Finding An Agent

By Mary J. Wilson

Are you hoping to break into Traditional publishing? If the answer is yes, then you probably know your odds are better if you have an agent. Most traditional publishers do not accept un-agented submissions. And if you submit to a publisher who does accept an un-agented submission, your beautifully crafted manuscript will go to the bottom of the slush pile. It may be months before you get a response—if you get a response at all. The right agent knows the editors and what they are looking for. The right agent and will champion your book to those editors. The right agent will negotiate the best possible contract. 

So, how do you find that perfect agent when there are literally hundreds of agents who represent romance? The RWA website has a list of approved agents. And it is a good resource, but with the ever-changing state of publishing and the reduced staff, how can you be sure it’s completely up to date? You can spend hours trawling through agency websites for up-to-date information about their agents and what they are acquiring. But there are better ways to find an agent. (Sorry RWA. You know I love you.) 

I’ve been down this path and want to share with you a few tips to make this process quicker and easier. I have created a list of the top five sites that I have used, and a short review of each site. Links included. 

But before I begin, I want to offer a little advice.

First, make sure your query letter, synopsis, and manuscript are the best possible version. There’s loads of information out there on writing a query letter and synopsis. 

Second, do your homework. Decide which agents might be right for you and list them. I would not send a query to every agent on your list at once. If all of the agents pass, you may need to regroup, look at your query and synopsis and revise before sending it to another set of agents. 

1. Query Tracker (5 Stars) 

If you do nothing else, get a Query Tracker account. It’s free and is the best way I have found to keep track of those queries. Be sure to sign up on their email list so you can get agent updates. There is also a paid version but, I find the free version gives me everything I need. 

Pros: It tracks your queries. It is simple and intuitive to use. You can easily create a list of the agents you intend to query to as well as who you have already submitted to. If you get a request for a full manuscript or an offer it’s easy to update the tracking. It will show how many days your query or submission has been with the agent. Many of the agents require you submit through Query Tracker. If the agent you’re submitting to requires a different form, you can still easily track your submission via Query Tracker.

But wait there’s more. 

Query Tracker is more than just a fancy spread sheet, you can also search for agents by genre. Once you click on that agent, information will pop up. I typically click the agency website to review submission guidelines. If it sounds like somebody I’d like to query, I click the “add this agent to my query list” button. It’s so easy and the site is updated weekly so you know you’re not getting old information. 

Con: The search doesn’t drill down to subgenres as well as other sites, but it is a good guide.

2. The Manuscript Academy (5 Stars) 

They call themselves the happiest place in publishing. This is more of an online resource, offering classes, workshops, panels, and agent/editor consults. They host an excellent agent/editor search form through The Manuscript Whish list. (The Manuscript Wish List Website) On this website, you can drill down to subgenre. They offer a free version and two membership levels—Basic at $ 49.99/month and Gold at $69.99/month.

Through The Manuscript Academy, you can schedule an appointment to speak to an agent or editor on their faculty—and there are plenty. This is not a pitch. It is a chance to have your query and / or synopsis reviewed by an agent or editor. There is a cost for each type of meeting. If you’re a member, depending on your level, the meetings are included. 

The workshops and agent/editor consults are open to both members and non-members. The non-members must pay for the consults and workshops. It’s sort of an a-la-cart system. Workshops are included for gold level members as well as gold ticket for a10-minute consult each month. But you can save your tickets and combine them for longer consults. 

Pros: Excellent workshops and panels. The workshops are recorded so if you can’t attend you can catch up later. Agent/Editor consults. Their agent/editor search platform is good. They can also be found on Twitter (X) #manuscriptwishlist 

Cons: My personal opinion is the paid version is worth it if you can swing it. The agent/editor information isn’t always as up to date as Query Tracker. 

3. The Writer’s Digest (4 Stars) 

This site has loads of information and it’s free. There are articles on writing, editing, submitting and everything in between. 

Pros: Loads of free content. I reviewed the September issue and there was a list of 20 agents seeking publication. I don’t know if this is a monthly thing but it seems logical.

Cons: I didn’t see a dropdown or search for agents, but it might be different if you pony up the money for membership. 

4. Savy Authors (3 Stars) 

I have to admit I haven’t spent a ton of time on this website. I find it busy and confusing for my ADHD brain. They have a free and paid version. I think people who love it, really love it. It’s just not my jam. 

Pros: Workshops and courses are offered. They also have pitch fest and flash fiction contests. There are free pitchfests and loads of information on preparing your pitch. There is a critique partner match for paid members. 

Cons: To me, the website busy and not user friendly. 

5. Publisher’s Marketplace (4 Stars) 

Publisher’s Marketplace has a professional database of agents and editors, but I have found it’s not always up to date. I have been on the mailing list for years. They are great at providing UpToDate news about the industry. 

Pros: Pretty much every agent/editor is listed as well as who their clients are, and deals they’ve made. One of the best places to keep abreast of the changes in the industry. 

Cons: You must be a member to find any information. 

Final Words: Don’t get disheartened when you do not get an immediate reply. Agents are inundated with hundreds of queries a day and that’s on top of taking care of the writers they have signed. This is the long game, and it requires patience and many agents do not send rejections. If that is the case, most agencies will mention in their submission guidelines something along the lines of “If you haven’t heard from us in twelve weeks, it’s a pass.” Enter it in Query tracker notes or on your calendar. It’s the best way to know if it’s a pass.

Top mistakes that will get an immediate pass from an agent. 

  1. Wrong format, or form. Be sure to follow submission guidelines exactly. 
  2. Submitting a project that the agent doesn’t represent. For example, sending a contemporary romance query to an agent who doesn’t have romance listed as a genre they represent or is only interested in historical romance. 
  3. Rude or demanding queries. For example, “If I don’t hear back from you in two weeks, I will follow up with a phone call.” Yep. It apparently happens. 
  4. Misspelled words, poor punctuation, grammar mistakes. 
  5. Sending a query to 50 agents in one big email. (If you send 50 queries, do it individually.) 
  6. Querying a second agent at the agency if the agency submission requirements specifically say not to query more than one agent. 

Tips for a better query. 

  1. Read their wish list and bio. Most agents say they prefer a personalized query. Start with a salutation. Dear Ms. BestAgent. 
  2. I have also heard many agents say they like when the query refers back to something listed in the agent bio. For example: “I read in your bio that you love whales. My book is about a marine biologist who is out to save the whales.” Or “I read in your bio that you are looking for a spooky, swoony, romcom. I think my book fits that description perfectly.” 
  3. Agents are more likely to keep reading or request pages if they catch your voice in the query letter. For example, “Charlotte is trying desperately to save her family ranch and she’ll be damned if the suit from New York City is going to hornswaggle her daddy into selling out to big business.” Okay not a great example but you get the picture. 
  4. Read the agency submission guidelines and make sure you follow them. Some agencies will list very specifically how they expect the query letter to look. For example: Some agencies want the author bio and experience up front followed by the manuscript information. Other agencies may want the author bio after the manuscript information.

The most important advice I can give any writer is to keep writing. It’s hard to wait for replies and it takes weeks if not months to hear back, assuming you do hear back. Meanwhile keep writing and working on your craft. The first book might be a “no” but the second book might be a “hell yes!” 

Disclaimer: These are the opinions of my personal experiences. You may find that you prefer other resources. 

Good Luck and Happy Writing! 

You can contact me at: http://[email protected]