If you’ve already queried publishers who accept direct submissions and come up dry, or if your target publisher does not accept direct submissions, it might be time to consider finding an agent.
The first thing to do is to make a list of agents who take your genre. You want to do this right because querying an agent who does not accept your genre is considered rude in the publishing industry and makes you look like you’re not a serious writer. Many sites list agents, like Bookmarket www.bookmarket.com and Agent Query www.agentquery.com.
My clients, for instance, write nonfiction and historical fiction, so they’re only going to seek agents who take those genres. An agent’s bio may tell you not only what genres she accepts but also what subgenres she’s passionate about. The clients she represents will tell you something about the types of material and authors she prefers to market.
When you read an agent’s bio, you want to see that they’ve been agenting a long time. If the agency has not been around for many years, then you want to know how it came into being and to which agencies it owes its origins. Knowing why an agency was started may help you learn whether you belong there.
The next thing to do is to check the agent’s reputation. You can vet both the agent and the agency’s name on sites like Predators & Editors, http://anotherealm.com/prededitors, which allow authors to comment on publishing professionals’ trustworthiness. If other authors have been burned by an agent, this site will usually tell you so. Never pick an agent without thorough research and vetting. America is rife with authors in every state who have been taken by disreputable people holding themselves out as literary agents. Not giving a person money up front (never give an agent money), doesn’t mean its okay to enter the relationship casually.
The formal method of approaching your well-vetted agent is a query email.
If your query is answered, you may be asked for your book proposal.
The ins and outs of crafting both those items are beyond the scope of this article, however both are equally important and should merit your highest attention and best effort. In fact, I recommend that a professional book editor look over your book proposal.
An effective informal method of interesting an agent in your work is to make yourself known through an industry professional that the agent works with, like an editor. More agents accept clients through recommendations from clients and editors than any other way.
I wish you good luck in approaching agents, whichever way you choose to do so.
– Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist