Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are…
By Sabine Berlin
Last week we looked at why an agent is an important resource for the serious writer. Now let’s get down to the business of finding that agent. Great-Aunt Patsy may have a bridge partner who loves to read, but that doesn’t mean she would make a great agent. There are many more legitimate ways of finding your perfect fit, if you only know where to look.
1. There’s a website for that.
Remember that pesky tool that had you reading about royal babies and perfect brownie recipes when you should have been getting in your daily word count? It can now be your best friend. The Internet is full of sites dedicated to tracking down your dream agent. A few favorites:
- Manuscript Wish List is a website where agents and editors can update their own listings for what kinds of manuscripts they’re looking for. Each agent’s or editor’s page automatically links to their #MSWL tweets. Super cool!
- Pitch Wars is a volunteer-run mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor and help them prep for a pitching contest to get their agent (#pitmad).
- literaryrambles.com is a FREE website filled with contests, interviews with agents, book reviews, and so much more.
- querytracker.net has a FREE portion as well as a paid one. Here you can find agents for your genre, track to whom you do and don’t want to send, and see who reps whom.
- publishersmarketplace.com is a paid subscription that is worth its weight in gold. Use it to see what book deals are forthcoming and who made them.
- Twitter is great for following agents in whom you’re interested in. Get the whole scoop on what they’re doing, what they’re looking for, and when they’re looking for it.
- There is a new source called Authors Seeking Agents Wish List where authors can pitch their work. Agents and publishers can review the pitches and comment on the posts to let the authors know they’d like to see more.
- Sarah Hawthorn (@VelociSarah) has a great Twitter thread in which she lists many other important traditional-publishing / agent related resources. Check it out here.
2. Know your market and who’s repping it.
Figure out who your audience will be and look for books that fall in that genre. Your main character may spend half the book searching for his missing shoe, but that doesn’t necessarily make your book a mystery. Go to the bookstore and check out the section headings. Browse a few of the books in each category. Where does yours fit in? Is your book a mystery, a romance, or perhaps a fantasy? What is the key element of your book, and what is going to make people buy it? Don’t be misled—after all, there’s a fun love story between Han Solo and Princess Leia in Star Wars, but that doesn’t mean it’s a romance.You’ll probably also have to do online and how-to book research to figure out exactly how to define your book’s genre and category.
Another thing to consider is the age group to whom you’re marketing. If an adult is telling the story, it is not a YA or middle-grade book. That’s important to distinguish, because the lines dividing these two are diverse and can affect whether your book is placed in the children’s, YA, or adult section of a bookstore. There is even an up-and-coming category, New Adult, for those meddlesome twenty-year-old protagonists. Once you know your genre / category, head back to the bookstore and find your perfect section. Most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgments section of their book, so grab a pen and make your list.
3. Check the agent out.
So you’ve checked out QueryTracker and made a list of agents who claim they’re interested in your genre. Now go to the source. Check out the agent’s website to verify that the secondhand information you gleaned was correct. And while you’re there, check the agent out. Does the agent actually sell—frequently and for decent money—the type of books you write? There’s a difference between representing a genre and actually selling what’s being represented. I admit that once, in my haste to get my query out, I sent it to an agent that was spotlighted on a fairly reputable blog site. It wasn’t until I got the request for a full that I really checked the agency out, only to find that no one anywhere could connect the agency with a single book deal in the past twenty-five years. That’s not all: the agency wanted an exclusive for several months (meaning I couldn’t send the manuscript to anyone else during that time). I escaped disaster within an inch, but it would have saved me time had I gotten the facts earlier.
Make sure the agents your pursue check out ethically as well. Are they part of A.A.R. and safely off any watch lists? You can find those sites at the bottom of our part 1 article of this series, Why You Need an Agent.
4. And the winner is …
Contests are a great way to get your foot in the door and your name out there. Winning any type of writing contest is a boost to your query. To be able to say “I took x place” means that someone liked your book. Especially consider agent contests, which you’ll find on Twitter and blogs like Literary Rambles. In the last year, two authors in my writer’s group have either landed an agent or are in the process of being considered by several agents—all thanks to spending ten minutes to enter a contest.
5. Put a face to that name.
Unless you live in the middle of Siberia, chances are there is a convention near you. Cons (conferences) and literary panels are everywhere. Big ones like WorldCon or the World Fantasy Convention hit the road, but even local cons provide good ways to meet agents and to network with other authors—who can someday introduce you to their fabulous agents. (Many cons even let you to pay for a private pitch session, so you don’t have to corner an agent during his or her forty seconds of down time.)
To find cons that are hosting agents and publishers relevant to your genre, check out your local library or look online. We have a list of them here. You don’t have to spend a fortune going to major writing conventions; check out those with small fees—or even ones that are free. Some tips to remember:
- Look professional—don’t hit up an agent when you’re dressed in cutoffs and a tank top (or a costume). Think of this as a job interview. You want to make a good first impression.
- Have a one-line elevator pitch ready so you don’t stumble over your words or talk for hours. Agents have limited time. Those who ask about your book want to be wowed right away, not an hour and a half later.
- Go where the agents are. If they go into the hotel bar or one of the party rooms at a con, be there. You don’t need to be a drinker; just introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. Chances are if they like you, they may ask to see what you’re working on. Whatever you do, though, don’t be pushy.
Do This Now
- Figure out your book’s genre (and category if you can) and the age group of your target audience.
- Make a list of agents with whom you would love to work.
- Check out each agent and make sure you follow each one’s specific guidelines for submitting.
- Find a con and get registered.
- Be prepared to query or pitch by following our how-to guides: Writing a Killer Query and Pitching to Agents.
Now that you have a name (or sixty), go out there and get those agents. Wow them with your query or pitch. Dazzle them with your words. But most important, submit, submit, submit. Because one thing’s for certain: you will never find the perfect agent unless you hit SEND.
It’s your turn! Tell us if you’ve tried any of the tips above and your thoughts on staying positive during the wait. Already got that perfect agent? Share with us how you found him or her.
Do you happen to know of a site(s) for contest information for other than children’s books? I’d love to enter contests, just don’t know where/how to find them.
Great information on finding an agent.
The League of Utah Writers does one. Amazon usually does a writing contest. Probably the best way to find contests are just to Google it on a regular basis and see what pops up, but read the guidelines carefully. You may not want to sign away your first rights to the company hosting the contest, but then again maybe you do. Usually agent blogs and Twitter have some of the more reputable contests.
Hi Debra. Here are some more good ones:
Glimmer Train publications does one
Writer’s Digest Magazine does really good ones:
I think Writers Market (the big book that comes out every year) also lists thousands of contests, though I haven’t looked in the newest one. Sounds like it would be a good idea for us to send an email to our subscribers with a top-10-find-contests list. We’ll get on that.
As a ps to that, many writing conferences have first chapter contests and things of that nature. LDStorymakers does one, for instance.
The League of Utah writer’s contest is in June, winners announced in Sept. The Utah Arts council contest closes in June as well.
There are lots of agent contests. There’s one going on tomorrow called Pitch Madness. http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/2013/08/pitch-madness-submission-rules-and.html
Thanks! I just sent my pitch in!
I have a couple of questions:
1. Is Amazon still hosting their Breakthrough Novel Contest?
2. A few years ago I had 5 novels published by traditional publishers under a pen name. My newly complete novel is in a different genre, and I want to enter it in a contest or two to see how it is received. Most of the contests I read about are for unpublished writers or writers in a specific ethnic group or from a specific geographical area. Can you help me find some contests into which I might enter my new novel.
The last year they did it was 2014, I think (from what a well-published Amazon guru told me). It was sort of replaced by Kindle Scout, and also Amazon has several traditional publishing imprints now. Have you tried the Writer’s Digest contests? They have several every year and I think they have a novel one.