Finding an agent

April 27, 2009

So I’d like an agent to represent me. How to go about finding one?

For starters, I can weed out everyone who’s not interested in the genre of my book. I need an agent who represents authors of travel memoirs, adventure stories or narrative nonfiction.

The best way — in my newbie opinion — for writers to find agents who have represented books like theirs is to actually look at — you guessed it — books like theirs. Check out the acknowledgments page, where the author likely thanked her agent. (If she didn’t, the agent probably wasn’t very good anyways.)

My bookshelf, for example, is full of travel memoirs written by women. (Yes, I’ve read them all.) So I skimmed acknowledgments looking for agent mentions in Eat, Love, Pray; Tales of a Female Nomad; Around the Bloc; and Without reservations. Whatdayaknow! That produced a short list of agents who take on projects like mine. Even better, these agents have successfully sold travelogues.

I’m also a fan of Mediabistro’s Pitching an Agent series, which features a new literary agent every few weeks. These articles explain what types of projects agents are looking for, submissions that turn them off and other useful information that can give a writer hints about who to query. To access the columns, you’ve gotta pay an annual fee, but it’s reasonable, worth it and comes with other perks.

Then there’s the old-school agent directory. I own an over-highlighted Guide to Literary Agents, which has led me to a few gems.

And, of course, use your connections! Talk to friends. Follow other writers on Twitter and ask for agent recommendations. Go through your college alumni directory — When I did this for Northwestern University, where I got my master’s degree in journalism, I connected with a literary agent who happened to have experience representing authors of travel memoirs. Some would say that’s luck, but I say it’s looking hard until you find what you want.

Once you’ve discovered an agent that looks promising, check out his Web site for submissions guidelines. Some only accept e-mails. Others still prefer snail mail queries. And each has their own quirky rules about what they want from you and how they want it. Follow those rules, and you’re probably already a step ahead of other writers who haven’t demonstrated that competence.

Although my query letter is written — and I’ll share that with you in a future post — I won’t query agents until I’ve completed my sample chapters and added them to my book proposal. That way, when one (or two or three or four!) agent requests my book proposal, I’ll be able to send it straight away.

So which agents did I choose, and why? Here’s a sample of the dozen who will receive a personalized query letter. Each of these agents accept either travel stories, memoirs or narrative nonfiction:

* Sarah Jane Freymann. She represented author Stephanie Elizondo Griest for her travel memoir, Around the Bloc.

* Liza Dawson. In a MediaBistro feature (password req’d), she said she “wants to know about women in exotic lands” and “has a weakness for memoir.” Need I say more?

* Laney Katz Becker. The Northwestern alumni find, who represented Eve Brown-Waite for First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria.

* Jessica Faust. Because her blog has proven her to be professional, smart and witty — everything I want in an agent.

Get the idea? The reasons why I chose them vary, but the point is that there is a reason. And in my query letters, I’ll tell the agents why I think we might make a good fit.

Anybody got an agent recommendation for me?

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