What About Literary Agents?

I don’t recall ever discussing the important topic of agents on these pages. I believe that’s because I have always favored self-publishing over the traditional method. That stems from an unfortunate experience with a senior vp at what was Harper & Row. He liked my first novel, The Quixotics. He asked me to make a single change—lose my protagonist and replace him with minor character, a dweeb. His reasoning was that my protagonist was an antihero, and readers didn’t like antiheroes. Apparently, he’d never heard of Jack Reacher.

Writers rarely get published traditionally without first securing representation by a literary agent. The problem, as Lee Child correctly articulates it, is that there are good agents and there are bad ones. Unfortunately, there’s no handy, reliable Google list to categorize them. Sure, you could Google “Literary Agents.” But little of what you’ll get is empirical information. It’s mostly self-serving and anecdotal. So, what’s an aspiring author to do? First compile a list of prospective agents. How?

Research Lots of it. Here are the main keys you’re looking for:

Information available on the Agency’s website:

  • Is the agent currently accepting queries or proposals?
  • Is the agent looking for books in your genre?
  • What does each specific agent ask for—Only a query letter? A synopsis too? How long is the synopsis to be? A sample too? How large is the sample to be? DON’T SEND ANYTHING NOT SPECIFICALLY ASKED FOR!
  • Your fiction book must be complete, double-spaced, edited
  • Your query letter must be masterful (more about that at another time)
  • Do not query two agents in the same agency at the same time.

You’ll also need information from sources other than the agent’s website, such as:

  • Does the agent respond to queries a high percentage of the time?
  • Does the agent actually respond (even negatively) to books in your genre?
  • Who are some of the clients represented by this agent? Any in your genre?
  • What percentage of the agent’s responses are positive (asked for more materials)?

Where can you  get this information? There probably are a number of sources, but I prefer QueryTracker (https://querytracker.net/). It offers a free version and a premium version for $25/year. I like the premium version—more useful goodies. With its filters, you can narrow your search down from thousands of agents to only those actively soliciting queries and looking for materials in your specific genre. While it provides answers to all of the above questions and more, you still should review your selected agent’s website. They may no longer be accepting queries. Or they may no longer be looking for books in your genre. It also helps you avoid sending queries to two or more agents in the same agency simultaneously. Most important, the agent’s website will tell you exactly what to send and how to send it.

NEXT: The perfect query letter.


© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved