Please welcome Holly Jennings back to Enchanted Spark!
If there was one thing I’ve learned from my experiences, as well as those of other writers, finding your agent never happens the way you expect. Still, everyone needs a starting point. The best place is your computer. The internet has been a godsend for writers. We no longer have to pay for copying manuscripts and mailing postage. We can research accepting short story markets with only a few clicks. And for everything cyberspace has done for us, it’s helping us find agents too.
The traditional way of finding an agent is through querying, where you send an agent your query letter and (if requested) a small sample of your writing. But how do you know who wants your letter? Which agents are accepting manuscripts? For which genres? Below are several Internet-savvy ways of honing in on your agent.
Agent Search Engines
Yes, there are actual search engines out there designed to help you comb through a database of active and acquiring agents. Sites like querytracker.net and agentquery.com are free to use and allow multiple combinations of search criteria. For example, if you write fantasy and romance, you can search for agents who represent both. Then, you can also specify agents only in the U.S. Depending on your search perimeters, this can narrow down your agent list to as little as twenty, or even less. These search engines won’t tell you much more than what genres agents are accepting at that specific time, but it is a good place to start, and leads right into the next way to find your agent.
When an agent signs a client, they aren’t looking to sign for just one book. They’re hoping for a career long partnership. This is one of the reasons agents participate in online interviews, blog posts, and forums. Read them. A quick Google search can generate a dozen or more Q&A’s with an agent of your choice. Quite often, the agent will talk about what they’re currently looking for (“more sci-fi, less fantasy”), their dream manuscript (“robot penguins, in space!”), and what is on their no-go list (“dystopian zombie vampires”).
Pitching contests are the newest highway for writers on the road to agentville, and are a personal favorite of mine. In these contests, writers typically submit a short logline or summary of their novel and their first 250 words. The hosts pick out the top entries and post them on their blogs. Agents then compete to read your manuscript. Yes, you read that right. Agents compete over you, not the other way around. Also, since you’re vying against hundreds of entries, not thousands, the chance of getting your work in front of an agent versus traditional querying is much, much higher.
Currently, some of the biggest contests are Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, and PitchMAS. There are several others as well. In fact, there’s one nearly every month and more agents are joining in all the time. This is ultimately how I found my agent, and I hadn’t known about him before the contest. Once I did, I knew he was the right one for me.
Follow them on Twitter
Most agents have a Twitter feed, so it’s worth checking out what types of things they post. There were a few agents I outwardly decided not to query based on their Twitter feed alone. Either we had conflicting views on the literary world, or they had criticized another writer’s query submission in a way I found unprofessional. Whatever an agent decides to post, it can be a good insight for you. Ask yourself: Is this someone I’d want to work with? Is this someone I’d be proud representing my work?
Also on Twitter, there is the popular hashtag #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents use this hashtag to tweet about what they’d like to see in manuscripts. Sometimes they’ll list extremely specific things (“solarpunk airships”) which means your manuscript would have to be very on the nose and ready to submit. However, it gives you an idea of what types of genres that agent generally likes. And their requests aren’t always that specific. Sometimes it’s as simple as “sci-fi with romantic elements.”
One “non-Internet” way you can go about finding your agent is by going to conferences. This is not something I’ve done myself, but I’ve been told it can be nerve-wracking, like going on a dozen job interviews in the same day.
At a conference, you pitch directly to an agent in person. Like, you look them in the face and tell them what your book is about. Ye gods! I know. But if you have an iron stomach and live in a major city, this might be the path for you.
Many agents will turn you down, but you still get one-on-one time with them. Unlike traditional querying, you won’t get a form rejection. They will give you pointers and tell you how you can improve. Imagine if every job interview you went on the employer told you “this is how you can do better.” By the end of the year, you’d be an interviewing connoisseur, a master of the art. Pitching in person can be tough for a writer, especially those who are introverted. But agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and at conferences, they’re practically handing you the keys.
There is no one way or “right way” to find your agent. The internet, and especially Twitter, is a great way for authors to connect to agents, contests, and other writers. Whether you’re a traditionalist and prefer straight querying, or like to experiment with new mediums like contests, the path to your agent will be as unique as the novel you’ve written. Enjoy the journey.
Thanks for this Holly and Melinda. I am still several (who am I kidding~many) months away from first having to worry about this, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t started poking around the agent search engines and reading a few agent blogs. Janet Reid and her sister blog the Query Shark are my current favorites, not that she is a potential agent for my current WIP, but the advice she gives is so useful and direct.
I did not know about the pitching contest sites and that they were so common. Congrats on your success there and I look forward to checking them out. I had heard of Twitter pitch frenzies that seem to pop up with short time windows to submit and agents would scan over the results, but had not really investigated how common or useful those were.
But yeah, nervously looking forward to the process soon-ish, thanks for the advice.
I think it’s smart of you to be looking now. I left it all to the last and it was too overwhelming. Also, this way you have the field narrowed down when you’re ready to start sending out.
Thank you for this blog post! Lots of good and interesting info.