Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How To Find The Right Literary Agent--A Quick Guide

I have a YA/MG/(fill in the blank) manuscript. Who's your agent?

I get this question a lot now, and the answer is more difficult than you'd think. Not because my agent is top-secret (he's Stephen Barbara at Foundry, and yes, he's awesome), but because finding an agent should be more involved than asking for a name. And I didn't always know that either, so I thought I would give you the five-minute answer here.

How you should select your agent:

1. Does (s) he have the same vision for your manuscript (and career) as you do?

This seems like an easy one, and "I don't care, as long as (s)he sells it!" is not the right answer. You'll be doing edits, changing plot lines, characters--your agent will also be your editorial adviser. Make sure YOU know what you want your work-in-progress--and your career as a writer--to be.

2. Do you communicate well with each other?

This is a big one, and I didn't get that until I worked with some people who just didn't communicate like I do. I like straight answers, directness, specificity. Just tell me what stinks. Some people like an agent who talks in broad terms, maybe you're looking for lots of small talk or weekly updates. Think about all this before you sign with an agent. Ask questions. Talk a while, and ask yourself if you're both on the same page.

3. Has (s)he sold manuscripts in your genre?

You need an agent who has the connections to editors, and having sold manuscripts is the real test here. If you go with a brand-spankin' new agent, make sure they're with an agency that has those connections. See the resources below on how to get this information.

Ask your prospective agent where (s)he thinks your manuscript might fit (publishing house, editor). Better yet, do your own homework, and know who publishes what in your genre.

4. What agency is the agent with?

You want an agent who has access to other agents, to sell foreign rights, movie rights, etc. If the agent is a solo op, ask how (s)he handles this.

These are just a few questions I would ask. Think of your own, and add them to the list. You'll be working closely with your agent, so make sure (s)he is the right agent for you.

Here are some resources online, so you can research stuff:

Publishers Marketplace: Agents get to design their own page here, so you know you're getting the info about submitting, etc. straight from them. You can subscribe to get access to Publishers Marketplace's deals database (see #3 above).

Agentquery: Great for a quick database, but make sure you check all info against the agent's website.

Preditors and Editors: To make sure your agent didn't sell swamp land in Florida last week. Simply check the name against their A-to-Z database.

Jacketflap: A hub for kidlit writers, editors and agents. Vet any agent name against the sources above, because remember: anyone can call themselves an agent.

AAR: Association of Authors' Representatives--a regulating organization that's all about protecting your rights. Extra points if your agent or their agency belongs to AAR, because that means they'll adhere to their canon of ethics. Belonging to AAR comes with a price tag, though, so I wouldn't rule out an agent based on their AAR membership alone.

Google: The Google is your friend, people. You can find agent interviews, authors gushing about their agent, authors moaning about their horrible agent and how they were dropped--oh, and you would've found the name of my agent, too. Use search engines to find the books your prospective agents has sold, so you can reference them in your query letter and sound smart. Use the internet, y'all. It's the lazy person's library.

That's it, in a nutshell.

Anyone have resources or advice to share?


  1. Great post and excellent advice!

  2. I don't know if you have seen the posts about the Liebster Award, but I am nominating your blog for one. You can see the post at I have loved mysteries since I was a child so I think the writing you do is important. I also believe I can learn from your posts even though I don't write in the same genre.

  3. How cool is this Liebster award! Thank you very much for making me part of your top-five--I'm honored.

    I love all the new blogs that have come from the MNINB platform challenge; I hope to check them all out in the next few weeks (on deadline, so I'm moving a bit slower than usual :-).

    Thanks again (humbled :-)...