You finally did it! You not only wrote an entire novel, but you went through agonizing rounds of edits, killing off your darlings and making the story the best it can be. Now, you’re facing that terrifying question: what next? For anyone looking to break into traditional publishing, then the first step can seem like the most daunting. That first step? Finding an agent.
For many new authors, agents can seem like the gatekeepers to the world of publishing. They’re the people who have the power to screen you out, or welcome you in. It’s only natural that querying agents can seem intimidating, if not downright terrifying. What if you query the wrong agent? How do you know if they’re open to queries? What genres do they represent? And how do you even find out who these thousands of agents are?
The good news is that there are tons of great tools to help you find your way. Here are just a few.
For someone looking to get started in the publishing industry, this site is definitely one you don’t want to overlook. Publishers Marketplace has everything: information on agents, what genres they represent, who they’re selling to, what deals are being made, and more. You can also search for authors you like, if you already have comp titles picked out, and see who they’re represented by.
The downside of Publishers Marketplace is the membership fee. To truly unlock all of the information there, you have to pay $20/month, and a lot of people find it well worth it. But even just using the free version can be helpful. Plug in the genre you write, and you’ll get names of agents and other dealmakers to help start you on your search.
If you’re looking for an agent, QueryTracker is a gold mine. It’s just $25 for an entire year, and it’s worth every penny. You can keep track of what agents you want to query, who you’ve already contacted, and what their response was. Agent pages have their contact informaton listed, other authors they represent, links to their manuscript wish lists, and other agents who work at their agency. Of course, you don’t have to know their names already; you can search, again, by genre. They also have Top 10 lists of their most queried agents, the agents who respond the fastest, who requests the most full manuscripts, and who the newest agents are.
With the premium membership, you have access to some of my favorite features: the reports. For example, you can see agents with similar tastes, which can give you access to more potential agents to query. They also have reports on submission response times, rejections, and more fun tools to explore than I can describe. But if you’re looking to find an agent, you definitely need to be on QueryTracker.
I love Manuscript Wishlist because it very often can give you a better idea of what specific items an agent is looking for. Sure, maybe you write sci-fi, but that’s a big genre. So is crime, or historical fiction, or any other genre — and heaven help you if you’re a children’s literature writer! How do you narrow dow what agents really want? Manuscript Wishlist is how. Agents often include a section with “I’d like the next,” so you know what kind of books they’re hunting for. They also very frequently give detailed information on not only what they do want, but what they don’t want. Sarah Homer, for example, writes, “In YA, I’m drawn to contemporary and magical realism, and looking for characters who learn from their mistakes and grow into their strength and their true selves, depictions of complex families and friendships, a plot full of tension that shocks and surprises me (more psychologically intense than gorily gruesome, please!), and fun romances with a strong and unique hook.”
The flip side of Manuscript Wishlist is #MSWL. This largely is used on Twitter, so if you don’t have a Twitter account, make one. Using Twitter’s advanced search settings, you can cross-reference #MSWL with genres and tropes to see which agents are currently looking for those things.
Did I mention that you need to be on Twitter? Let me say it again: if you don’t have a Twitter account, go make one. It’s a fantastic place to not only find agents, but to interact with them. And you can do some great rabbit-hole research there; by looking at, say, Anne Tibbets‘ Twitter feed, several other agents pop up on the right-hand side listed as people you may also like. From there, you’ll also need to do research — are they open to queries? what do they represent? — but it’s a good place to get started.
There are lots of other tools out there to help find an agent, but these are, in my humble opinion, the basics that will get you started on the right foot. It takes a lot of research and effort to hunt down the perfect person to represent your beautiful story, but publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared for the hard work, and know that the perfect agent for you is out there somewhere, just waiting to be found.
About the author: Casandra Chesser is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist who started writing in kindergarten and never stopped, and is a historical fiction novelist. Her career began writing columns for a local newspaper, but history has always been her passion. She spent many years immersed in the past during her childhood in northeast Florida, exploring the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine. History has always felt like an opportunity for her to experience different things; to visit another world, be transported into fantasy, and learn from the people and places who came before us. A Florida native, Chesser now lives in Nebraska with her husband, six children, two cats, and one dog.