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Saturday, March 5, 2011

TOPIC: Searching for the Holy Grail...umm, Agent! (part 1)

Back by popular demand - another post on finding an agent.

I’m sure we’ve all asked the questions – Should I get an agent? Where do I start? How do I know if they’re reputable? Who do I aim for? What should I include in a query letter? Do I go snail mail or email?

It seems a daunting process, and yes, hunting for an agent is time consuming. No bones about it, but I think you’ll find the end reward satisfying.

The first question to ask yourself is - do I need an agent? Consider this, agents have a better idea of the industry and contract law not to mention the contacts and knowledge of wheeling and dealing – so unless you’re prepared to learn the business side of representing yourself in detail then it’s probably a good idea to find one.

There are authors in our organization who don’t have an agent and deal with that side of the business themselves – the decision of “do I or don’t I?” really is a personal choice.

So, what’s next, if you do decide you need an agent?

Step 1 - Research. This is where the Internet comes in handy. Typing in a search for literary agents/agencies will get you a screed of sites to look through. Some are more helpful than others.

Personally, I found Agent Query excellent. Other sites you might like to browse include Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com) or Preditors & Editors. They’ll also give you information on whether they’re legitimate agents/agencies.

*Rule of thumb – agents never charge up front for their services. If you come across one that does, steer clear of them.

Alternatively, ask your critique groups or other writing friends about agents/agencies. Check out your favourite authors (the ones you most write like) and see if they have an acknowledgments page. They might thank their agent. It’s simply a matter of then searching for them on the internet.

Most agents & agencies these days have a website and they tell you the genres they do/don’t represent. They also have guidelines of what to send them and how they prefer it sent.

Step 2 - Make a list. Twenty’s a good number to start with. Once you’ve trawled through agent websites, pick the ones you most like/want/dream of representing you and prioritise them in order of personal preference.

Divide them into email and snail mail submissions. Obviously, email is going to be more cost effective for you and a lot of agents are now using this environmentally friendly method (it may not always be “quicker” in terms of a response but there is that slight advantage to email submissions).

This begs the question – do I target a big agency/agent or a small one? After asking some of my friends who have agents (yes, there’s networking for you), there are pluses to both.

The big name agent of a large agency will always be difficult to crack, their lists are usually full. That doesn’t mean you cross them off your preferred A list just because you’re a new up-and-coming author (case in point, Gracie O’Neil recently signed with Nephele Tempest and Bronwen Evans signed with Melissa Jeglinski, both from The Knight Agency). Don’t take it personally when they pass on your query. Move on to someone else.

Junior agents at large agencies could also be a great opportunity - they're learning from the best, and they have to build up their experience and contacts before they open lists of their own. Once they do then they’re going to be keen to build them. Larger agencies also have staff - they've got more time for tasks like doing their website, promotions etc. from which authors can benefit.

Smaller agencies are often run by an agent who used to work for a large agency before going out on his/her own. So it’s a matter of researching the agent's history to determine their level of experience. Newly formed or smaller agencies can be a good choice because the agent will be building up their client list and willing to take on new clients.

Whether you give preference to a big name agent/agency or a small one, what seems to matter is the agent's track record, reputation and resources; how well connected they are and what kind of experience they have etc. These are things to consider when deciding on your list.

Once you have an agent interested in signing with you then the all important compatibility factor comes into play - personal chemistry (in that initial phone call to discuss representation), the alignment of goals concerning your work, how you hope to operate within the parameters of the author/agent relationship etc.

Next post I'll look at query letters, formulating lists of agents and dealing with rejection.


  1. Great post Kylie,
    of course I'm especially interested right now in my agent hunt! =)

  2. This is the kind of info that is incredibly helpful for those of us starting out - thanks Kylie!

  3. Mel & Nicki - here's to successful agent hunts for both of you!

  4. Sound, practical advice, Kylie. Good luck all around! Valerie

  5. Thank you for the post, Kylie. I have researched agents many times over the years but has always been agencies overseas. Do you have any current information about Australian agencies and agents?

  6. Hi Valerie, thanks for dropping in!

    Mary - unfortunately, my target market has always been the USA so I know very little about Aussie agents and agencies.

    However, I can refer you to a good book where you might be able to research this info. It's called The Writer's Guide to the Australian Marketplace (insert current year as it's an annual release). It has a a whole section dedicated to agencies and agents. You should be able to find what you're looking for in there.

    Sorry I can't be of more help to you.

  7. Thank you, Kylie, I'll pass that info on. Had forgotten about that Marketplace book that comes out every year. It is rather expensive but hopefully libraries will stock them