I spent my summer stalking literary agents and here's what I found
Over the last few months, we were joined by the wonderful Phoebe, who spent her Summer delving into agent profiles, researching submission requirements, and stumbling across interviews. Thanks to Phoebe's efforts, AgentMatch now has over 1000 agents recorded!
In this blog post, Phoebe shares her advice on researching agents, successful submissions, and her top-tips for using AgentMatch. So, enjoy her thoughtful and helpful article, and remember to share your top-tips for submitting to agents in the comments section below.
I spent my summer stalking literary agents and here's what I found
by Phoebe Haywood, AgentMatch Executive (Intern)
So, you have finished your book (or at least the final draft before it goes to the Editor) and it’s amazing, it’s fresh, and it’s ready for representation by a literary agent. A few questions spring to mind:
Do you really need an agent? You can check the answer to that question here, but chances are that you absolutely do; if your book falls into a category that agents can and will represent, then you need to get one. It is that simple.
How do you find an agent then? Surely you want to find that perfect literary agent to represent your creation, one who will appreciate your hard work and adore your writing? But other than trawling through endless webpages and painstakingly ruling out hundreds, even thousands of agents one by one, how can you make a perfect match between your book and an agent?
Well… AgentMatch. Jericho Writers has a tool called AgentMatch. And it does what it says on the tin.
But what is AgentMatch?
AgentMatch is a tool available to members of Jericho Writers that comprises a database of all the literary agents in the US and UK. Each agent is presented as a detailed profile with a ton of specific data on their preferences, submission criteria, client list status, and even their hobbies.
Say you have written a sci-fi or fantasy novel and you want to find a relatively new literary agent who is actively seeking new clients. Or a non-fiction project about the history of medicine. Or a graphic novel for middle-grade readers. Just pop all those parameters into the search filter and you’ll find a match. Or several. There might be a list of a dozen or so agents who are all eager for your work and that is your list of 10 to 12 agents, the number we recommended submitting to on this post, ready for you to start querying.
Who am I to recommend AgentMatch and what do I know about it? Well, my name is Phoebe, I’m studying at the University of Oxford, and in my summer holiday this year I have been working on AgentMatch for the past three months. I have been updating its profiles and checking its data and generally ensuring that it gives authors the best possible information for them to find their perfect agent. I have been living it, breathing it, and dreaming about it. In fact, I’m not exaggerating; it was a very trippy dream filled with a lot of genre tick-boxes. So, you can trust me when I say: AgentMatch is an incredible tool. Where else can you find an agent database that cares so much about making the search for representation both easier and more personal?
But this post is not just about the brilliance of AgentMatch. It’s also about how to make the most of it to suit your book, your submission and your agent.
Here are a few tips that may prove useful, which have a mix of advice about the tech side of AgentMatch and about the querying process:
I recommend opening profiles in a new tab, so you’ll be able to have multiple profiles up at once and be able to easily compare information to choose the best agent for you.
Open to submissions?
It’s a good idea to look at their Client List Status first so you don’t waste time on the agent if they are currently closed to new clients. The usual reason for this is that they are catching up on a backlog of queries. The Submission section should still show the agent’s submission criteria though, even if they’re closed, so you can start querying them as soon as they reopen.
Additionally, the Client List Status is also a great resource for indicating how likely the agent is to take on new clients; a new agent will be growing their client list and so take on a higher proportion of clients, whereas an agent with many years of experience might be concentrating more on working with their existing clients.
Don’t be fooled
If the number of clients for an agent says 0 or a very low number, don’t be put off; sometimes the agents don’t make their full client lists available or don’t distinguish which clients are theirs out of the combined agency client list. They could have agented for decades and represented over a hundred clients but if it wasn’t made available, it couldn’t be put on the profile.
In such cases, it’s worth checking the agent’s Profile section on AgentMatch as it often mentions a few of their more notable clients that they’ve discussed in the past. Definitely also check the AgentMatch profile’s Client section because it shows possible names attributable to the agent.
On the subject of what information is available, the AgentMatch profiles are kept as up to date as possible, a fact I know extremely well given that it has been my job to help keep profiles accurate this summer. But it means that I can also say with emphasis that the agenting world changes and it changes at light speed. They might put out ten new Tweets in the blink of an eye. One agent was open to new submissions and closed the next time I looked. So, while AgentMatch is without a doubt the best agent database, with the most data, detail, and literary soul, it is physically not possible to update over a thousand agents every day (unless the team here drinks a gallon of coffee).
Get to know agents first
You should obviously use AgentMatch to find a host of agents all keen to represent your exact book with passion and expertise, instead of scrolling to the nineteenth page on Google to find at least one agent interested in children’s non-fiction. But just make sure that, if you find a particular favourite on AgentMatch that has leaped up to first place on your shortlist of agents to query, you follow through on the Interesting Links section and double check their agency website. It might prevent a lot of emotional investment going down the drain after realising they stopped being interested in your genre or changed their submission criteria an hour after their profile was last updated.
Submission requirements: what they want and how they want it
Speaking of which, the Submissions section is vital. Without exception, every single agent in every single interview said that the top querying mistake was ignoring the submission criteria. Even worse, it was almost always in response to the question of what causes them to instantly reject a query. It is therefore imperative that your query must follow the agency’s guidelines.
Yet again, our AgentMatch profiles are dedicated to going above and beyond. The Submissions section shows how to ensure your query is at least read and not automatically disqualified for using the wrong criteria, and the Advice section shows how to make your submission desirable. Usually this section entails a collection of quotes, advice and tips given by the agent in multiple interviews, which will help you to personalise and streamline your query for that particular agent. Sometimes this can prove vital to drawing them in, especially if the agent only asks for a query letter or uses one to decide whether to read a sample of writing. In such cases, even an incredible manuscript or proposal will be completely overlooked out of a disinterest in the initial query letter, so implementing their specific preferences or tastes for submissions will have a much better chance at making your book stand out in their mind.
How else can you grab an agent’s attention?
Another method of getting an agent’s attention, simultaneously a piece of advice expressed by the majority of agents in various interviews, is research. Well, clearly AgentMatch compiles your research for you, bringing together a huge range of sources for each agent to provide the fullest profile possible. But the kind of research that all agents want authors to conduct is to learn what they have in common with each other, such as an admiration for the work of one of their clients, or a shared love of their favourite books, or even enjoying the same hobbies or TV shows. Mentioning any mutual interests in the query letter will make your submission stand out, and finding common ground also shows that both of you are on the same page (no pun intended) about the kind of books you like and your interests in literature. The perfect agent for your book will be one who truly loves reading it, so be sure to check the Clients, Authors & Books Liked, and Other Loves & Interests sections on the AgentMatch profile. Perhaps your ideal agent is a fellow watcher of Schitt’s Creek?
Similarly, if offered representation, it’s important that the agent-client relationship is healthy and that you can work effectively together, possibly for many years and even for your whole career. Besides getting a sense of their interests and personality from their AgentMatch profile, it is worth going down to the Interesting Links section. This is where the interviews that provided quotes for the Advice section can be found, as well as various other resources, which can all give a sense of the agent’s personality.
You only get one shot, so don’t waste it
The Profile section itself usually involves a few key pieces of information for each agent, including their current agency, a brief aspect of their publishing career, their approach or attitude to being an agent, and (crucially) their areas of representation.
If your book doesn’t fit into the genres or topics that they represent, do not submit to them as they will never take it on. It’s not a reflection of the quality of your writing, it’s simply like hammering a square peg into a round hole. They won’t offer representation.
I know I’m labouring the point but it is the most frequent mistake made by querying authors, aside from using the wrong submission criteria.
There are so many wasted queries because of it. Don’t waste yours.
Luckily, every AgentMatch Profile section has a clear manuscript wishlist (
#MSWL) and concise list of areas each agent represents, as well as what they are seeking. Far from merely showing which agents are open to your type of literature, most of the Profile section is filled with detailed information on what the agent is particularly looking for in submissions and what they specifically enjoy within their represented genres or subjects.
In short, the Profile is the agent’s manuscript wishlist and it’s an essential part of AgentMatch, the heart of it as I personally believe. You’re using it to narrow down that search. Maybe you have found the agents that represent your genre. But what about your exact sub-genre?
If the Profile section mentions that the agent enjoys the fundamental concepts of your book – be it monster protagonists, or small-town contemporary romances, or narrative non-fiction that deep dives into investigative journalism, or a cookbook that looks at the intersection of culture and food (all real examples) – you can be sure that you have found an agent who will adore your work.
This section shows not just an agent who will like your book but one who is actively seeking it.
One who just gets you as an author and client.
One who will offer representation.
And that’s AgentMatch.