Libby Grandy

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Writing Articles

Researching Agents

(Published: Writers’ Journal 2007)


Writers must decide whether to market their work directly to publishers or attempt to find an agent.  It is not an easy decision, because acquiring an agent can be as difficult as finding a publisher for your manuscript.   Many writers choose to market their work to agents first, because they have contacts with publishing companies, and the top houses often only accept agented submissions.


The same guidelines apply to agents as publishers—an excellent query letter and for fiction writers, a synopsis and several chapters of the manuscript, if requested.  It is essential to know the criteria of an agent and to make sure the agent represents your genre and style of writing (literary vs. mainstream/commercial).  Two good resource books are Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents and Writer's Market.  The website, has over thirty pages of agents for fiction and non-fiction with their profiles.


Another important aspect of your research should be checking on the reputation of the agency.  I highly recommend that you use the site, Preditors & Editors, (Yes, preditors not predators and the URL is spelled prededitors, for some reason. You can also go into Google and type Preditors & Editors.)  Other helpful sites are Writer Beware, and the Association of Authors' Representatives,


Agents should always be checked out regardless of the reliability of your source.  For example, I found an agent's name and address in one of the leading writing magazines and sent my marketing package.  When I received a letter requesting my entire manuscript, I decided to check Preditors and Editors—and found a warning beside the agency’s name (not recommended).  Below the agency's web site, under caveat scrivener, there were chats between writers in regard to problems with the agency.  Needless to say, I didn't send my manuscript. 


If you choose to market your work to an agent, you should be aware that their rejection rate of submissions is 90%.  The reason is simple logic.  They must feel confident that they will be able to successfully market your work to publishers.  They cannot make their 15% if they are unable to sell your manuscript.  The other statistic that impacts their decision is the quantity of submissions.  One agent stated that he often receives over fifty letters a day but could only add fifteen new clients every year.  I quote these odds not to discourage you from attempting to find an agent but to help you gain perspective and not take rejection letters (particularly the form letter type) personally.


Agents sometimes write positive comments in their rejection letter and express disappointment in not being able to offer representation.  Too often writers think of agents as hard-nosed, cold sales people.   I once attended a conference in San Diego and was impressed with the commitment and compassion the agents had for their clients.  They talked about the need to “fall in love” with a manuscript.  I doubt seriously that a shoes salesman feels the need to be in love with the shoes he sells.  At one workshop, an agent told writers that it was as difficult for her to pass on a letter of rejection to a client as it was for the writer to receive it.  She only took on projects that she felt passionate about and was always upset when she couldn’t sell her client’s work. 


Agents are people who love literature and enjoy working with writers, however, they have to be selective if they want to stay in business.  When you understand the process from the agent’s point of view, you realize that “rejection” is not an accurate word for a difficult selective process.


Now that you have an understanding of how this process works, you need to do your homework.  Proper research will save you time, money and disappointment.  You’ve worked hard to complete your manuscript—use the same degree of energy in researching agents.  Your reward could be a published book.