Once you’ve decided your novel is ready to submit to literary agents, you’ll probably want to get going right away, but it’s important to take your time deciding who to submit to. It’s often advised to create a list of about ten agents, submit to five, wait a couple of months, then submit to five more. But how do you choose?
I’ve heard many agents encourage writers to look in the acknowledgements section of their favourite books to find out who the author’s agent is. Submission letters that open, ‘I think you’ll like my novel because you represent so-and-so,’ are certainly going to grab an agent’s attention.
This is a brilliant way of doing it, but you might find it doesn’t add enough names to your list. I found that many of the agents who represent my favourite writers weren’t accepting unsolicited submissions, and they were mostly big-name agents. It’s important to submit to early-career agents too!
Another great place to find agents is on social media, especially Twitter. You can get a better sense of how different agents like to work and insights into what they’re looking to take on. Try finding agents to follow by searching hashtags like #AskAgent or #MSWL (manuscript wishlist). Or follow lists of literary agents created by other users, like our one. You could also simply type ‘literary agent’ into the search bar, click ‘view all’ and have a browse.
A next step, though a time-consuming one, is to search the agents page on all the big agencies’ websites. Don’t just click on the agents who have the nicest photos – click on them all and read the bios and wishlists. You might find someone whose ‘looking for’ statement practically describes your novel.
Some team pages to try: Curtis Brown, AM Heath, PFD, David Higham Associates, Johnson & Alcock, RCW, Watson, Little, Janklow & Nesbit, Aitken Alexander, Blake Friedmann, Darley Anderson, Conville & Walsh, United Agents, Madeleine Milburn, Hardman & Swainson, The Good Literary Agency (for under-represented writers), FBA.
Don’t dismiss independent agents though! They might be harder to find, but they’re on Twitter and they’re in the directories.
Listings like the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook are a more traditional way of looking – you’ll just have to do additional online research as there won’t be detailed information on each agent.
Before submitting to a literary agent, you want to do as much research as possible so you know 1. that they’re the right partner for your career and 2. how to grab their attention with your cover letter. Lots of agents have interviews online. You’ll find some on the BPA blog and other writing blogs – The Darling Axe has some great ones.
- Look for agents who don’t have tons of clients on their list
- See if they’ve listed their favourite books and mention one in your cover letter
- Enter competitions – they are usually judged by a literary agent and a great way to get noticed
- Make sure you have a clear sense of what your novel is before doing agent research so you know what kind of wishlist you’re looking for. Read articles on genre (or maybe mine on how to describe novels that don’t fit into a genre).