Publishing Essentials: How to Find an Agent

Finding an agent for your work can be a daunting task. Where do you start?

First and foremost, do your research. When you are ready to start looking for an agent, cast a wide net. Anyone working in your space (genre, audience, and language) could be a potential match, and with the brave new world of the internet, email, digital conferencing, and remote access, you can have an agent located anywhere in the world!

There are several methods for going about looking for a potential partner. Google, as always, is your friend here—you can actually search “top literary agents”, or something more defined, like “best Canadian agents for young adult literature”. Other useful channels include social media, where some agents are particularly visible. (Note: the social media platform is often specific to the categories and audiences the agent represents. For example, many prominent agents who specialize in YA have a presence on Twitter, Instagram, and/or TikTok.) Your local writers’ union or agents’ association will likely have a list of reputable agencies available. There are industry resources such as publishersmarketplace.com—an online database of publishing deals, including “dealmaker” lists of the top 100 agents (by volume)—as well as trade journals by market, including Quill and Quire (Canada), Publishers Weekly (US), and The Bookseller (UK). While subscriptions may be required for complete access to back-end services, they are well worth the money during your research period (and beyond). And, of course, you should also search and closely review agency websites.

Another way to scout and connect with agents is through literary conferences, writing workshops, and academic courses. Most agents participate in both public and private events where you have the opportunity to get a sense of their professional approach and business model, as well as allowing you to get yourself “seen” as a writer.

Additionally, if you have writer friends who are represented, you could ask for a reference to their agency, or a referral to their agent, if your work would fit well with their list.

Once you’ve identified potential agents, you are going to send them your killer query letter. Most agency websites include a bio of the agent, a list of their current and previous clients, as well as books sold. Their interests will either be explicitly indicated, or implicit in their client list. You should always review specific agent and agency submission requirements and guidelines, customizing your query letter to the individual agent. Best practices for querying writers requires that you only submit to one agent at an agency at any given time.

We recommend maintaining a spreadsheet of contacts and responses for future reference. If an agent requests a partial or full-manuscript, you should allow six-to-eight weeks before sending “a nudge” to follow up. Most importantly, you should communicate any updates on solid interest or offers from one agent to all other considering agents, giving them the opportunity to make a competing bid for representation.

Now, finding the right agent for you and your work is a different discussion altogether! Keep an eye out for our upcoming post on “The Goldilocks Agent”.
Tell us about your agent search in the comments section below! And if you need assistance with drafting your query letter or want to consult with a professional agent on the business of publishing, please do reach out!

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