Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: What They’re Looking For

Last week we started researching agents by creating a spreadsheet with the agent’s name, agency, website, blog and Twitter account. Now, because you used your category as the search term in QueryTracker (i.e., Fiction – Middle Grade), you know all of the agents on your list represent the general category. But those categories are broad–particularly if they’re age categories–so you need to dig deeper to determine which agents are looking for what you’re writing in particular. You should never rely solely on any database for your agent research. I’m going to direct you to several resources, but first let’s add a few more columns to our spreadsheet:

Represents Looking for Books* to Read Books* I’ve read Notes

I recommend you sort your spreadsheet by agency as our first source for all of these agents will be the agency website, so you’ll be able to simultaneously knock out any agents at the same agency that way. Then, I recommend you log back into QueryTracker, as you can find links to several of the other sources we’ll be using from the agent pages there. It’s easier than cutting and pasting from the spreadsheet, so I always keep both open.

1. Determine what categories the agent represents.

While you could find this information by clicking on the Genres tab in QueryTracker or looking at another database, you should always go to a direct source for the most current information as agents’ tastes change. Direct sources include:

  • Agency websites
  • Agent websites/blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages (They maintain these pages themselves, and in some cases, these serve as the agency/agent websites.)

As I already mentioned, I always start with the agency website. Generally an agency website will have a section titled Our Agents, Who We Are, etc. Under the Represents column, I list all of the categories the agent covers. For example, if Agent A represents picture books through young adult plus some adult non-fiction, I would write “PB to YA, plus adult NF” in that column. You can create your own shorthand :). Personally, I think it’s important to know everything the agent represents, so I include all of the age categories in this column. I might decide to write in a different category at some point, so I want to know if that agent would be able to represent me in a different category. If they don’t, I may put a note in the Notes column to the effect of “May not be a good fit due to no PB” or whatever.

In most cases you should be able to track down the categories the agent represents from the agency website. If not, see if the agent has his/her own website or blog or a Publisher’s Marketplace page. If you can’t find either of those, only then should you rely on a database such as QueryTracker, AgentQuery, or the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

2. Figure out what the agent is really looking for.

This step requires some real time and effort, and if the agent isn’t active online, you may not be able to find the information at all. But there are plenty of agents who do have a significant online presence. You might think the Looking for column is where I would stick genres, and it sort of is. But really, this is where I put details related to what I’m writing–anything an agent says that clicks with what I’ve already written or am planning to write. That might be as simple as a genre, or it might be very specific. It’s more than a list. I cut and paste in whole phrases and sentences so I don’t forget exactly what the agent said, and then I put a date behind it so I know when they said it–because that’s important, too. If the reference is too old, they might not be looking for it anymore. For example, my notes in this column might say:

I’m looking more for contemporary at the moment and would love to build up my middle grade list. Novels that mix genres in a clever way are something I’d love to see more of.  (per 10/13 interview); I love unique retellings of classic myths, novels, and plays in YA and Adult. (per MSWL paragraph 09/14); I really want someone to query me a YA revenge story. Count of Monte Cristo style revenge. #agentwishlist (tweeted 03/14)

Here are some resources for tracking down these gems.

  • Agency websites – You might get lucky. There are a few very detailed agency websites that give agent wishlists.
  • Agent websites/blogs – You’re much more likely to find specifics on an agent’s personal blog or website. If it’s a blog, I recommend subscribing through a reader or via email so you can update your spreadsheet as new information is available.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – As mentioned above, these are maintained by the agents themselves. Sometimes they’re very basic, but often they will include wishlists.
  • Twitter – Many agents tweet ideas.
  • Literary Rambles – If you write for children (PB through YA), LiteraryRambles.com is a great resource. It compiles information on agents and links back to interviews with agents on everything from what they’re looking for to how to query them. Just be aware that sometimes the linked interviews are a few years old.
  • #MSWL – Agent Jessica Sinsheimer created this wonderful hashtag on Twitter that stands for manuscript wishlist. Agents tweet it off and on, and then there are scheduled events. Now there also is a website with longer MSWL paragraphs.
  • Google – I like to click on the Google link in QueryTracker because it does the search for me. Then I scan through the results for the most recent interviews. If you’re researching for the first time, you should probably read them all to get a feel for the agent. Just keep in mind that the older the interview is, there’s a chance the agent might not still be looking for that exact thing. I mean, if Agent B said in 2012 that he was looking for a YA ghost story set in futuristic Texas, and you have one of those, I’d still go for it. Just be prepared in case he already found one.
    • One of the links that will always come up on a Google search is Absolute Write Water Cooler. This is a forum where writers discuss agencies and experiences they’ve had with them. Some writers also use it to track queries or submissions they’ve sent to agents. I’ve found it most useful to spot questionable agents. You should definitely click on this link and read through the comments. It might send you to an older date and you’ll have to click through to a more recent post, but see what people are saying and make sure there aren’t any red flags about the agent or agency. If there are, that’s the kind of information I put in the Notes column. Something like “Sketchy comments on AW.” Most of the time it will just be comments about submissions.

3. Keep track of interesting notes as you go along.

If, as I’m going along, something in particular stands out about an agent, I’ll stick it in the Notes column. Like, Agent C mentioned she really loves opera and my character gets sucked into an opera (happened with one of my previous manuscripts!). Or, Agent D’s favorite movie is one that could be used as a comp title for my story. The Notes column is the place where I keep those interesting tidbits. I don’t have notes for every agent, so this column might remain blank for some.

Ok, I think that’s enough information for today. You’re probably wondering: Michelle! What about how to query the agents? Where are we supposed to put that information? Yes, there will definitely be columns for querying, and yes, it will mean going back to a few of these same resources. However, if you’re researching these agents for the first time, you’re not ready to send queries yet anyway. Believe me, I end up going back to the agents’ websites many times before I send a query to double-check everything. Besides, you might have already made a note that some of these agents aren’t a fit based on what they’re looking for, so you might not need their querying information anyway.

How are we doing so far? Any questions? Other resources I should add?

*I’ve already written a post on how to find books agents represent and why this is important. If you write middle grade or young adult, I also have a page dedicated to tracking books MG/YA agents represent. As for books you’ve already read, go look through the acknowledgments pages in your personal library. You may be surprised how many books you’ve already read by the agents on your list!

All posts in this series:

 

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Starting A Spreadsheet

The other day I had something very surprising happen: a writer queried me. It was a decent query, and I sent the writer a nice reply with a couple of resources. I can only assume the writer found my email address from this blog, and it got me thinking. While I realize that most of my readers already know how to research agents, there may be some out there who are just starting out in this process and would benefit from learning some of the basics. And actually, with every new project, I refresh my list to make sure I’m not missing any new agents or agents who have expanded what they’re acquiring, so maybe my experienced writer friends will pick up a tip or two as well! Maybe not from this first post but a later one :). So here we go. First up:

1. Create a spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet has twenty-five columns, but let’s keep it simple for now with just five:

Agent Agency Website Blog Twitter

We’ll add more columns later, but this will give us a start.

2. Find the agents.

There are a number of resources available to research agents. The two most popular databases are QueryTracker.net and AgentQuery.com. I personally prefer QueryTracker, so for this series, I’m going to use it as my primary source, although as I lead you deeper into researching agents, we will definitely refer to other resources. You’ll need to sign up for a free account in order to follow some of the instructions. However, if you are planning to create an agent list, you’d want to do that anyway.

Let’s say you’re making a list of middle grade agents in QueryTracker.

  • Sign in.
  • Click on the Search for Literary Agents tab in the upper left-hand corner.
  • There are several options on the left-hand side. In the Genres option, select Fiction – Middle Grade from the pull-down menu.

A list of agents will appear to the right.

3. Populate your spreadsheet.

Click on the first agent and either copy/paste or type the information into your spreadsheet. If the information is available, it will be on that first page. Some agents might not have a website, blog or Twitter. If they don’t, I put N/A in that column.

You might wonder why I don’t include the agent’s email address in my spreadsheet. I keep a separate column further down my spreadsheet for submission guidelines, and sometimes agents don’t use their direct emails for submissions. As a result, I prefer not to keep those on my spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally use the wrong one in communications. However, if you want to add it to yours, that’s up to you.

When you’re finished with an agent, you can click “Next Agent” in the gray bar to the right of the current agent’s name at the top. Keep populating until you get to the end of the list.

I’m going to stop here for today because this step will take a while. And that search for middle grade agents? Well, today it turns up 263. And if you’re searching for young adult you’d get a much bigger return. In any case, making this initial list of names is just the very first step. There is a lot more work to do before you’re ready to decide who to query and how to query them. I’ll address those in future weeks. I haven’t yet determined how many weeks this series will be. We’ll see how it goes.

So, for any of my readers who are new to this process, please let me know if this is helpful, and also please let me know if you have any questions about these first steps.

All posts in this series:

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying, Reading, Research, Writing

How to Find Books Agents Represent

Last week’s post about middle grade books agents represent was astronomically more popular than I anticipated. I’m so glad many of you found it helpful, and in light of that, I’m adding a permanent page to my blog listing agents with middle grade and young adult books they represent. I’ll give a few more details about that at the end–including a call for any similar lists you might have–but the post also brought up a question. How do you find out what books an agent has represented? So today I’m going to share how I researched them. These tips will apply no matter what category or genre you’re writing.

I’ll preface this by saying that I was researching this information for my agent spreadsheet, so I already had a list of agents. My purpose was to find books they’d represented so I could read them. I highly recommend doing this if you can as it gives you a feel for the agent’s tastes.

Agency website

Oh, how I wish you could just go to an agency website and see a breakdown of agents with books they’ve represented, separated out by category and genre. The more common practice is to give a list of agency clients, sometimes with links, sometimes not. Or the agency might show a bunch of book covers. Often the client list/book cover display doesn’t specify which agent represents that client, which I can sort of understand. Sometimes multiple agents work on a client, or maybe the agency is protecting itself in case an agent leaves. But even if the agency does list the agent who goes with the client, if there are no books listed, you still have to research those clients to find out what kind of books they write. And then you have to verify that the agent represented a particular book. Don’t assume that just because an agent represents a client, he/she represented all of that client’s books. Authors change agents, and it’s very possible earlier books were represented by a different agent.

Agent blogs

Agent blogs are a much better bet. Often they will post a list of their deals or covers of their clients’ books, making it much easier to tell the category and genre than just a client list or even a list of titles.

Publishers Marketplace

Not all agents have PM pages, but if the one you’re researching does, it can be gold. From what I can tell, agents still personalize these themselves, so there’s no guarantee of what information will be included in the sales/client lists, but it’s more likely to include the category than an agency website. If it doesn’t, it often lists the publisher, and you may be able to deduce the reader age that way. As a side note, I don’t have a PM subscription, so I don’t have access to the deal listings. I believe you can get even more information if you do. You also can track deal announcements, although that won’t find you books you can read right away.

QueryTracker/AgentQuery

I’m more of a QueryTracker girl for tracking my submissions, but AgentQuery has better information on the side of researching what books an agent has represented. AQ pulls the information from Publishers Marketplace, complete with category and book description. QT, on the other hand, has a tab listing the agent’s clients, so you still have to click through to see what they write.

Google Books

A simple search for an agent’s name in Google Books will pull up where the agent is mentioned in an acknowledgements page. Be sure to put quotes around the name, or it will pull up any book that has both names somewhere in the book. You’ll also get some agent guides in the search, but if the agent has been working for a while, you’ll get a nice sampling of his/her clients. You might even find some books on which he/she worked as an assistant.

Twitter

You’re most likely to hear agents talking about their clients when they have a book coming out, so this is a great way to discover their current clients. I’ve found a number of books for my TBR pile this way.

Internet Search

I left this for last because it requires more digging to find books agents have represented through a general Internet search. But it can yield links to author pages where they’ve listed their agent, and then to the books they’ve published. Agent interviews also can be a great resource. Often the interviewers ask the agent about recent books/books they have coming out soon, and you can add those to your list.

If you don’t find any books for an agent using the methods above, they’re either too new to have client books out, or you should rethink querying them. If they’re established agents, they should have published clients.

So, in the spirit of continuing to make this process easier for everyone out there, I’m adding a permanent page to my blog listing MG/YA agents and the books they’ve represented. I want your input, too. If you have a list similar to mine, please send it to mfaszold(at)hotmail(dot)com and I will add it to my list. A note: I only want to include books you can verify the agent represented, whether through the acknowledgments in the book itself, a PM listing, the agent and/or author’s website/blog, etc. As I stated above, just because an agent represents a particular author doesn’t mean they represented all of that writer’s books. I’d hate to list something that’s incorrect and have a writer query one of these agents citing a book they didn’t represent. So, I’m trusting you here :). I’ll continue to update the list as I read and as others send me theirs.