“How do I find an agent?” Notes from the Chicago Writer’s Conference, Part 3

If you’re just joining us, in Part 1, I talked about how we writers can know when our manuscript is actually ready to start sending out. In Part 2, I talked a little bit about the decision to pursue traditional publishing or to self-publish. Today I want to talk to you about finding an agent.

Do your homework

Everyone at the conference agreed that simply sending your manuscript out to a string of names from the latest edition of the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents is a bad plan.

I guess that means my “Dear Agent” direct mail campaign is out. Darn. I really liked the postcard I’d created for that too.

(Image: Shala Howell)

(Image: Shala Howell)

Isn’t it great?

Sadly, it seems savvy writers use a slightly more targeted approach.

Step 1: Use the latest edition of the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents to make a list of agents who work in your field. Or, find books by writers you admire and look in their acknowledgements section to see who their agents are.

Step 2: Find books by the authors those agents represent and flip to the acknowledgements section. Did the author thank their agent? If yes, fine. If no, move on to the next agent on your list. Not being thanked is a terrible sign.

Step 3: Read the book(s). Are they similar to your novel? If so, the agent who helped get those books published might be interested in your book too. Make a list of the things that your book has in common with the one(s) you’re reading. (You’ll need to know this later).

Step 4: Google the agent to find their website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and/or blog. Check the submission guidelines on the agent’s website, and find out whether or not they are accepting queries. If they are accepting queries, then figure out how that agent likes to be contacted, and follow those guidelines.

Step 5: Follow the agent’s blog, Facebook page, and/or Twitter feed for a while. Many agents are surprisingly up front about their likes or dislikes about queries and manuscripts. You’ll also get a sense of whether or not that agent is a person you can work with.

Of course, you don’t have to have an agent. You can also send query letters directly to some publishers.

Next week: How do I find a publisher?

More Reading:

See my entire series of articles on the Chicago Writer’s Conference.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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