply a notebook, make sure you know how you’re going to organize your research before you start, so you’ll be ready to jot notes down during the process.

  1. Build your list

The next step, of course, is to start finding agents who represent your genre. A great place to start is the searchable database AgentQuery. Search for agents by genre and category and jot down the names of anyone who reps yours. Another great resource is QueryTracker, which has extensive information on each agent. You can also read comments from other queries to gauge current response times and use the Who Reps Whom page to find agents by their client’s name. These sites will also mark whether an agent is closed to queries, but be sure to double-check that information on their website. And of course, Publisher’s Marketplace is the place to find sales information on each agent (though it’s important to remember that not every deal/sale is reported to PM). If you’re still looking for names to add to your list, try social media. Twitter is a great place to find literary agents you might otherwise have missed. But be sure they rep your genre!

  1. Make sure they’re reputable

You don’t want to waste too much time on an agent who isn’t legitimate, and there are definitely some scams to be wary of. Cross reference your list against Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware to find out which agents and agencies are reputable. If something looks questionable, be sure to mark it down in your notes and eliminate anyone who seems fraudulent or charges nonstandard fees.

  1. Get more detailed

Now that you have a long list of reputable agents, it’s time to get down to the details. Check out each agent’s website or blog (most will have one, and those who don’t will probably have info on their agency’s site). This is not only crucial for finding their updated submission guidelines, but also for getting a sense of each agent’s personality. You might find that you connect with some agents more than others! You’ll want to check out their clients’ books, as well, to get a sense of their tastes. Also be sure to check out each agent’s PM page, if you haven’t yet, and any of their social media accounts.

And if you want to get really detailed, try searching for them on Absolute Write, which is a fantastic forum for all stages of the writing process as well as querying. I also recommend checking out Literary Rambles, which is one of my favorite resources. The blog posts extensive and informative profiles on dozens of agents, with links to other relevant pages and interviews. You won’t find every agent on LR, which is why it’s not necessarily the best place to start building your list. But it is a fantastic place for gathering more info and maybe adding a few more names.

  1. Narrow it down

Now that you’ve collected all of this information on each agent, it’s time to narrow down your list. You want to query widely, but don’t waste time on agents you know aren’t a good fit. By this point you should already have eliminated anyone who isn’t legitimate or doesn’t rep your genre. Next, take a look at agents who may not be the best fit for you and your book, for whatever reason that may be. Keep mind that you should probably avoid anyone who reps a book that’s extremely similar to yours. Plan to query only one agent per agency and eliminate the rest. Once your list is down to a manageable size, break it down into even smaller batches, deciding which agents you’d like to query first.

What do you think? Are there any steps or resources I’ve missed? How do you like to manage your research? Let me know in comments!

Want a professional evaluation of your query letter, manuscript, or other submission materials before you start querying? Check out my Services page for more info on working with me!

This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For information about submitting to publishing houses, literary agencies, and more, check out the other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts!

Related Links:

-10 Tips for Querying Agents

-The Querying Process 101: Links and Resources

-10 Tips for Writing a Query Letter

-Query Letters 101: Links and Resources


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