Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

September 1, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- A Little-Known Resource for Agent-Hunters

One of the most frequent requests that I receive via Writer Beware is to recommend appropriate, reputable agents. It really is best, however, for a writer him- or herself to choose whom to query. The right agent for one person can be the wrong agent for another, and I have no way of knowing which is which. Also, agents' tastes and specialties differ so much, even when they sell within the same genre, that it's difficult to make a useful recommendation if you haven't actually read the writer's work.

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 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.


Dave Kuzminski said...

I fully endorse Victoria's recommendations about finding an agent. Also, remember to check bookstores. If an agent for the genre you write is listed in the dedication of a book you find for sale there, odds favor the agent being legitimate and reputable.

Even if you find an agent listed in P&E, be sure you check other sources. Protect yourself by doing indepth research from more than one source.

Bk30 said...

Thank you so much for the tip. This site along with Absolute Write cooler and P&E have been a valuable resource to me.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

For folks who would otherwise be prowling through Locus back issues, may I recommend the spreadsheet created by writer Melinda Goodin?

She's been keeping this sheet for the past two years, collating the data from the Locus news pages to list books sold, by whom (author and agent) to whom (editor/publisher). It's a great way to see which agents are representing which kind of books.

John Bruce said...

I checked the spreadsheet, and I think that valuable as it may be to some writers, it perpetuates a problem that writers and bloggers create for themselves (though agents are a part of it, too). The author calls it a "novel" database, and descriptions strongly suggest it's for "literary" or "mainstream" -- but the data is derived from Locus, which this post identifies as an SFF organ.

Many writers and agents, apparently to flatter themselves, call their area "literary", when it's actually SF, fantasy, gay-lesbian, new age, chick lit, or whatever. My own sense is that many agents in particular cause problems for themselves by not being fully accurate about what material they represent. Why should I waste my time with an agent who says she represents "literary" when it's plain from research that she flogs romances exclusively?

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

Just in case someone is googling for the Locus sales spreadsheet, or backreading this wonderful blog, please note that the Locus sales spreadsheet has had to move. It is now available at:

thank you!
Melinda Goodin in Australia

Design by The Blog Decorator