One question that I am often asked by writers is, ‘How do I find an agent?’ In this article I will explain how you can use the internet to find a suitable agent, and suggest tactics you can use to find the best possible agent for your book proposal.
How Do I Find an Agent? — Genre!
Let’s start with that bane of all writers — genre. It is essential to understand that the traditional publishing world is dominated by genre. Book shops buy and stock book by genre, publishers publish by genre and agent specialise in genres.
Your first step finding an agent is to determine your book’s genre. Many writers are reluctant to pigeonhole their book into a single genre, and I understand. However, if you are going to secure an agent you must play their game and tightly define your book as part of a single genre.
A quick way to define your book’s genre is to think of five or six books you think are like your book. Then mosey over to Amazon and see what ‘category’ they are placing these books in. Chances are your book will be in the same genre. A word of warning here. Amazon allows writers/publisher to classify books into more than one category. This means that the books on your list may well be listed in numerous categories. If this is the case, you are looking for a common theme amongst the titles you have picked. Below is a list of books genres that we use at BubbleCow:
Fiction Genre List
- Action and Adventure
- Chick Lit
- Commercial Fiction
- Family Saga
- Gay and Lesbian
- General Fiction
- Graphic Novels
- Historical Fiction
- Literary Fiction
- Military and Espionage
- Offbeat or Quirky
- Picture Books
- Religious and Inspirational
- Science Fiction
- Short Story Collections
- Thrillers and Suspense
- Women’s Fiction
- Young Adult
Non-Fiction Genre List
- Art & Photography
- Biography & Memoirs
- Business & Finance
- Celebrity & Pop Culture
- Music, Film & Entertainment
- Cultural/Social Issues,
- Current Affairs & Politics
- Food & Lifestyle
- Gay & Lesbian
- General Non-Fiction
- History & Military
- Home Decorating & Design
- How To
- Humour & Gift Books
- Medical, Health & Fitness
- Nature & Ecology
- Relationship & Dating
- Religion & Spirituality
- Science & Technology
- True Adventure & True Crime
- Women’s Issues
One further point worthy of mention is sub-genres. You may have written a book that could be firmly classified as steam punk. However, you will be hard pushed to find an agent who represents steam punk. In this situation you would be far better classing your book as the parent genre, in this case science fiction. You will find many agents representing science fiction, some of whom will have a passion for steam punk.
How Do I Find an Agent? — Google
Having defined your book’s genre the next step is to sit yourself in front of Google and begin some honest research. The aim here is to produce a list of agents that would be ideal for your book. At this early stage it is important that you include all agents that represent your book genre. You will, at the next stage, start to trim down this list, but for the time being simply include all agents you can find.
For the sake of clarity, I will return to that steam punk book and use science fiction as an example. You need to be searching on phrases such as ‘literary agent [your genre]‘, so for our example this will be ‘literary agent science fiction’. (You can also use phrases such as ‘agent [your genre]‘ or ‘book agent [your genre]‘.)
I am based in the UK and the search of ‘literary agent science fiction’ produced About 1,930,000 results (0.17 seconds)! However, a bit of searching and reading lead me to a list of potential agents.
In reality this list needs to be a long as possible. As I said, at this early stage you are simply looking for agents. The pruning process comes next, so the larger the list the better.
How Do I Find an Agent? — Digging Deep
Having defined your list the next step is to dig into each agency, get a feel for what they do and see if you can reject or promote certain agencies.
The way to do this, at the first stage, is to examine the website for each agency. I would suggest that you are looking for three criteria to promote an agent to the top of your list:
- Activity — what deals have they done in the past?
- Ease of contact — How easy is it to contact them?
- Suitability — Are they representing writers who write similar books to you?
By applying these three criteria to your agents you should be able to reshape your list.
Let’s return to our example. I looked at each of the agents on the list and asked three questions. 1. What deals had they done recently? 2. Could I email them? 3. Who were their writers?
The results were as follows:
1. What deals had they done recently? They had a news section on the site but it had not been updated since 2007. Made me wonder why? Had they not done a deal or were they not updating the site?
2. Could I email them? Yes, but they don’t accept email submissions!
3. Who were their writers? They represent a number of high profile writers including Iain Banks.
Summary: Perhaps difficult to contact but have pedigree.
1. What deals had they done recently? No news section, would need more research.
2. Could I email them? Yes, also had a direct email which was good.
3. Who were their writers? No list of writers. However, seems that represent script and gaming clients. No direct mention of SF.
Summary: Don’t seem ideal for SF, so relegated down the list.
1. What deals had they done recently? Had not been updated since 2009.
2. Could I email them? Yes, but a general info address.
3. Who were their writers? No direct reference to Sf writers. This said they seem to have a wide range of writers from a number of different genres, many of them big hitters.
Summary: Despite no direct reference to SF, the twitter stream on the front page, together with positive vibes, lifts them up the list.
1. What deals had they done recently? Fully updated, with the first entry being an SF novel!
2. Could I email them? Yes, huge caption with personal email on front page. Plus, encourages submission via email.
3. Who were their writers? Sizable list of clients with a number of notable SF writers.
Summary: Ticks all the boxes and jumps to the top of the list.
1. What deals had they done recently? News page was up to date and listed a number of deals.
2. Could I email them? Yes, plus they had a dedicated submission email address.
3. Who were their writers? Didn’t seem to have any big name SF writers, but was a sentence on their site saying they were actively looking for SF.
Summary: Lack of past record with SF goes against them but looked promising.
1. What deals had they done recently? They have a blog on their front page that shows the agency is active.
2. Could I email them? Yes, in fact only accept via email. However, seem to have complex and confusing submission rules.
3. Who were their writers? Good pedigree of SF writers.
Summary: Looks promising, though submission guidelines are slightly off putting.
Having carries out this exercise, I regraded the list as follows:
- First choice — http://www.johnjarrold.co.uk/
- Second choice — http://www.mbalit.co.uk/pages/
- Second choice — http://www.sheilland.co.uk/Sheil_Land_Associates/Welcome.html
- Third choice — http://zenoagency.com/
- Third choice — http://www.miccheetham.com/
- Back up — http://www.marjacq.com/home/home.htm
How Do I Find an Agent? — Digging Deeper
Having constructed your hit list, the next step is to dig a little deeper. You should be looking to build two things — knowledge and contacts.
The search for knowledge will see you trying to gather as much information about the agent/agency as possible. The more you know about an agent the better. For example, you may find that an agent you had dismissed actually has a passion for the genre you write, a fact that would catapult them up your list. On the flipside, you may find an agency is closed for submission, a fact that would see them plummet.
It is always better to approach an agent directly rather then via their general email. If you only have an info@ or submissions@ type email, then you should go out of your way to find their personal email address. You may also find that you are approaching an agency that has more than one agent. In these situation it is essential you find the agent within the agency that is passionate about your genre. This might be a simple job are scanning the websites and seeing which agents represents writers that are similar to you.
Another way to develop deeper understanding it to use social media. Below are a couple of channels you can mine for information:
- Twitter: Many agents run Twitter accounts. These can be good places to get a feel for the agent and the books they like. A bit of careful tweeting can also see you developing a relationship with your target agent.
- LinkedIn: This is a great resource to connect and reach out to agents.
- Google+: New but quickly developing. It is worth checking to see if your target agent is on Google+.
- Facebook: Your target agency might have a fan page, or you agent might even be open the a friend request. However, tread carefully!
At the end of the day, the aim of this stage of the process is to learn as much about your agents before making first contact. This research will help you to understand what makes an agent tick.
How Do I Find an Agent? — Approaching an Agent
There are two sets of rules for getting published –- those for unpublished writers and those for writers who already have books in print. One of the big secrets that agents, publishers and published writers don’t want you to know is that you can skip the slush pile and pitch your book with just one email.
Let’s all face the reality — agents and publishers make it harder than it needs to be for writers to submit their work. They all have their systems and submission guidelines for unsolicited book pitches. Yet no matter how closely a writer follows these guidelines the chances are that their book will end up on the slush pile. Unfortunately most books that get published don’t come from the slush pile. Agents and publishers prefer writers they know, writers with a proven track record.
This means that you as a new writer are up against it from the start. So what’s the answer?
If you are going to get your work in front of the right people you need to start fighting and the place to start is with an email. Forget all the guff you have heard about not approaching agents directly. Just do it.
So here is an outline for your single email book pitch. The key is to keep it compact and to NOT include any attached documents. At first contact keep it simple.
Paragraph 1: This is your elevator pitch — you need just a few lines to sell your book. It is essential that these are concise and to the point. You just need to give the agent a feel for your narrative; this will give them an indication as to whether your title is something that will fit into their current list.
Paragraph 2: More details about your book. Remember to be concise and to the point you need to include the following:
- The book’s genre
- The word count
- An indication of the market with one or two representative titles
- An Indication of if the book is written and if not when it will be finished
Paragraph 3: This is about you as a writer. Include a brief biography, containing any relevant information such as previous published titles.
I absolutely want to know about you. I love pithy bios because it tells me a bit about the person behind the words. I don’t care if you’re the president of your dart club unless your book is about darts.
Paragraph 4: This is a loose outline of your book’s plot — just remember to keep it brief.
How Do I Find an Agent? — Mindset
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of approaching an agent is to remember that the power is in your hands. You have the book; without your book they can’t sell to a publisher and make money. Agents need writers more than writers need agents. If your book is good enough, with commercial potential, a number of agents will be interested in representing you.
One way to think of this, is that you are interviewing the agents, not the other way around, Your pitch should be confident. It is essential that you are not apologetic about your book. Remember, until proven otherwise you are the next bestseller.
The power is in your hands!
How Do I Find an Agent? — Free Help with Your Book Proposal
In 2001 I wanted to be a writer. At the time I was working for author Terry Deary (of Horrible Histories fame) as a researcher. I showed Terry some of my work and he encouraged me to try and get it published. However, a bucket full of rejection letters later and I was left disillusioned and ready to give up. I went back to Terry and asked him what was the key to his success. It turns out there was no secret, just hard work and (here it comes) a great book proposal.
I knew that if i was to build any kind of a career as a writer I would need to crack the book proposal code. Since that day I have been obsessed with decoding the book proposal, for both fiction and non-fiction, and over the years I have talked to literally hundreds of writers, publishers and agents about what makes a great book pitch.
Today my dream has come true. I have not one, but more than twenty books in print by a number of publishers including Hachette, one of the biggest publishers in the world. I also have an agent (Andrew Lownie).
However, I did nothing special. I have no special book proposal writing skills, and I learned nothing that you can’t also learn and apply to your book proposals.
I have written a FREE guide that is the accumulation of the knowledge that I have gathered in the process of becoming a professional writer and publishing more than twenty books. If you follow the guideline I set out in the newsletter you will learn how to write a book proposal that instantly appeals to both agents and publishers. It will also teach you how to avoid writing a book proposal that fails to answer all the relevant questions an agent or publisher may ask about your book.