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ASK THE EDITOR Finding the Right Agent

By Susan Malone

June, 1999


Probably the most frequent question I get (along with most agents and editors), is "How do I find the right agent?" This question gets discussed so often, that most industry folks groan at the mention. But let’s just look at it from all angles.

Most folks know the drill: search the Writer’s Market, the LMP (Literary Market Place), Jeff Herman’s guide (which gives tidbits concerning personality, etc., to help narrow the scope), the listing’s on Authorlink, etc. But you know, those really only provide a place from which to start.

These listings often say much the same things, with agents representing different ratios of fiction vs. non. Many agents specialize in strictly romance, or western (although with that shrinking market, that’s rare these days), or almost all nonfiction. Still, that’s not narrowed down nearly enough to do the writer much good. Aspiring scribes often feel as though they’re shooting darts into the ocean, hoping to hit the right drop.

So once you’ve done all of the above, where do you REALLY go from there?

A number of additional paths exist to help find that right person to sell your book. And I’m a believer in doing just about all of them at once, improving the betting odds and expediting the process.

I asked Nancy Yost, agent with Lowenstein Associates Inc. Literary Agency, for her advice on how clients successfully found her.

"Writer’s conferences let you meet agents and/or ask published authors about their agents," Yost began. "Also, fan conferences (like Malice Domestic) let you see authors/agents without that desperate "I need help" pressure. They’re more relaxed, and you can get a more accurate sense of personalities when no one is ‘working’.

"My favorite recommendation though," she continued, "is to look at the acknowledgments in the front (and back) of books that the writer likes, or that are similar to the book that needs representing. I’m always more open to a writer who knows who I represent (and likes them!), and also who has done their homework.

"Another thing I’ll recommend is that, instead of sending just a query letter, that the writer—especially if the book is fiction—enclose the first 5-10 pages (the FIRST, not ‘the best’). I know not everyone asks for this, but sometimes a query just doesn’t capture the writer’s talent; I’ve said ‘yes’ to a couple of queries with writing samples that I would have said ‘no’ to, if they had been queries alone. I don’t think any agent would be seriously offended by the inclusion of 5 pages along with a query, no matter what their ‘guidelines’ (especially if an author acknowledges they’re breaching ‘protocol’).

"And the final chestnut is, ‘write something worth paying attention to!’ For EVERY SINGLE WRITER that I’ve gotten out of the ‘slush,’ the reason I took them on was because I really liked what they had written. I guess it always comes back to that, doesn’t it?"

Yes, it does. As we’ve discussed, make sure the book itself, and the writing, characters, plot, are all compelling before you begin submitting. Then do your homework. And remember that this is truly a process, and finding the right agent may take a very long time. Go at it from all angles!

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial and manuscript assessment service. Her newest book, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN: A WOMAN'S GUIDE, written together with psychoanalyst Gary L.Malone, MD, will be released by Authorlink Press in August, 1999. You may email questions to her at: aaasuz@aol.com