Acorns vs. Nuts: How Do You Find the “Real” Agents?

My Veteran 1 Day Knowledge

Two years ago when I finished my first novel—the one that will NEVER see the light of day—I started to research on Google how to get a book published. BIG MISTAKE!  Never, never, never Google anything publishing related.  My inner this-sounds-like-a-crock radar went off.  Can we say SCAMMERS!  But luckily, I have street smarts.  (If my street smarts equaled book smarts, I’d graduate from Harvard “Don’t Effing Play with Me” University with Magna Cum Laude.) 

I joke it's what I’ve learned in one day, but it’s a knowledge that encompasses all the tidbits I’ve picked up over the last few years.  From blogging, tweeting, chatting and conferencing with everyone in the publishing industry (writers, authors, agents, editors) I’ve learned a little here and there.  Now it’s time to piece together the scraps and find myself an agent.   The best way is to get started, is to create a spreadsheet. 

Who to start with?
1.  Start with what you know…and love.
Make a list of your favorite author’s agents. This information is usually listed in an author’s acknowledgements.  (Debut authors usually list on their blog/twitter profile.) It’s a quick reference spreadsheet of all the authors you love with their: agents, publisher, and editor.

Short list, huh?  Now where to?
Two great resources for a thorough database of agents.  But the problem is how do you distinguish between good agents and mediocre agents?  Mediocre is worse than Scammer Agents because you don’t see them coming.  It’s not that they are malicious or out to take your money, it’s that they don’t have the proper training and background in the publishing industry to properly help you.

Acorns vs Nuts, how do you find the “real” agents?
3.  Through good advice. 
The best place to go for thorough honest writing advice is the (Science Fiction Writers of America.)  And before you tell me that you don’t write sci-fi, you need to know that they have created a huge database of publishing industry related articles that are not genre specific.  And most importantly, they have an awesome article on mediocre agents:  How To Find A (Real!) Literary Agent.

I’ve got all the advice I care to hear and my eyeballs are swimming in agent soup, now what?
4.  Good old fashioned research. 
Yep.  One by one, take your list and weed and sort.  From “dream agent” to “eh, maybe him.”  Here are the categories on my spreadsheet that may help you organize your list a little easier (or not if you’re not a Type A person.):

Agent Name, Agency, Agency Website, Mailing Address, Email Address, Personal Connection, Books/Authors Represented by Agency, Twitter, Random Notes, Blog, Submission Guidelines (ßjust a web link to their guidelines), Submission Date, Via Email or SASE, Response Date

I’m sure there are other vital categories I will add as I move forward but this is a good start.

Are you ready to query?
5.  Nope.  One last thing, stalking. 
DON’T camp out on the agent’s lawn or bombard their twitter or blog with an in-your-face-I’m-gonna-bug-the-shit-out-of-you-so-when-you-get-my-query-you-know-who-I-am approach.  No.  Like says, agents have a long memory when it comes to the nuisance writer.  The old advertizing adage “bad press is good press” is not so in publishing.  Bad press=bad press.  DO read agent tweets, blogs, news feeds, interviews, etc.  Find a personal connection that will tie the agent to your manuscript. 

After I wrote my first MS, I told myself I could not research agents until I was ready to query.  I didn’t want to have the cart before the horse so to speak.  That was a mistake.  From the get go, I should have been compiling a spreadsheet.  Over time my list would have become fat and happy, instead of the anorexic spreadsheet I have now.  There are so many conversations with fellow writers who have mentioned X agent that I should have noted.  But it’s nothing a little time and research can’t fix.  And in a month or so, when I’m ready, my list will be looking like Boss Hog, baby!

How did you find an agent?