Rather than making recommendations, therefore, I suggest that people check out the Agents page of Writer Beware, in order to learn the warning signs of a disreputable agent, and that they read my article The Safest Way to Search for an Agent, which outlines a research technique intended to help them identify reputable agents and avoid questionable ones.
There are a number of reliable ways to identify reputable agents who might be appropriate for you. The easiest is to invest in a couple of good, informative market guides, such as Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. A more laborious method is to find books that you think resemble yours in genre, tone, subject matter, or style, and try to discover who agents them. You can read industry publications such as Publishers Weekly to find out about recent book deals. Or if you write genre fiction, there may be a magazine that reports on your genre, including recent book sales--such as Locus Magazine for the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields.
(There are also some very bad ways of trying to identify appropriate agents--including starting your research on the Internet. The Internet is an invaluable secondary research resource, and you'll probably use it extensively to check into the agents you find through the procedures above; but it's not where you should begin. Sure, there are some great online resources, such as AgentQuery.com--but unless you already know about them, you are far more likely to run across agent "resources" that have been compiled by people who don't know much about the publishing industry, or who haven't bothered or aren't able to screen the reputability of the agents they list. And do I need to mention Google ads? New York Literary Agency. Whitmore Publishing. PublishAmerica. 'Nuff said.)
The above suggestions for agent-finding are standard, oft-repeated advice. But here's another resource that I'll bet a lot of people don't know about: publishers' catalogs and rights listings. These identify the rights that are held by the publisher and/or its licensees--and, more important for the agent-hunter, the rights that are still available through agents. Sometimes there's just a list of agencies, but often the agency (and sometimes the actual agent) for each book is named. For genre authors, this can be a bonanza--if you write mysteries or thrillers, check out the St. Martin's Press listing below. For mainstream or nonfiction authors, it's a great way of identifying successful agents, whom you can then research further to discover whether they may be right for you.
Publishers often bury their rights listings or catalogs in obscure parts of their websites that you probably won't stumble on unless you know they're there. Below are links to some of the listings that I've located in my Internet travels. Hope you find them helpful.
- Alfred A. Knopf (a bit outdated, but still useful)
- Bantam Dell
- Beacon Press's downloadable catalogs
- Crown Publishing Group's downloadable catalogs (agents are listed in a section at the end)
- Harcourt Brace
- Henry Holt & Co
- Kensington Books (includes Kensington, Zebra, Citadel, and Pinnacle imprints)
- Little, Brown's downloadable catalogs
- Penguin UK Rights Catalog
- St. Martin's Press downloadable catalogs (agents are listed in a section at the end. Includes Griffin, Minotaur, and St. Martins Press imprints)
- Simon & Schuster's Catalogs
- Time Warner's downloadable catalogs