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  • Jess Lawrence

5 ways to find a literary agent

As of writing this, I am in the query trenches. Have been for five months, although I haven’t sent nearly enough queries out in that time because… well, because life gets in the way sometimes and my distract-myself-from-querying WIP got really distracting. Go figure.

But anyway, the point is that I’m querying right now, and if you’re querying too then I’m sure you’ve faced the same problem I have – how do you find a literary agent?

There’s so much to talk about when it comes to querying, and there will be upcoming posts about things like how to write a query letter and synopsis, but for now I want to focus on this particular question. I want to cover how you can build up a spreadsheet of 20, 50, 100 agents that you can query.

Sound daunting? I’m not going to lie, it’s not a small task and you’ll need to space it out over a few days, weeks or months. But it will be worth it, trust me.

So without further ado, let’s get into this.

1. Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook

Photograph of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2019

For anyone just starting out on their querying journey, this book is a trove of useful information. A new edition comes out every year, with an updated directory, and there is also the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for writers of MG and YA.

To give you an idea of how extensive this book is, these are the categories my edition (2019) is split into:

  • Newspapers and magazines

  • Books

  • Poetry

  • Television, film and radio

  • Theatre

  • Literary agents

  • Art and illustration

  • Societies, prizes and festivals

  • Self-publishing

  • Resources for writers

  • Law and copyright

  • Finance for writers and artists

For each category there are listings for people to contact within that niche (ie. newspaper editors, indie presses, agents etc.) and lots of helpful articles covering various topics from how to write short stories to getting your self-published book stocked on the high-street.

Honestly, there is no end to the value you can get from this book. It can be quite pricey to buy outright, but it’s often on sale on Amazon or you could find a copy in your local library.

2. QueryTracker

At the time I’m writing this post, query tracker has 1625 agents listed in their database. Each agent has a profile that clearly outlines their address, website, contact details, and how they prefer to receive submissions.

Not only can you find agents on here, you can also track your queries. You can add the date you sent it, the date you received a response, and even what that response was. The great thing about filling all of this out is that it helps other querying writers, too. Every time you mark a response from an agent, it updates their reports, meaning that you can see how often a particular agent sends form responses, personalised rejections, acceptances etc. It’s useful information to have when you’re doing your research.

It’s not the simplest interface to use, but with some practice you can suss out the basics, which is all you really need. There is a paid version that gives you access to all sorts of juicy data, but I’ve not stumped up for that yet and don’t intend to either. The free version is good enough.

3. Twitter

You could simply search ‘Literary Agent’ in Google and trawl through the list of results, but another (and I think better) option is to do this on Twitter. Head to the search bar and type in ‘Literary Agent’, then on the results page you can click ‘People’ to find accounts with that title in their bio. If you’re looking for an agent in your country, you can also filter by ‘Near you’, to limit your results.

Click through to a couple of the profiles and see whether they’re a good fit for you and your book. The reason I think this is slightly better than a Google search is that Twitter shows you more of the agent’s personality than their website might. You can see what kind of content they engage in, which authors they represent who have upcoming releases, and sometimes they will share their manuscript wish list (MSWL).

Screenshot of Twitter search with the search term 'Literary agent' and the 'Search filters' box highlighted showing where you can filter by people or location.

4. Books/authors you like

I read a book I really enjoyed not too long ago and, looking in the acknowledgements, I was able to find the agent who represented the author. If you can’t find this information printed in the book anywhere, try looking the author up on Twitter – more often than not, they will mention who they’re rep’d by in their bio.

This is a really good way to find agents because you will know off the bat that they like the kind of work you’ve written (assuming your manuscript is a similar style and genre). What’s more, when you come to querying said agent, you could also use the book you were reading as a comp title to show that you have done your research into what the agent is looking for. Bonus points!

5. PublishersMarketplace

I don’t have a great deal to say about this one because A) not a lot of their content is available to non-paying subscribers and B) it seems predominantly focused towards the US market, which isn’t my angle.

However, if you’re in that area, it’s certainly worth having a look because it is one of the largest directories of agents and publishers, and it also lists the deals that are underway so you can keep up with industry news. It’s $25 per month, so not cheap, but I’m willing to bet that it’s more than worth the cost.

Building your spreadsheet

Now you've built up a list of agents you'd like to query, how should you keep track of them? Like I mentioned before, QueryTracker is good for this, but not every agent is on there so it helps to keep your own records, too.

Personally, I think a spreadsheet is a great way to track your querying journey because it’s super easy to edit and move things around. So far, my spreadsheet includes the following headings:

  • Agency

  • Target agent – There are usually a few agents at one agency, so make sure you research the best fit. It’s often recommended not to send to more than one agent at the same agency.

  • Email

  • Location – I did query a couple of US agents via PitMad.

  • Version – I’m up to Version 6 of my query letter.

  • Date sent

  • Stated response time – This is usually between 4–12 weeks.

  • Expected response date – I track this so I know when to mark it as timed out.

  • Response – Here I enter things like timed out, form rejection, personalised, request for full etc.

  • Notes – If they liked a PitMad pitch or they say you should chase after X weeks I’ll jot a note down here so I don’t forget.

You can include whatever headings you want. Track the information you feel is important and even do some colour-coding so you can see how you’re faring at a glance. It’s entirely customisable and nobody but you ever has to see this document.

Are your query letter, synopsis and first pages up to scratch? Find out more about query package editing.

Casting a wide net

Querying is hard. I mean, probably harder than writing the actual novel. You will get rejections and some of them will be particularly crushing because, even though you tell yourself not to, you’ll pin your hopes on a really promising agent and it won’t work out.

The trick with querying, however, is not to give up too soon. There are a lot of factors that play into your success, but it is partly a numbers game, too. You have to be ready to send your novel out to dozens of agents, and that is why it’s important to build up a big list of potentials.

Now be brave, fellow writer. It’s a tough road, but you don’t walk it alone.



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