How and Where to Find Literary Agents

I’m not sure if there’s just something in the air besides all the pollen, but in the last week, several folks have asked me about how and where to find literary agents.  While I’ve only been querying a short time and while I’m not represented yet, I’ve had some encouraging results from querying some folks I’ve found using the following resources—and I’m happy to share!

RESOURCE 1: GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS

The first place I go to find an agent is Guide to Literary Agents (F+W Media) or the Guide to Literary Agents’ blog.  The printed publication is a goldmine in terms of all things agent and query-related, as it offers several helpful articles at the beginning and lists just about every agent and agency under the sun, categorizing them in a number of ways.

The blog features “Agent Advice” interviews, which are especially useful in deciding whom to weed out of my query pool and whom to query (and—bonus—some of the interviews are by moi!).  After I indulge in a bit of narcissism, I focus on some of the blog’s other features that offer great insight as far as agents’ preferences of genre and submission guidelines: “How I Got My Agent,” “Successful Queries,” and “New Agency Alerts.”

RESOURCE 2: AGENTQUERY

I also use AgentQuery—it’s a huge database, where you can do basic or advanced searches (by genre, agency, agent, etc.).  The profiles matching your search criteria often list what areas the agents seek, personal preferences, clients of theirs, links to Web sites and interviews featuring the agents, and sometimes even recent sales.

RESOURCES 3 & 4: QUERYTRACKER & ABSOLUTE WRITE WATER COOLER

QueryTracker is another database that does a lot of the same things as AgentQuery; however, it offers something AQ does not: queriers’ comments.

While it’s not perfect information, it gives one a sense of the agent’s response times, which sometimes differ greatly from what their agency Web sites denote.  Of course, when reading these messages, I take them for what they’re worth.  For the most part, though, the comments are informational—it’s not folks griping about being rejected.

For instance, someone will note the date they queried.  Then, they’ll come back and note the date of their rejection, sometimes whether or not it was a form rejection, the date of their requests, etc.

Absolute Write Water Cooler is good for this as well, but not all agents are in there because it’s a forum, not a database.  I don’t use AWWC as much as the AQ and QT, but if someone requests material from me, I like to dig a little deeper.

Ooh - is that my dream agent I see?

RESOURCE 5: AGENCY WEB SITES AND/OR AGENT BLOGS

While AQ and QT offer lots of great information about agents, the trouble with these sites is that the information isn’t always 100% accurate.  I just don’t think every agent updates his profile often enough.  It doesn’t happen frequently, but on occasion when I’ve used an AQ or QT profile for writing agent interview questions, the agent will come back with: “I don’t rep (insert an area of fiction or nonfiction here).”

That’s why, for the most up-to-date information, I rely on an agent’s bio on his agency Web site or posts he’s written on the subject on an industry blog.  It’s true—not all agencies have sites and not all agents blog—but a good number of them do, and it would behoove you to find out before you send that query.

RESOURCE 6: GOOGLE

Sorry, Bing—I’m just not on board yet.  But, be sure to do whatever kind of Internet search floats your boat.

You can find interviews, profiles—all kinds of info to help you craft a query that will connect with a specific agent—through simple name searches.  (It sometimes helps to add “literary agent” after the name.)

 

Research is not that hard, people.

DO I EVER GET TO QUERY?

After I’ve done all that, if I feel like the agent might be interested in what I write, then—yes—I write the query and send it on its merry way.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Author & Lit Agent Katharine Sands

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is author and literary agent Katharine Sands.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Each year, the Southeastern Writers Association conference hosts one agent in residence; this year, Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency will hold that spot.

Sands

As an agent, Sands represents authors in a variety of areas, including: literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction projects dealing with food/lifestyle, self-help, cooking, travel, spirituality, pop culture, film/entertainment, humor and home/design.

In addition to taking on and working with clients, Sands wrote Making the Perfect Pitch: Advice from 45 Top Book Agents (Kalmbach), which compiles pitching advice from several of the industry’s top agents.

At the conference in June, Sands will be teaching a class called “Pitchcraft . . . and Querial Killers: How Not to Get an Agent, Even If You Are a Talented Writer.” As well, she will hear pitches in one-on-one sessions and work with writers in group critique classes during the latter half of the program.

THE INTERVIEW

One of last year’s SWA presenters, editor Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books, posted a great interview with Sands on his Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Here is an excerpt:

GLA: Speaking of meeting writers at conferences, what do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

KS: One of the things I believe people do wrong is to speak to agents as they would a tax professional or lawyer – somebody for hire who is there to listen to their process and backstory and get involved with their case in that way. Agents are listening in for a reason to be interested, first and foremost, and they’re not going to be interested in the writer’s (process), the word count, what is impeding, or why the writer doesn’t want to do extra work.

See the full interview here.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—you only have until April 1 to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

In the Blogosphere: 2/8-2/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.

RESOURCES

If you’re entering the editing stages, this post by YA author Natalie Whipple is for you.  On her Between Fact & Fiction blog, Whipple discusses different ways to edit.

Stuck on structure?  Aspiring sci-fi author Andrew Rosenberg has a great series on story structure at The WriteRunner—and here, he’s begun another one on scene structure.

Need help with your synopsis?  The good people of Writer’s Digest have provided this checklist for your perusing pleasure.

There is a serious drought of boy books in young adult fiction, but before you try your hand at breaking your way into this area, check out this post over at YA Fresh.  In it, Tina Ferraro shares tips on writing for guys, as outlined by YA authors Michael Reisman and Ben Esch at a recent bookstore appearance.

This isn't the kind of boy book I'm talking about, but it's good too. 🙂

LITERARY AGENTS

If you’re in the query stages and you’re not getting any bites, see how your query stacks up against a really good one.  Here, Caren Johnson Literary‘s Elana Roth analyzes a query letter that grabbed her.

I know I’ve been linking to her a lot lately, but WordServe Literary‘s Rachelle Gardner keeps writing terrific posts!  In this one, she talks craft, story and voice.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

In a world where real journalism is dying and blogs are taking over cyberspace, the folks at Hyper Modern Writing remind us of the importance of fact checking.

As well, at Ragan’s PR Daily, Christine Kent says short, snappy subject lines might be the key to freelancing success.

If you’re thinking about joining a writing group, Australia’s Marsha Durham gives you a few things to consider before making a commitment, over on her Writing Companion blog.

IN THE NEWS

I just added this link so I could post a picture of Taylor Lautner (just kidding).  In The New York Times, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California Angela R. Riley opines about Twilight saga author Stephenie Meyer‘s use of the Quileute Indians.

Someone get this poor boy a towel!

INTERVIEWS

Over at Writer’s Digest, check out what 179 Ways to Save a Novel author Peter Selgin has to say about agents, writing and the publishing industry overall.

As well, The Knight Agency‘s Lucienne Diver had an interesting little chat with The Naughty List author Suzanne Young over on her blog, Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings.

In case you missed my post earlier in the week, I interviewed fellow Southeastern Writers Association presenter inspirational author Emily Sue Harvey.

Also, Shenandoah Writers Online member Katy Doman conducted our first Author Spotlight with nonfiction writer and poet Dana Wildsmith. You must be a member of SWO to access this interview, but e-mail me at ricki@rickischultz.com, and I’ll send you an invitiation on the double!

GRAMMAR HUMOR

Hehehehehehe.

FACEBOOK FUN

Think your Facebook etiquette is decent?  Better check, using this cartoon at The Oatmeal as well as this YouTube video.

Surprises in South Carolina, Coming Down off My Conference High

I spent the weekend in beautiful Myrtle Beach at the South Carolina Writers Workshop.

scww

Being around writer folk for the first time since June made it pretty darn difficult to return to writing all by my lonesome today.  However, I’m dealing with it by mad networking, blogging, querying—oh yeah—and editing.

Here are some highlights/surprises of the weekend:

LITERARY AGENT JANET REID

First of all, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management is awesome.  Actually, I figured she would be, considering her blogs on agenting and query letters, but I was pleasantly surprised by her as an instructor.

Miss Query Shark herself really cares about writers.  See this blog post if you don’t believe me.  This hit me the most during her session “To Whom It May Concern: Effective Query Letters.”

Where most other agents say to narrow your querying pool to a select few, Janet says to query widely because it’s in the best interest of the writer to do so.

“What does it hurt you to query?” she asks.  “If it’s not right, you’ll just get a rejection.”

She also stresses not to beg in your query (e.g., “I know your time is exquisitely valuable…”).

“We’re all busy,” she says.  “Some of you have jobs and husbands and children to take care of.  Your time is exquisitely valuable.  We’re just sitting around reading.”

She even empowers writers—albeit realistically.

“Don’t demean yourself.  Remember: Agents and publishing cannot exist without writers—though, no one’s going to treat you like that.”

Another helpful hint?  To increase marketability, she says you might consider changing the sex of your main character, as this can make it stand out against other books like it.

Most importantly, however, she stressed that a query letter is the foundation upon which your publishing career rests.

“You can query too soon; you cannot query too late.”

For more of Janet’s query tips, see my guest post on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

LITERARY AGENTS

  • Despite their busy schedules, they are approachable and willing to answer any questions at writers’ conferences.
  • They know how to party.  No elaboration necessary.
  • If you’re slightly dressed up, people might think you are one.  (Even though I look nothing like the fabulous Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary, I still enjoyed being mistaken for her.)
  • They are curious creatures.  They vary in submission guidelines as well as personal preferences, but check out their Web sites, blogs, and interviews to gain insight.

MORE

  • It behooves writers to be somewhat ADD.  As far as I can tell, the more active your mind is, the more ideas you’ll have for books and articles.  I gotsta get me some of that!
  • According to one faculty member, stealing ideas is okay, as long as you make them your own.
  • Pitching is scary, but just get over it and do it…because the agent might just request pages. 🙂
  • New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry is a down-to-earth guy.  It took him 12 years and eight finished manuscripts before he ever sold anything.  Keep at it, he says.
  • Your first novel may not be publishable.  And that’s OK.  Put it away and start the second.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this weekend such a success.  I had a great time and am rejuvenated to continue my work.

Bring on the next conference!

Getting Your Work Read & Represented—Part II: Give Yourself a Fighting Chance; Follow the Rules

Some say that rules are meant to be broken; I'm not one of those people.

Some say that rules are made to be broken; I don't happen to be one of those people.

Anyone who knows me or has read some of my other blog posts knows I used to teach English—and that I am totally psycho nerdy about grammar.  Ergo, once you’ve disregarded grammar, you’ve made an enemy of me.  This comes from one part of me just being wired that way and one part from my time in the classroom.

In my five years as a teacher, I taught every grade (from 5th through 12th), which means I had to read hundreds of essays, research papers, and news articles written by my lovely students.

The most painful thing about all that grading was—hands down—grammar and formatting errors—a.k.a. “the rules.”

“But, Mrs. Schultz, I didn’t realize we had to use quotes.”

“Um, Nick, it’s a research paper.”  Are my ears bleeding?

Not surprisingly, it was much easier for me to read assignments that followed the rules.  Even if the actual quality of the assignment wasn’t all that mesmerizing, I breathed a sigh of relief to find that one, proofread, properly-formatted, grammatically-correct diamond in the rough whenever I graded.

Generally, if a student took the time to follow the rules, the assignment was better by nature than the crumpled pages his classmate dug out of the bottom of a book bag and handed in to me without so much as utilizing Spell Check.

In this way, I can understand—on a tiny scale (YES, I am qualifying here)—what it’s like to be a literary agent.

As well, I’d venture to guess that, just as correctly formatted papers earned better grades in my classes, queries/manuscripts that follow the rules probably make it further in the slush pile than the ones that don’t.  Even the ones with weaker plots.

Think about it.  Conference after conference, blog after blog, agents and editors  beg people to follow the rules.  It both amazes and disgusts me.

You mean, people aren’t doing this? Naïve Ricki gapes.

Once, I actually heard an attendee say he didn’t “bother” with “all that grammar and stuff” because “that is what an editor is for.”

Um, yes, I suppose that is true to a degree, but do you really think you’re going to get to that point if you’re not bothering with “all that grammar and stuff”?  Editors aren’t really there to do your work for you.

In terms of agents and “the rules,” each agency has its own submission guidelines, which is another way of saying, “These are the rules.”  Presumably, these rules have evolved from a mix of industry standards and the agents’/editors’ preferences.  They have become annoyed with X, Y, and Z and rejected X, Y, and Z so many times, it was necessary to put the rules in place.  This is another way they can weed out the serious from the not-so-serious—the professional from the amateur.

Furthermore, what is so difficult about following the rules?  If an agent says no snail-mail and you send a SASE anyway, should you really be that surprised when you get rejected?

What I’m NOT saying:

**I’m not saying to come up with a lousy idea but punctuate properly and, magically, you’ll be  represented. But, theoretically speaking, if you take that much care with “the rules,” you’ll probably take that much care in making the rest of your manuscript top-notch as well—and agents will notice and appreciate this.

**I’m not saying I’m perfect when it comes to “the rules.” No one is.  However, I turn up my nose to writers who disregard these hallowed rules.  After all, how can one really claim to be a writer and not have respect for the craft?

**I’m not saying there won’t be typos. Of course there will be typos—that’s just an annoying fact.  However, the more you proofread, the cleaner your copy will be. And, good news alert: According to one agent I talked to recently, the occasional typo doesn’t bother agents—as long as that’s what it is (and not a horrible grammar issue masquerading as a typo)

Where to go for help:

**Reference Books

If you don’t know all the rules (again, no one does), then bow down to the sacred grammar gods and treat Chicago Manual of Style; Write in Style; One Word, Two Words, Hyphen-ated?; and Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (four of my favs) and the millions of other great resources out there as the sacred texts they are.

**Freelance Editors

After you and your spouse and your cousin’s husband who majored in English have all proofread your work, if you still aren’t sure you have done the rules justice, hire a freelance editor.  It can be expensive, yes, but there are some who will work with you in terms of pricing, based on what you want them to do.  (Shameless self-promotion alert: like me!)

Lastly, a Desperate Plea:

Agents look at a lot of bad writing because everyone thinks they have an idea for the great American novel and that publishers are going to fall in love with it, regardless of “all that grammar and stuff.”  But please.  Once you’ve gotten over your own ego (please see Part I of this series), give these agents a break.  Respect the rules, and give your work a fighting chance.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t.  And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t. And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Getting Your Work Read & Represented–Part I: You Are Not a Pioneer; Deal with It

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Over the weekend, I read two blog posts that fired up my synapses: “This Has Never Been Done Before!” on literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog and “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post” on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

While not on the same subject, these two posts got me thinking about what works and what sells (“the norm”), grammar/formatting/submission guidelines (“the rules”), and how closely one should follow these things.

This summer, some individuals critiqued my YA manuscript.  Two critiquers echoed a concern I’d had about the time span I used in the story.  (It originally took place from a girl’s sophomore year of high school through her college graduation.)

Prior to these critiques, a friend of mine read my book for fun and liked the fact that it spanned this amount of time.  She said, quite rightly, that one doesn’t generally see many books out there of similar subject matter for girls in the 18-24-year-old age range unless they fall under chick lit.  She, therefore, concluded that my book would stand out because mine did.

This tugged at my gut a bit.  She was right.  Young adult literature is geared toward 12 and up, but the “up” doesn’t typically reach college age—my manuscript would stand out.  But did I want it to stand out for that reason?  If there’s no market for that age group or if that age group doesn’t really fit into that genre, shouldn’t I change it?

Of course, as any writer who has worked on a manuscript for a few years and who thought she was ready to query, I thought, Ugh.  I want to query now!

So this brought me to a dilemma: Do I overhaul it *one more time* (groan) and get it to conform more to the conventions of what’s already out there in YA lit in terms of time span, or do I forge ahead with what I already have and become a pioneer for an under-represented age group?

This was part of the reason I sought critiques.  I figured, if no one noticed the things the voices in my head said agents might red flag, then I’d give it a go and query right away.  But when two reviewers mentioned it, that tugging in my gut became more of a yanking.  If two people I respect as writers brought it up, literary agents would undoubtedly as well.

So that is where I am right now.  Overhauling one more time.  I believe in my writing ability, but I am not about to declare myself a pioneer and use that as an excuse to do whatever I want.  That’s just stupid.

Although you don’t want to write a cookie-cutter story, if you want to sell what you write, then stick to what works.  Stick to what sells.  If there isn’t a market for what you’re writing, there’s probably a reason.  Once you’ve been published and have sold tens of thousands of copies of your book, then maybe you can try to write that fantasy-romance hybrid geared toward men over 70, but keep it in your drawer for now.

I have quite a lot more to say about “the rules” and “the norm.”  Stay tuned for Part II.

Sugar Ray only did well when they released more conventional music.  Not that you want your books to be the equivalent of Sugar Ray songs...but I'm pretty sure they made a decent amount of money in their heyday, so who are we to judge?

Sugar Ray only started doing well when they released more conventional music. Not that you want to be the literary equivalent of Sugar Ray...but they made some cash in their heyday, so who are we to judge?