Tips for Hunting Literary Agents

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If you want to get in on the fast-changing gig that is “mainstream” publishing (yep, I dared use the parenthesis bunny ears there) then it’s likely you’ve already considered getting an agent. After all, we’re constantly told that the Big Publishers don’t have time (or, I’d imagine, the inclination) to deal with “unsolicited requests” – stories from lowly upstart beginner writers like you or I (or maybe just I). The gatekeepers of this process are the literary agents. Impress an agent enough with your story, and they’ll agree to take it to the publishers via their coveted, mysterious networking channels and suddenly boom, there you go, writing contract. Despite the fact that you now owe them 15% of your royalties, it was worth it. Probably.

So how do you find the agent that’s right for you (or, in failing that, the one who’ll read past page 5 of your novel)? You don’t have to dig hard to find the mother of all agent-location devices – AgentQuery. Bash the specifics into the search engine and away you go, lists and lists of “and Cos” and New York addresses. Couldn’t be simpler.

You shouldn’t end there though. Sometimes you can’t. For all it’s helpfulness, AgentQuery’s search function doesn’t refine down to “Urban Fantasy Agents,” among others. It’s a safe bet that if the Agent lists “fantasy” and “science fiction” in their preferred reading list they’ll be completely hunky-dory with an Urban Fantasy story. But there’s a stark difference between appreciating the sub-genres, and specialising in them.

Whilst hunting agents for Ironfang, I’ve taken a reverse engineering approach to all this. I looked up who represented books already on the market similar to what I was trying to sell. Werewolf novels were obvious ones (as long as they weren’t romance-centric!), as was the niche sub-sub-genre of Military Urban Fantasy. And what do you know, it didn’t take me any longer to find agents simply by typing “<author name> agent” into Google than it would have done on AgentQuery. If anything I’d say this is my preferred method of tracking down possible representatives.

And there are yet others. Twitter is a cornerstone of the chattering world of publishing online, and is frequented by pretty much literary agent house you’d care to contact. Follow their employees. Online I mean, not physically, you creep. Learn what they like (in terms of writing, weirdo), and who they already represent. Do your homework. And for goodness sake, personalise each cover letter you send, they dislike faceless, copied introductions as much as we upstarts hate form rejections.

Finding an agent is a long and complex process, and worthy of many more posts. But for now, Google is your friend. Use it, and be inventive in your search. Happy hunting!

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