Your book is finished. You wrote that horrible first draft, rewrote and revised your manuscript several times, and put it through its paces: beta readers, developmental edits, line edits, copyedits. You’ve taken that first-draft lump of coal and turned it into a diamond. You’re ready to find an agent.
Where do you start? Here are a few places to research agents that are either free or inexpensive. Some offer an upgraded paid membership, but for most of your research, that isn’t necessary.
1. The Agent’s Website. Always start with the agent’s website. This is likely to be the best source of information about the agent’s wishes and requirements. A few things to look for: whether your manuscript fits the agent’s or agency’s needs; their submission requirements, which are not guidelines, but are mandatory and should be followed to the letter; and links to outside sources of information, like the agent’s personal website or social media.
2. Social Media. Speaking of social media, this may be the most current source of information about what the agent is looking for in a manuscript. It also offers insight into the agent’s personality so you can get an idea about whether you have things in common or would get along as people.
3. Manuscript Wish List. The Manuscript Wish List is one of the best places to get information about literary agents and what they’re looking for … and it’s free for writers! What I love most about Manuscript Wish List (besides that it’s free) is that it provides one-stop shopping—this is where you’ll find out not only whether your book is a good fit for the agent of your dreams, but links to their submission requirements, their website, and their social media.
4. Query Tracker. QueryTracker is a free resource, but it offers a premium membership, too. The free resource is really all you need as a querying author, and Query Tracker intends it to be that way because they know that’s the best way to get more and better information. You can sign up for the QueryTracker newsletter for free and can research their database for free, which provides information about agents, including what they’re looking for, contact information, and whether they’re open for queries. The paid membership is only $25 per year and provides access to more tools and data, including data about the agent’s response times and the ability to get an email whenever an agent you are interested in re-opens for queries. You can compare the free and premium memberships here.
5. Publisher’s Marketplace. I consider Publisher’s Marketplace to be the number one resource for researching agents, and that’s because this is the publishing industry go-to source for news about book deals, industry headlines, and publishing industry jobs. Publisher’s Marketplace is not free—in fact, it’s pretty pricey for an annual membership. But a monthly membership is relatively inexpensive ($25), so you can sign up for a month or two while you’re researching agents. (Or you can hire me to do that work for you.) Most agents, or at the very least their agencies, have a page on Publisher’s Marketplace which includes their manuscript needs and wishes, their contact information, and often their submission requirements. You can also find information about an agent’s book deals, e.g., if you find that an agent hasn’t sold a book for five years, they probably are no longer active or may have moved into another role in the publishing industry. Other information includes lists of the most-viewed agent pages and the top dealmakers. Publisher’s Marketplace offers free and paid newsletters, too, so you can get information right in your inbox.
Note: Publisher’s Marketplace is not to be confused with Publisher’s Weekly, which is more geared to the book publishing industry. It provides information about publishing industry jobs, gives industry professionals a heads up about what books are coming out, and provides the information booksellers and libraries use to decide which books they will carry.
6. Association of Writers & Writing Programs. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) is an organization that supports writers. AWP membership is $75 a year (discounted for students or a two-year commitment), but it comes with a lot of benefits, including the ability to build your writing network; discounted registration to the organization’s Annual Conference & Bookfair (kicking off March 8th in Seattle this year); a subscription to The Writer’s Chronicle magazine; access to members-only website content, including a Job List and an Opportunities page listing publishing opportunities, grants, and award information; access to the Writer to Writer mentorship program; a directory listing; promotion of your book once its published; and more.
Finally, here is my best advice to you when you start researching agents:
- Make sure your book is ready, because you only get one shot with that agent;
- Check out all the above resources and gather all the information you can find because otherwise you may miss something. Yes, researching agents is time-consuming, but doing your homework is worth it. For example, when I was researching agents for a client recently, I found a crucial piece of information in the agent’s Publisher’s Marketplace listing that wasn’t listed anywhere else: what she required querying authors to include in the email subject line.
- Persist! Tenacity is the name of this game, so if you’re sure your book is ready, put on that thick skin, remember it’s all subjective, and have faith that the person who will love your book is out there. Keep querying until you find your person!