Thursday 14 November 2019

Writers’ Questions: How do I find a literary agent?

I’ve been blogging about historical fiction for the last six years, but, in August 2020, my own debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, will be released by Atria Books (more on this here). In this series, Writers’ Questions, I’m sharing some advice about the writing and publication process to help fellow writers. Last time, I wrote about ‘thought verbs’ and how filtering language might be harming your novel. This time we’re talking the first step towards being traditionally published—finding a literary agent.

For most genres, being represented by an agent is crucial for landing a deal with a large publishing house. But how do you go about finding the agent(s) who are best for you? Below, I lay out some avenues to explore.

Browne & Miller Literary Associates - the agency I signed with
The Acknowledgments of novels you like
At the back of almost all novels, writers thank the people in their lives who made writing and publishing their books possible. Unsurprisingly, agents are often at the top of these lists. You’re already reading widely in your genre (aren’t you?), so make sure you read the Acknowledgments of recent novels that seem similar to yours and research the agents mentioned there.

This website is a huge database of literary agents, which you can search (e.g. by genre and location). What’s more, there’s extensive crowd-sourced data about agents’ response rates and times, which you’ll love if, like me, you get a little obsessed while in the query trenches. Submit your own rejections and requests to keep track and share info with fellow writers.
The Poets & Writers website also houses a (shorter) list of agents, detailing their preferred genres, some existing clients and query format preferences.

Agent Query
A third database is Agent Query. I still found this site helpful, although the user interface isn’t as easy as Querytracker or PW to navigate.

Manuscript Wish List
The Manuscript Wish List website is a wonderful resource for those seeking representation. Here, agents and editors list not just genres but more specific details of about the books on their submissions ‘wish lists’. Use specific search terms (e.g. I looked for terms including “Bronte” and “Victorian”) to find agents who might be your perfect match. You can also search “#MSWL” on Twitter to surface agent tweets about what they’re looking for. Double up search terms e.g. “#MSWL historical” to get the lay of the land for what agents are seeking in a genre.

Writers' & Artists’ Yearbook
My agent, like me, is based in the US. But when I was querying I researched both American and British agencies. If you’re in or linked to the UK, the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook should be your bible. This book comes out annually and gives you an overview of all British literary agencies and their submission preferences.

Interviews on writerly websites and podcasts
Writing-related publications often profile agents, especially those earlier on in their careers who are actively looking to grow their client list. Writer’s Digest is a great place to start to find these interviews but read/listen widely to find other relevant content.

Writing conferences
Many writing conferences give you the chance to pitch live to agents (for a fee). Conferences are an expensive option but may be worth it depending on the attendees and agenda. Do your research to find the conferences that are relevant and achievable for you. I’ve personally attended and enjoyed the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and the Historical Novel Society Conference but found both more useful for connecting with other writers than those in the publishing industry.

Another paid option is entering contests for unpublished writers that boast a literary agent judge. Just do your due diligence about the contest organisers and format. You don’t want to be scammed or to sign away the rights to your hard work by not reading the small print.

So there you have it—a variety of ways you can go about finding your agent. As part of this series, I’m also planning posts on why literary agents are so necessary and the querying process, so let me know if you have other questions you’d love me to answer on agents. As ever, you can connect with me here, on Facebook, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

And if you want updates on Bronte’s Mistress, make sure you sign up for my email newsletter below.

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