Posts Tagged ‘association of author representatives’

Resources for Finding Literary Agents

June 24, 2011


I get a lot of  unsolicited queries from writers, most of which I must respectfully reject. Many of these writers ask me if I can refer them to another literary agent. Usually I tell them to find a reputable and well-vetted website that has a data base of agencies and that includes information on whether an agency is currently open to new authors, the genres that they are specifically looking for, and whether the list is searchable  on some of these fields. These lists are all free. Here are a few of them that I like.


Association of Author Representatives   .  The Association of Author Representatives (AAR) is the trade association for American literary and dramatic agents. It has a searchable data base that includes important information about genres an agent works in, whether she is actively seeking new projects, submission guidelines, and other relevant information. The AAR list is very selective, only 350 agencies are listed members. In order to become a member of the AAR, you must have sold at least 10 books in the 18 months prior to your application (this is a significant hurdle).  You must get a written  recommendation  by 2 other AAR members, and you must agree to a rather stringent code of ethics. A lot of the members are from large agencies. But many are not. If an agent is a member of AAR, you can usually assume that the agent is a fulltime and reputable agent. However many good and successful agents are not members of AAR. So you need not limit yourself to this small list of agents. (I’m a member of AAR and proud of it!)  . This site has a much larger list of agents than AAR.  It has over 900 agents listed. It is also vetted, so most, if not all, of these agents are reputable and full time. It has a great searchable data base, and it is all free. It also has lots of other information that writers want including lists of agent blogs, information about writing effective query letters, how to identify scammers, and information on self-publishing options, I like this site.

Preditors and Editors.   This is a very unusual site that has a long list of agents annotated with cautions against certain agencies. P&E  frequently gives details about why these “not recommended” agents have received this dubious honor. Some of these examples are pretty gruesome. The site explains criteria for including a negative rating. Some of those criteria are: agent charges fees, has burdensome engagement agreements, has tie-in arrangements with other fee charging entities, and a whole lot more. Some agencies have special “recommended” notations. But it is unclear what the criteria is for these qualifiers.   Querytracker has a decent agent data base and some good information that will be useful for writers. It also has some interesting tracking information with statistics about how responsive a particular agent is with unsolicited queries. I’d take these statistics with a grain of salt. It is usually based on a very small sample by writers who take the time to report back to this site. Example. My report is based on 14 responses sent to the site. That is about as many queries as I receive every day. So this is not a particularly robust sample.  They also have some nifty chat rooms for authors. For $25 per year, you can receive their premium membership that offers some more reports and services. I generally advise against spending money on any of the sites. The information is usually available for free elsewhere.

Writer Beware.   This is not a list of agents. Rather it is a very good free resource that gives comprehensive advice on how to avoid scams by agents, editors, and publishers, along with good legal advice on your recourses. Some of this information is also available on other sites that we discussed above. But this one is particularly complete. It is on the site of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but the information applies to all writers in all genres.


9 Tips for Effective Query Letters

November 28, 2010


I give a lot of classes and presentations at writers’ groups and conferences. Whenever I do, I get questions about how to write effective query letters.  You can find advice about writing queries floating around the Internet and in magazines like Writer’s Digest.  So this information is widely available. I see a lot of misinformation and bad advice as well. It usually comes from people who promise sure fire success getting published if only the writer will  follow a certain technique. Don’t buy that for one minute. The only road to success in publishing (and it is by no means sure fire) is by working on good projects, writing it well, and having the platform to get attention by an audience of readers. There is no kabalistic knowledge of query technique that will bring you closer to getting an agent. 

These tips are what work for me. Other agents will likely see things differently.

1)      Do your research in preparing your submission list. There are over  2000 literary agents listed in Publishers Marketplace. Most of them specify the subject areas they are seeking. You can find it on their websites or on databases like:  Association of Author Representatives   and Don’t waste your time and theirs sending queries to agents who aren’t interested in your genre.

2)      Always do multiple submissions. The odds for finding an agent through unsolicited queries isn’t so great, so you might as well maximize your chances. I get about 3000 queries a year. Out of that number I probably will respond to about 50 asking to look at their   proposals. From that number I might take on 5 as clients (probably less, really).  And I might succeed in getting one published. Agents’ decisions are subjective.  Harry Potter was rejected by lots of agents.

3)      Follow agents’ submission guidelines. This might also be on the  agent databases mentioned above , but it will always be on agents’ websites. Specifically look to see whether the agent wants queries by email or post, and what and how much information they want included . Some agents will even specify what words to use in the subject heading of the email.

4)      Keep the query short. I like less than half page for the entire query. Save the rest of the information for the book proposal. Remember that agents are getting hundreds of unsolicited queries a month. Chances are that they will be spending about 10 seconds deciding whether they want to follow up with you. Make sure those 10 seconds are used effectively  to find the information the agent needs.

 5)      Answer the key questions: What? Why? Who? What is the genre? What is the book about? Why does it need to be published? Who am I to have the authority to write it? And remember that in this day and age “platform” is everything in commercial publishing, so most agents will look for your qualifications first.

 6)      Be professional and sound professional. Writing for publication is a business as well as an art. Familiarize yourself with the proper terminology and terms of art in  publishing. When you specify the genre of your project in the query, make sure you know what the standard genres are. More than once I have received queries that begin: “This book is a narrative non-fiction novel.”  This is not an impressive way to start a query.

 7)      Be transparent. Avoid hype. After hearing thousands of pitches, agents (and publishers) have pretty good bullshit detectors. A query brimming with hyperbole sends a message to me that the author is either imbued with grandiose delusions or playing me for a fool. Neither of these messages bodes well for a happy author-agent relationship.

 8)      Be patient. As we have mentioned above, agents get hundreds of queries a month. Responding to them is not always the highest priority of an agent. Some agents are not even interested  in new clients and  accordingly may  not respond  at all to your query. You can usually determine this by looking at their submission guidelines in the databases. I try to respond within a week, but I don’t always succeed and I am in the minority on this. If you don’t hear back, assume that the answer is “no”.

 9)      Writing queries isn’t very hard. Chances are that you didn’t need to read this list of tips to write an effective query. Agents are all looking for good projects that have a chance of finding a publisher.  We aren’t going to reject one of those projects because the query diverges from a desired format. If you have a great idea and are the right person to write it, I’m going to discover that regardless of the form of the query.