The search for a literary agent is often carried out online because this is a fast and instant way to get results. But using online information, which has its advantages (immediacy, recency, and speed), also has certain disadvantages for the writer. Chief among these are the fact that the online information may be hard to verify, it may be outdated, and it may not give sufficient data about the agents’s interests and recent sales. Ironically, you may sometimes get better or more accurate information from print sources. This article explains why and when to use books to find a literary agent.
HOW TO LOOK FOR A LITERARY AGENT IN BOOKS
There are two ways to look for a literary agent in books. The first involves books that are listings of literary agents, such as books by Writer’s Market or other published books. These books are often released in new editions every year. You may think this is done just to make the publisher money, but actually a lot can change in a year. So try to get the current edition of the book you’re using. It may also be worth your while to get an older copy of the same book. Why? Well, this allows you to see what, if anything, has changed in the intervening years. Sometimes you’ll want to stick with agents who have been around for ten or more years, in which case you can first look through the old copy to see who you like. Then do a quick check to make sure they’re still in business by looking in the new copy of the list of agents. One of the best books for this purpose is Writer’s Digest Books “Guide to Literary Agents.” A new edition is published annually.
BOOKS MENTIONING AGENTS IN ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The second way to hunt for agents in by looking in the acknowledgments sections of books that are similar to yours. Authors often mention their agent in the acknowledgments, and in this way you can get the name of an agent who handles a book like yours.
It also helps to be able to say in your query, “I’m writing to you because you represent [fill in the name of an author or title here].” The way to get the name of the author to insert is to look through books in bookstores. Look in the section that carries books similar to yours. For example, if you’re writing a biography, look in the biography section of the bookstore. This is better than using a library because a lot of the books in the library are going to be old, but a bookstore will carry books that are likely to be new and to have the name of a currently working agent in the acknowledgments.
If you search for literary agents in books like this, you’re likely to get good information that will add to, or corroborate, the facts you got while searching online. This can lead to your having confidence that your list of literary agents is good, current, and worth contacting with your book proposal.