The first time I got serious about finding an agent – and this was in the dark ages of the internet when chat rooms felt like ghost towns – I posted a question about the best way to narrow my agent search. I’d tried pulling names at random from the listing books and wasn’t impressed. No one had any ideas, which astonishes me now as there are in fact some very basic steps you can take to refine your list of prospective agents.
First is the acknowledgement page. Find a book you like, preferably of an author whose work is reasonably similar to yours, and see if the author thanked their agent in the acknowledgements page. If the author did not thank their agent, you can also Google “that writer” and “agent” and see what you come up with.
Speaking of the internet, I highly recommend the site QueryTracker. This is an intelligently designed listing of hundreds of agents by their genre, complete with links to the agent’s website, as well as links to authors they represent. What’s more, the site includes online software for, as the name suggests, tracking your queries.
Another good site along these lines is Litmatch. The database for Litmatch seems to be slightly larger than that for QueryTracker, but I have found the layout and overall flow of QueryTracker more intuitive and responsive.
And of course, there are writer’s conferences. There’s no substitute for actually meeting the agents face to face. When Zoë Ferraris finished her MFA program, she attended a party where agents and newly hatched writers met to size one another up. Zoë had been writing and submitting for years, and so many of the agents at that soirée were agents to whom she had once submitted work. Upon actually meeting these agents, however, she realized immediately how wrong many of them were for her novels. It’s like online dating: just because you and a prospective date like baseball and chardonnay doesn’t mean love will soon bloom.
Finally, go to the agency websites. Agents will publish info about themselves, about their preferences, their peccadilloes, even pictures of themselves. See if you can glean something between the lines. And trust your gut. If you see their picture and read their bio and something tells you they’re not right for your work, in all likelihood they are not. Not to worry. There are plenty more where that came from.