Monday, December 9, 2013

How I Got My Agent: Step 1

In January 2009, I initiated the rite of passage that all ambitious writers must endure at one time or another; I began my search for a literary agent.

It took me a year to land the lovely, Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, who I signed with in early 2010. As you can imagine, the previous year was long, daunting, and full of frustrations. However, I hope this “How I Got My Agent” series will consolidate my copious trials and errors into a few simple steps for those of you ready to brave the agent pool yourself.

So let’s begin:

Step One: The Research

Consider purchasing or borrowing Jeff Herman’s Guide (mine was the 2008 edition). This guide was excellent because it listed hundreds of publishers, presses, and agents. There are even articles in the back that offer helpful tips for people at this stage in the game. In my edition, 150+ pages were devoted just to articles that covered everything from how to “Write the Perfect Query Letter” to “7 Ingredients for Successful Publishing”.

Okay, okay—you only want to know about the agents. This is where it gets better.

200+ pages are devoted to listing available agents. But it isn’t JUST a list of agents.  Each “profile” includes the agency information as well as an interview with a particular agent from that agency.

For example, under the Donald Maass Literary Agency (as in Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, a MUST read), the agents Stephen Barbara and Cameron McClure were interviewed. In just over two pages you learn, their DOBs, career history, personal stories, hobbies/interests, subjects/categories they love to represent, what they do if/when they are not agenting, best way to contact them, their pet peeves/common pitching mistakes, what they are looking for in a client, how to improve your odds with that particular agent, titles they’ve sold, and much more.

So why is this awesome? Because as you start searching for agents, you’ll realize how incredibly “dehumanizing” the internet can be when you are trying to get to know someone. It is hard to see if you “click” with someone who lives hundreds of miles away and that you’ve never seen or spoken to—and so these interviews, written by the agents themselves, can feel really personal in a sea of by-reputation-only faces.

Another great resource to consider is Publishers Marketplace. Just select the genre that you write and BAM! A list.

Like the Herman Guide, you are given vital information about the agents: description of the agent, how long they’ve been at it, what they represent, leading clients, most recent sales/projects, and how they want to be contacted (IMPORTANT!).

In addition to the Herman Guide and Publishers Marketplace, you can always try good, old-fashioned and omnipresent Google. I just googled “urban fantasy agent”, and it took me straight to a Writer’s Digest list—so this technique seems legit enough.

3 things to watch out for:
--Real agents do not charge fees or advertise
--You should recognize the names of authors/publishers they've worked with
--It is a good sign if they are a member of AAR

As you read profiles, take notes as you go. What you are looking to do here is to create a working list of agents that you are interested in contacting. And that is exactly what we will talk about next in Step2: The Query Letter


  1. Nothing more relevant than words from the School of Hard Knocks. 20 years to get my trilogy complete... any short cuts will save Indie authors many scars. :) Well done and thank you Kory. Looking forward for more.

    1. I appreciate your enthusiasm! And I hope this helps! :)

  2. We both have stories we are hoping to get out, in the magic timeline of "someday," but Barry is nearing a "pitching point." This is AWESOME advice, and I've forwarded the link to him via email as well. :)

    1. Yay, Christa! I am have a couple more posts coming about the query process. Hope they prove super helpful to you! :)