Recently I did something I’ve never done before as a writer: I got a “sensitivity reader” for my latest manuscript. While I’m (anxiously) awaiting her feedback, I’ve been researching agents who might be interested in my book when I’m finally ready to send it out.
Mostly I’ve been scouring the Manuscript Wishlist site (it’s a great place to begin your search), but I’ve also been reading agent interviews, surfing Twitter, and checking out agency websites. And it occurred to me that researching agents has a lot to offer writers, even those who aren’t yet finished writing or revising their manuscript.
So here are five reasons why should be researching agents (on Manuscript Wishlist and elsewhere)RIGHT NOW, even if you’re not yet ready to query. And for more info about how to get a literary agent, check out my post The Number One Mistake Writers Make When Querying Agents.
#1 Researching agents takes a loooong time
There are approximately a gatrillion literary agents out there, so you’ll need to figure out which ones seem like a good fit for you and your book. Hopefully, you and your agent will form a life-long partnership; they will sell this book for you, as well as all the others you’ll write one day. Your agent will negotiate your book deal(s) and hold your hand through the publishing process. Heck, they might even be the one to sell the film rights to your book! Important stuff, so you’ll want to do your homework.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to ten or twelve agents who seem interested in what you’re writing, you’ll need to gather up all the info you can about them: read their blogs and tweets and online interviews. Research their previous book deals and check out books by some of the authors they represent.
All of this takes time, so even if you’re not ready to query, it can’t hurt to get a jump on the research. (Keep in mind, though, if you’re not going to query for another couple years, things might change – for example, agents may switch agencies or be looking for different types of manuscripts.)
#2 You’ll get a peek into the publishing world
A quick dip into Manuscript Wishlist will show you how important diversity and “own voices” is right now in publishing. It will also introduce you to some publishing industry lingo. For example, is your book for young people a chapter book, Middle Grade, YA, or New Adult? Is your love triangle novel best described as a Romance, Women’s Fiction, Family Saga, or Domestic Suspense? As you get closer to looking for representation, you’ll need to start thinking about how your book will exist in the outside world, and how your future agent will sell it.
As I was researching agents, I kept coming across the word “upmarket.” Every agent, it seemed, was looking for “upmarket fiction,” and I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t exactly know what that meant. A quick google search told me that upmarket fiction is literary fiction with commercial/mainstream appeal. Hey — that’s what I’d like to write!
You’ll also find that many agents give advice and suggestions, both about querying and about how to write a book that will make them say “yes!” Handy info to tuck in your back pocket as you continue writing your manuscript.
#3 Researching agents is a great way to get book suggestions
When describing what they’re looking for in a manuscript, most agents supply a list of their favorite books and authors. If you think you might one day submit to a particular agent, it’s a good idea to read some of his/her favorite books to see if your work-in-progress has any similarities.
I came away from researching agents with a long list of books I want to read simply for my own pleasure. I could tell that certain agents had my same taste in reading material, so even if I didn’t think I wanted to query them, I still made note of their favorites.
You may also notice the same books popping up on many agents’ profiles. For example, while I was researching agents recently I noticed that every YA agent in the world (or so it seemed) is in love with the book When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, which makes me think I’d better get my hands and eyes on it right away. If you’re not reading new and noteworthy books, you’re going to be at a disadvantage when it comes time to get yours out into the world. So take a hint from the agents and read some of their favorites.
#4 Researching agents might spark some writing ideas
As I was researching agents, I can’t tell you how many times an agent wrote, “I’d love to represent a book about xyz,” and I thought, “oh my god, I’d love to write a book about xyz!”
Some agents get weirdly specific about what they’re looking for, which some people might find frustrating, but I find it sparks my creativity. They’re giving me ideas! And they say that if I write it, they will want it! How great is that?
Here are just a few examples from Twitter (a recent search of #MSWL). Getting any ideas??
#5 You’ll get the scoop on contests, consultations, and other helpful resources
As you’re researching agents, you may come across contests, consultations, conferences, and other events that can help you towards your writing and publishing goals. Many agents attend writing conferences, where they give talks and offer one-on-one meetings. Figure out which agents you’d like to hear or meet, and which conferences they’ll be attending.
As another example, while researching agents on Mansucript Wishlist, I learned that their sister company, The Manuscript Academy now offers a free facebook group for writers, a free podcast, and paid one-on-one consultations with select agents. I’m especially excited about listening to the Manuscript Academy Podcast, which features interviews with agents and editors, how-to tips, and insider publishing industry info. In some of episodes, an agent will open ten email queries and, for each one, discuss what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not they’d request the book. Very helpful to writers at all levels.
Of course the most important thing is to write and finish your book. But if you need a break from writing, or if you only have a few minutes to sit down at your computer, researching agents can be a great use of your time and be super helpful, even if you’re not quite ready to query.
And when you are ready to query be sure to read my post: The Number One Mistake Writers Make When Querying Agents.