Writer's Notes

10 Tips for Finding an Agent

This week a friend honored me with a request for advice. I spent some time researching the answers and decided there were others who could benefit from this information. The links to blogs and websites are places I go for my advice. If you’re a writer, you may learn something. If not, skim this post and appreciate all the hard work that goes into that paperback you’re reading.


Dear Andy,

Thanks for asking for my advice. I love to tell people what to do (after all, I got paid for it for 35 years). Since your manuscript is completed, including editing, I’d go with an agent search first.

  • Several websites will offer you contact info. QueryTracker, AgentQuery and WriterDigest are all helpful. I’d check out the free ones, first.
  • Narrow the search field down by genre. Find someone interested in your genre-mystery/police procedural so you don’t waste time with an agent who only accepts romance.
  • I also cut it by only querying agents who took e- submissions versus hard copy. I want someone savvy enough to be looking to tomorrow.
  • Once you have a half dozen interesting agents, read their submission policy.
  • Follow directions to the letter as skipping a specified step can put your query in the trash. Agents get hundreds of queries every day, so a small thing like not following directions can make email triage very easy.
  • Your query text should be fairly uniform for all agents except for the opening paragraph. Assuming your friend John Grisham hasn’t referred you to his agent, you should try to establish a link with the agent. Try something like, “I see in your bio that you attended Caltech. I got my advanced degree in physics from Caltech in 1999.” or “I see in your submission policy that you are interested in steampunk YA. My new SP YA novel has been hailed by my writing professor as ‘a great example of steampunk’.”
  • Make sure you know the agent’s name and spell it correctly. Check to be sure he/she is still at the agency you are querying. Agents seem to move around a lot.
  • There are varying formats for query letters but generally they should be about 3-5 paragraphs. The above link should be helpful.
  • After you send out your query letter, keep track of who, what agency, date query sent, result (manually, on software such as QT or on an Excel spreadsheet, your choice). That way you don’t duplicate efforts in three months when your head is in a tailspin trying to remember who you queried. You also can use this for follow up emails as needed.
  • Keep writing, editing, etc. while querying. I used to send out a half-dozen a week. I rarely heard back from any but all it takes is one!
Writers Digest
Writers Digest

Writer’s Digest is also a wonderful resource for all thing pertaining to the writing life. The online version is as good as or better than the print copy. The Writer is also wonderful and has an online version. A good rule for finding a reputable agent is to look for AAR-Association of Author Representatives. They have a stringently protected code of ethics that begins with never pay for agent services. Check for membership at the above link.

Hope this helps. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so tough. There are plenty of blogs that deal with the mechanics of finding an agent. Janet Grant’s agency Books and Such Literary Management may look like homespun calico but these folks are pros. A list of their books will tell you what kind of activity they generate. Each of their agents post on the company blog during the week, complete with Q&A. I’ve learned much from this one! Rachelle Gardner is one of my favorites. Nathan Bransford’s post from 2008 is entertaining and still pertinent. Fuse Literary is another great reference.

The trick is this—do your homework and follow directions.

Good luck! Nah, I don’t believe in luck. Get to work.

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

8 replies on “10 Tips for Finding an Agent”

Good for you! It’s a sure thing you’ll never be published if you quit! Think contests. Google ‘writing contests’ and you’d be surprise how many publishers, authors, editors are offering contests for various levels of ‘exposure’ from publishing, to editing a manuscript, to putting your work in front of judges important in your genre. Go for it!

I’d like to add one great resource for finding out what agents want: Twitter’s #mswl which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents and Editors post their wish lists for manuscripts. The page isn’t for querying. Once you find an agent who wants the kind of book you have, you have to go through regular channels to submit to them. But it’ll help you narrow down the agents who want the stories you’re writing. There are also writing and submission tips. Here’s the link: or go to Twitter and search #mswl.

An agent once told me “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first. Why would you try to get an agent without meeting or seeing them first?” Unlike editors/publishers, agents want you for the life of your career, not just one book (hopefully), so you want to make sure it’s someone you get along with or think you’d like to work with. For this reason, I’m a big proponent of attending writing conferences and other events where agents are presenting so you can hear what they are looking for, get a sense of their personalities and style, and make personal contact. It’s how I found my agent Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. She was so warm and likeable, I knew I’d love working with her.

Welcome to Thonie's world!

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