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How to Research Literary Agents

By Noah Lukeman

Read part one of this series here.

The reason 99% of manuscripts get rejected is, simply, because authors approach the wrong agents to begin with. As writers, we know there is no comparison between a good word and the perfect word. Similarly, there is no comparison between any agent and an appropriate agent. In the previous issue of this ezine, we discussed how to properly evaluate an agent; now it is time to discuss how to track them down.

To compile a list of appropriate agents, thorough research is required. Not three hours' worth, but three months' worth. Such information used to be difficult to obtain, but all that has changed: today, thanks to the internet, one can find accurate, up to the minute information--and find it within seconds, and often for free. The question is where to look.

Below are several good resources to help get you started. As you do your research, note not only the name of the agent and his agency, but also all the titles and authors he's represented. Don't stop until you've gathered the names and contact information of at least 50 appropriate agents.

24 Free Resources for Researching Agents

1. PublishersLunch.com (the free version)

"Publishers Lunch" is a free e-newsletter (daily and weekly) that reports on the latest publishing deals and news. It offers two versions: a free and a paid version. The free version of the newsletter doesn't report all of the deals, but it still covers many of them. This newsletter is one of the best resources for writers, for several reasons: it is free; it offers up to the minute information; it lands right in your email inbox; and it names the agents involved in the deals, names their agency, and offers a description of the book they sold. If you study this newsletter alone for several weeks, you will be able to start to build a list of appropriate agents for your work.

The only potential downside is that any agent (or editor) can report a deal, and thus it is possible that in any given week there might be agents mentioned who are not as effective as other agents, or who charge reading fees. In general, use the criteria we discussed previously when compiling your own list of agents--for example, look for agents who land deals with reputable publishers or who represent authors known to you. And of course, all information gathered here (as with any resource) should be cross-referenced against information gathered elsewhere.

2--4. PublishersMarketplace.com (contains 3 resources)

Publishersmarketplace.com is the umbrella site for Publisherslunch, and it offers many additional features that will be very useful for you. As with the newsletter, there is both a free and a paid version. In the free version there are three features in particular that will be of use to you: 1) a "SearchMembers" link, which allows you to pull up and cross-reference accurate contact information for agents and agencies; 2) links to the "Top 10 most visited agents" on the site. If you follow these links you can learn more about them, their clients, and the deals they've done. This feature is updated frequently, so it's worth checking back regularly, as you can find out about new agents almost every day; and 3) a ton of general news about the publishing industry. Many of these articles will reference the names of agents and agencies, and even if they don't, it doesn't hurt to be educated about what's going on in the industry.

5--8. PublishersWeekly.com (contains 4 resources)

The website for Publishers Weekly contains at least four good resources that will be of help to you: 1) the site has a "Deals" link that offers reliable, free information on major deals consummated in the previous week or so, and names the agents. Keep in mind, though, that PW tends to be more exclusive than other sites when reporting deals. Many listings will likely be substantial (possibly six figures or more), which often means the reported agents are more established, which can mean they are less likely to take on new clients; 2) the site has a search box, which you can use to cross-reference information on individual agents and agencies; 3) the site offers a wealth of free articles and information about the industry; and 4) it offers a free weekly e-newsletter, PW Daily. The industry information might not be as directly relevant to your needs, but, again, it only helps to absorb industry information--and you might encounter an article that drops the name of an agent who interests you.

9. Agency Websites

Most literary agencies now have their own websites. Typing the name of an agent or agency into a major search engine (like Google) will often yield the exact URL within seconds. Some agency sites are extensive, and you will be able to glean a lot of current information about the agency that you may not find elsewhere. Often you'll find a comprehensive client list, recent deals, current submission requirements and preferences, change of address or contact information. You may also discover that the agency is no longer accepting queries, which can save you time and energy.

10. Search Engines

In addition to looking up specific agency websites, you can also browse the major search engines by typing in relevant search terms, such as "literary agent." (I just tried "literary agent" on Google and it yielded 1.6 million hits, while "literary agency" yielded 851,000 hits.) Search engines will bring up countless links to excellent resources, such as directories of literary agencies. It can take you months to sort through all of these pages, and much of the information will be irrelevant, but intensive browsing might just reveal an agency site or listing (or other piece of relevant information) you missed elsewhere. And it is invaluable for cross-checking.

11. Google Blog Search

In addition to searching the web pages of Google, you can also use the Google Blog search function. This will allow you to type in the name of an agent or agency and see what (if anything) appears about him or his company on the blogs. This may not necessarily reveal the most reliable information, but one never knows what might turn up.

Additionally, you can use Google blog search for general search terms, such as "literary agent" (just brought up 82,482 hits) or "literary agency" (just brought up 30,502 hits). This can yield interesting information which is not apparent from the basic Google Web search function.

12--13. Twitter (2 resources)

The amount of content on Twitter has increased so much in the past few months alone, that no exhaustive web search would be complete without trying a separate search just on Twitter. You can type in an agent's or agency's name and see what comes up. One never knows. You might learn something new about that agent and/or you may even discover that that agent has his own Twitter account, which you can follow.

Additionally, there are now directories of agents who have a presence on twitter. For example, here are two links which track this: agent query or twitter.com/agentquery. I am sure that over time even more will pop up.

14--15. Acknowledgments Pages (2 resources)

Published authors often acknowledge their agents. Spend some time in large bookstores (and libraries) browsing the acknowledgments pages of books that are relevant to yours. Write down the names of any mentioned agents.

Additionally, the recent explosion of Google's book search has added a whole new dimension to help with an agent search which did not exist until very recently. Visit the site, and in the search box type in the name of the agent in quotes and then the word "acknowledgments." Most of the hits will lead you to the Acknowledgments pages of books in which these agents are mentioned. It is a great tool for cross-referencing, and may even teach you about books your potential agent represented.

Additionally, you can also use this search box to type in the name of a particular book which you feel is relevant to yours and then the word "acknowledgments," and you may just find out who the agent was.

The information in acknowledgments pages is often minimal, but it is yet one more source to be used for cross-referencing.

16. WritersMarket.com

Writersmarket.com offers a free service, which is their newsletter. Sign up. It doesn't cost anything, and one never knows what small piece of information might prove valuable.

17--19. WritersDigest.com (3 resources)

Writers Digest magazine provides helpful information for writers, and their website is equally helpful. Three aspects in particular may prove useful to you: 1) The main site is filled with many free articles and interviews which may yield industry information; 2) Their free newsletter contains additional information; and 3) Writers Digest has long had an annual tally of the annual 101 best websites for writers: writersdigest.com/101best sites. Visit it, and check back annually. Some of the new sites they mention may prove very useful for you.

20. GuidetoLiteraryAgents.com/blog

The Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents has been a staple for aspiring authors for years, and they now offer a free companion blog. One never knows when it might yield valuable information about an agent or agency.

21. AgentQuery.com

This site offers a lot of free information about the industry, and offers a free, searchable database of agent and agency information. It is one more source for cross-referencing agent information.

22. AbsoluteWrite.com

This site offers much free information about the industry, along with many good links and resources for the writer. Given its wealth of information, it might end up yielding valuable agent information for you, too.

23--24. Amazon.com and BN.com top genre bestsellers

If you go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites, there is an option to browse within your genre. It will bring up the top 100 bestsellers. Look through these and see which are published recently. You can then check the acknowledgments page for each and find out who the agents were. Going this route, you may just discover the name of an agent you hadn't thought of previously.

In addition to these resources, there are several paid resources, too, which are also very effective, and which I discuss at length in my book, How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. But these 24 resources should help get you started, and if you are on a budget, help bring you a long way to finding the perfect agent for you.

Meet the Author: Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman is the author of several bestselling books on the craft of writing, among them A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. Noah lives in New York City, where he runs a literary agency.