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IN Her Own Write
Part II: Real Life Agent Hunt
By Anne R. Allen
November, 2006, 15:40

Last month I cautioned against scam agents, and I also noted that the ratio of legit agents to newbie novelists is approximately one to five gazillion.
 
So what do we do – throw mass queries at big-name agents, perhaps employ the services of a Mafia henchperson or Voodoo practitioner?
 
That would be a no.
 
One of the reasons the process is so gruesome is that beginners cluelessly clog the query pipeline with mass-mailings, making agents harder to reach (and way crankier.)
 
A little research saves everybody grief, and it doesn’t have to cost you. I'm annoyed by mindless rote instructions to "read The Literary Marketplace." At $300 a pop, LM is too costly even for strapped libraries to keep current copies, and in such a fast-changing industry, the latest version is out of date before it sees print. Writer's Market and Jeff Herman's directories are less pricey for the starving writer, but also obsolete on delivery. You can subscribe to online versions of LM for $20 a week, or WM for $3 a month, but I find free sites often have info that is more current.
 
For A-list agency addresses, the AAR website is up-to-date and free. To find new agents who haven’t been in the business long enough for AAR membership, check Agent Query and our own FWO-Int'l listings. The best sites will indicate which agents are actively looking for clients.
 
Then follow a few guidelines:
 
1. Know Your Genre
 
The most common mistake new writers make is querying agents who don't represent what they write. If you write romance, mystery, science fiction, or fantasy, sites like RWA, MWA, and SFWA offer lists of genre-friendly agents – available even to non-members.
 
If you write literary or mainstream, browse Amazon entries for books similar in tone or subject to yours. Often Amazon lets you look at the first few pages, where authors may thank their agents. Or peruse your favourite shelf at the local bookstore.
 
If you don't know your genre, you're not ready to query. This doesn't mean your book isn't good enough. It means you need to learn more about the business. Go to writers conferences, browse every writing site you find, and read, read, read.
 
2. Visit The Agency Website
 
The closer to the source, the more up-to-date the info. An agent who accepted queries last quarter may now have a full client list. Submission guidelines change. Someone who took e-queries six months ago may only accept snail mail after a barrage of spam. One agent in a company wants a synopsis with the query; another likes a few pages of text (in the body of an email – never an attachment.)
 
Look for new agents in established agencies who represent your genre and are building a clientele. Their slush piles may be less than six feet deep, and they might actually read a requested partial, but don’t count on it; my requested partials with SASEs get less than a 50% response rate.
 
If an agent doesn't have a website, check Publisher’s Marketplace at PublishersLunch.com. Their agent listings are free even to non-members.
 
3. Read Agent Blogs
 
Blogging agents provide precious insider information. They can be cranky and snarky, and you may see your own query ridiculed in front of the entire blogosphere, but they give up-to-the-minute news of sales and trends. They’ll tell you what markets are overfilled; what’s on their wish lists, and what faux pas get their panties in a bunch.
 
My favorite blogs are Miss Snark's and Kristin Nelson's. They update daily and the archives offer mini courses in publishing. Kristin's series, Agenting 101, offers a step-by-step picture of how a contract is negotiated.

The Knight Agency, Wylie Merrick, and Firebrand Literary also offer useful blogs, and more sprout all the time.
 
4. Study Client Lists
 
There's a broad spectrum within genres: if an agent's romance sales are mostly to Christian publishers, your gay vampire romance probably won't float his boat; and if all the mysteries sport pink covers, your hardboiled noir won’t make the list.
 
Check recent sales. The agency that sold Chick Lit in 2002 may only be moving Urban Fantasy now, and they’ll delete your Chick Lit query without a glance.
 
5. Search For Interviews
 
Narrow your list further with a quick Google. Interviews, articles, or blog entries that come up can give valuable insight into an agent’s personality and needs.

Finally, don’t take it personally if the "perfect" agent doesn’t respond. We’re in a brutal business. Go buy a lottery ticket. The odds will be more in your favour.
 
And then there’s always that Voodoo practitioner.
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Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and book editor who has been living part time in the UK. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, An Historical Novel Of The 1980s, (Babash-Ryan) debuted in the UK in 2005 and is available from amazon.co.uk and most UK bookshops. Her first novel with Babash-Ryan, Food Of Love is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well as amazon.co.uk analan2@yahoo.com



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