Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Search for a Literary Agent

By Bonnie Stanard

Thank goodness for the internet! It makes my search more focused and less time consuming. Even at that, I spend a lot of time with Google and Yahoo. The site that I have found and use most often is Agents and publishers I’ve met at the SCWW’s annual conferences have made encouraging comments about my work, but after several years, their words are beginning to echo as if empty.

In surfing the internet, I’ve arrived at several priorities regarding agents. Generally speaking, I look for agents with offices in New York City where the major publishing houses are located. Although computers make communication easy, even for agents in far-flung locations, it’s hard to underestimate the value of personal relationships in business dealings.

The most helpful web sites list the genres that interest the agents. Since the manuscript I’ve just finished is an antebellum novel, I look for agents interested in historical fiction. One of querytracker’s features is that it allows you to search by genre. Some agents list so many genres that it’s obvious their interest isn’t focused, making is likely that their expertise isn’t either.

Based on the agents’ lists of preferred genres, you can figure out what is selling. Nonfiction beats fiction hands down. And within fiction, the hot genres are fantasy and paranormal. The order in which preferences are listed is important. If the list begins with nonfiction or if it includes many nonfiction genres and few fiction genres, I infer that the agent has a nonfiction bias which may play to my disadvantage.

A new agency or a recently added agent catches my eye, for they are more likely to actively seek clients. However, this is a double-edged sword when applied to an individual. It could also mean you’re querying an inexperienced agent (and as many a blog will verify, a bad agent is worse than no agent).

If an agent doesn’t list any clients, it’s not a good sign. On the other hand, if the list is long or includes somebody like Annie Proulx, you can bet that the agent doesn’t need/want a novice writer. The same rationale applies to recent sales. If there aren’t any listed or if there are too many, the agent is either unsuccessful or too successful to be a good fit.

One of the things I like about is that it charts the agent’s responses to queries, including the percent rejections, partial requests, and full requests. Most agents will request manuscripts (partial and/or full) from one or two percent of the queries. If that percentage jumps to 10 percent, I become wildly optimistic about my chances and send my best query letter.

I’ve discovered that the trend is toward email queries. Many agents will no longer accept snail mail. I’m also discovering that agents often don’t send rejections. Instead, they simply don’t respond.

Several other websites that I use on a regular basis are (If a link is not active, copy and paste it into your address bar.):,category,Agency%20Profile.aspx

1 comment:

Columbia Writers Workshop said...

Thanks, Bonnie, for the breakdown and for this treasure trove of sites. I'm bookmarking these! Lisa