All good questions, and the ones I hear most frequently. Asked all at once, they can feel overwhelming. But if take them one at a time, each can be conquered with a little work and good decision making.
WHO do you ask? Well, start by asking yourself this: Who do I know who might know someone who might be dating (or married to or friendly with or working for) someone who might know an agent? What I mean is, if you’re serious about your writing, then you probably know others who are too; and referrals are--even by several degrees of separation--the most reliable way to start the process. So, start asking everyone you know.
WHAT tools are there? There are many websites and other resources devoted to agents--their interests, specialties, client lists, how to contact them, submission guidelines, etc. One popular site is www.1000literaryagents.com. There are also a couple of good annual print sources: Guide to Literary Agents and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Agents. Or check out PublishersMarketplace.com, which has become one of the best sources for everyone in the industry--editors, agents, and writers--and many of us use it every day. It lists new books sold/deals made every day organized by category, and it provides the names of the agents and editors involved. So if you have written an amazing new romance novel, go to PublishersMarketplace and search by fiction, then romance, and zero in on recent sales made in that category, and by whom. You’ll quickly have a good long list of agents who handle the kind of book you’ve written, which is one of the key things you want in an agent.
WHERE can I go for help? If you’re in a writing group, ask others in the group who they know. If you take a writing class, do the same, starting with your teacher. If you’ve never attended a writers conference, do so, soon. Most conferences feature agents, editors, and published authors as speakers, and they are all there to help you (that, and the all-expense-paid trip, is what they’re there for). The more people you meet in the business, the closer you’ll be to finding an agent.
HOW do I know if I have done everything I can to find an agent? There’s always more you can do… One last tip? You know that novel you read recently and really enjoyed and thought to yourself, the novel I’ve just written is every bit as good as that? Open it up and go to the acknowledgments page. In addition to their parents, their loving partner, their local librarian, and a zillion other people who helped make their wonderful book possible, authors thank their agents. They thank their agents for finding their book a good home, for sticking with them when the going got tough, for hand holding, and sometime for just being a good friend. For whatever reason an agent is thanked, his or her name is there. Write the name down and you’ve got the start of a list. And then go to other books you’ve read and liked and jot down the names of the agents acknowledged there too. Soon you’ll have a good, focused list of agents to start querying.
Looking back at some of the questions and comments from last week’s column (thanks for those, by the way), Brian, Keisha, and Misty all seemed to want to know the same thing. And that is, does a young person (say, 15 – 20 years old) have a chance in hell of getting the attention of an agent or a publisher? The answer, of course, is yes. There are many examples of young people getting published. Christopher Paolini of the Eargon series is one such “kid” who, not too long ago, wrote a wonderful book and got the attention of a very good agent. The writing process and finding a home for your work has no age requirements. Regardless of how young or old you are, if you’re smart about your search for an agent, you’ll have a good shot of eventually getting your work into the hands of one. And that, after all, is the goal.