How to Research Literary Agents

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how I determined which agents I wanted to query. Creating my list was definitely one of the most daunting parts of starting the querying process. There are just so many great agents out there and that makes figuring out where to start completely overwhelming.

The quick answer is, I did a lot of research. But the more detailed answer is that I used a lot of resources, took meticulous notes, read a ton of articles and talked to other authors, as I worked to develop the list of 54 agents I was sure I was a good match for. It was a lengthy process but also totally worth it considering who I wound up finally signing with.

Here are a few of the resources I used during my search:

SOCIAL MEDIA

This is where I did the bulk of my research. I looked up authors that I knew and loved (who wrote in my genre) on twitter or Instagram in an effort to find out who rep’d them. Once I had that info (usually listed in their bio), I visited that agent’s own profile or website. This kind of social media research not only helped me see who else the agent represented but also really helped me get a sense of who the agent was on a more personal level. I wanted to like my agent as a person, not just as a business partner, and social media helped with that.

I also followed along on twitter pitch events (like #PitMad & #DVPit) to see what agents were liking pitches in my genre and added them to my potential lists.

One thing to remember: never pitch an agent on social media. This is not how it’s done. If you get a like from an agent through a pitch event, make sure to query them properly.


PUBLISHER’S MARKETPLACE

There is a monthly cost for Publisher’s Marketplace and if you can afford it, I think it’s worth it. The database is extensive and you can sort it several ways. I read through recent deals to make sure I wasn’t about to query anyone that had just sold something that sounded too close to my own MS and also used it to find agents selling in my genre.

If you can’t afford the monthly fee, don’t stress, because the basic level PM newsletter is free and it is also full of helpful information. Comb through it for information on recent deals and look for agents that are selling in your genre. Once you have their name you can research the agent through other resources and decide if they make the cut.

PM also has a Writer’s Guide that outlines the support they offer to writers.


QUERYTRACKER

I used QueryTracker more while I was actively querying (rather than researching potential agents) but it can be helpful for all stages. Querying writers use this platform to track their own results which means you are able to get a sense of what other people think of each agent. They also provide a timeline for how long agents take to respond and other helpful stats like request/reject numbers.

Read my QueryTracker success story here.


MANUSCRIPT WISHLIST (#MSWL)

This is both a website and a popular hashtag so be sure to check out both. Agents use it to share specifics on the type of books they are looking to sign and the authors they want to work with. While you shouldn’t expect to find an agent that is looking for EXACTLY the book you have written, you can definitely find themes and patterns that will help you determine if an agent might be a good fit.


WOMEN’S FICTION WRITERS ASSOCIATION

The WFWA is a fantastic organization that every women’s fiction author should be a member of. They provide resources and support for a very minimal annual fee and also connect you with other writers in the same genre. While the WFWA doesn’t have a list of agents on their website per se, they do have pitch events a few times each year in which agents that are actively looking for submissions in Women’s Fiction are a part of.

Note: Of course, this advice on the WFWA would apply to any association in your genre. They are all very likely to have resources to help with querying.


READ THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Have you just finished reading a book you loved? Be sure to read the acknowledgments because authors always give credit (and rightly so) to their own agents. This is a great way to curate potential names for your list.


Once I had developed my full list of potential agents, I queried them in batches, 10 at a time, and spaced them out by a few weeks. I found doing that made it easier for me to keep on top of replies and update my tracking spreadsheet accordingly. It also allowed me to handle the rejections better because I knew I still had agents left to query.

I know it can be tempting to send your query out to everyone in the hopes it will stick somewhere…anywhere. But remember, the agent-client relationship goes both ways. This isn’t just about finding an agent. It’s about finding the perfect agent for you.

Do your research. Have a plan. Be patient. Querying is tough but it only takes one yes to get you going.

Oh…and while you wait for that yes…keep writing. Always, always keep writing.

Good luck!

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