Friday, September 09, 2022

Help needed: where to find reputable agents?

Hi Janet,

I tried to sell two novels through a wonderful agent of your acquaintance, but after a few years of representation she decided it was time for both of us to move on. She was very good to me so you'll find no sour grapes here.

Flash forward more than 10 years and I find myself eager to test the waters with a new manuscript, but holy shit what happened to the publishing business? I'm clueless, and as I sort through the Google vomit I struggle to distinguish scam from sincerity. Back in the day, a few hours on Writer Beware and Absolute Write would have had me prepped and ready to go, but now? Where can I go for legit publishing advice from someone who's not trying to sell me something?

The denizens of the Reef are more clued-in about how to assemble a list of agents-to-query than I am.

My lists tend to be places to successfully hide bodies.

Chums, can you lend the writer a hand here?
What works? What should be avoided?



  1. QueryTracker. Pay the $25 for the yearly subscription to get access to the response stats and such. Then once you see that and people's feedback, you can dig into each person you catches your eye more thoroughly.

  2. Re: non-traceable body disposal

    For those murder mystery writers here, take a cue from Walt in BREAKING BAD and use hydrofluoric acid. I know about that stuff; it will eat through anything very quickly except plastic.

  3. I also look at what books the agent has sold and to where and how those books have done and how long they have clients. Then QueryTracker is good. I assembled a list of 50 agents for this next go round - where 5 years ago that list would have stretched to 100, I could not find 100 that looked likely so far. Many left the business. A lot are just closed to unsolicited queries until further notice. And some have no reputation at all so it is hard to decide if they are legit. You are right in how things have changed, OP. Good luck.

  4. QueryTracker is the place to start. This will provide you with a convenient, largely up-to-date list of almost every agency and agent worth querying, sortable and searchable in various fashions. (Of course not all.) The premium subscription has some added benefits but keep in mind that all the interesting "data" provided is self-reported and unvetted and doesn't really mean anything (or, at least, you have no way of knowing what's accurate or what means anything or what it means).

    QueryTracker will reveal the (mostly legitimate) agency websites, where you will spend hours poking around looking for agents of interest.

    Once you find several dozen, you head over to Publishers Marketplace to see who's making sales and what kind and how recently. You're going to have to pay for this one. This is less about seeing who's a rockstar wave-making shark (she watches us, you know) and more about seeing who is just like, reasonably effective at their job and currently working and doing enough business that you feel like they're not going to disappear in two months. Much like QueryTracker, PM doesn't have everything and the "data" is largely self-reported as far as I'm aware, so again--grain of salt here--these are just guides.

    After that you'll have a somewhat smaller list of prospective agents, at which point you head to Twitter. Search your agents in question, and scroll waaaaaay down to see if they're the kind of person you want to work with or not. Don't skip this step, trust me.

    Your list is now much smaller. If you're still not absolutely sure about someone, hit up Victoria at Writer Beware to check.

    There's no perfect system but as long as you use your head at every point you won't find yourself in line at the Circle K at midnight buying Apple gift cards doing something like this.


    Blind Google-, Twitter-, and Manuscript Wishlist-searching should be avoided. These are places to find extra, optional information to add to the pile once you have solid names.

  5. I’ve become a bit of a querying factory.

    Is there a spreadsheet? Of course there is. It's where I track elements of every agent/agency I’m interested in, why query them, query requirements and links, etc., all entered into one big filterable/sortable color-coded spreadsheet. It's all the information I've pulled from the variety of resources I've used to find the agents hiding in dark and dusty corners.

    Resources in order of preference:

    Agency websites

    Web search by genre type

    Pub Market Place – premium for agent sales, who reps what author, etc.; buy for a short period of time, gather what you need, then cancel

    Query Tracker –I just added premium; I’ve stopped submitting to agents with <3% response rates, and I read the comments for any agent I’m interested in. Once nice aspect is being able to compile a list of agents and seeing who is open/closed to queries.

    MSWL – I don't put too much weight any more to an agent's MSWL; an agent may say they’re interested in something but has no representative sales in the genre.

    Twitter – mostly just to see if they’re decent human beings and our views are not polar opposite

    The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (check your local library)


    Absolute Write – resource to vet/threads on most major agencies

  6. Haha, number 5 - Donald's library. 🤣

  7. Most everything is covered already; except googling the top agents of your genre.

    All writers affiliations have asked that question, some have a more extensive list than others.

  8. Publishers Marketplace is self-reporting.
    The exceptions are huge-ass deals that make the news.

  9. What everyone said. I'll also check other agents at an agency (some of them are cool with you querying another agent there if one rejects--others are no from one is no from all so be careful) and see what they're looking for.

  10. My favorite place to bury bodies is under endangered species plants. Environmentalists won't let the cops touch them.

  11. Acknowledgment page of novels by authors you like and/or whose novels are similar to yours.

  12. The acknowledgements pages of recently-published books in your category/genre are also a good place to find agents. It's a fairly labour intensive process, but at least it's guaranteed to snag a reputable agent with a good sales record who (in theory) reps your genre, every time. Plus, you were going to read those books anyway, right?

  13. Re: Kitty's comment about body disposal:

    Under no circumstances should you use hydrofluoric acid for anything unless you are a scientist with the correct training and PPE, unless you wish to join the body being dissolved. To put it into perspective, a labmate interned somewhere that had a jar, and was told: "If some of that gets on you, don't bother calling the hospital. Spend that time to call your family and say goodbye."


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