The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 02-03-2006, 01:27 PM
Muad'Dib Muad'Dib is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
How do I find a good literary agent?

Like the big ranting thread I recently posted shows, I think I have pretty much figured everything out. At least I have got down the “Who, What, When, Where and Why” of life, we just need for all of the scientists, doctors and philosophers to hurry up and get the “How” part down.

Does anyone know where I can find a really good literary agent that is talented enough to con some publishing house into printing my insane rantings? I live near San Francisco so I imagine there should be several good ones congregated there. A list of names I can contact of the very best ones that will be willing to have an appointment with a person that they don't have any good reason to believe has anything worthwhile beforehand will be appreciated.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 02-03-2006, 01:39 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2000
No


There are books listing literary agents, locations, preferences, and whether they are accepting unsolicited new clients. There are websites for this, too. But I haven't had any luck with them.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 02-03-2006, 01:46 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 22,875
Quote:
Originally Posted by Muad'Dib
A list of names I can contact of the very best ones that will be willing to have an appointment with a person that they don't have any good reason to believe has anything worthwhile beforehand will be appreciated.
Do not attempt to visit a literary agent in person. If you have something for them to look at, put it in print. Do a complete package: cover letter, description, synopsis, chapter by chapter outline, and at least one full chapter.

If you can't put it in print beforehand, you sure won't be able to do it afterward.

Buy a book on the process, look up agents' names, and set to work.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 02-03-2006, 01:57 PM
Muad'Dib Muad'Dib is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Do not attempt to visit a literary agent in person. If you have something for them to look at, put it in print. Do a complete package: cover letter, description, synopsis, chapter by chapter outline, and at least one full chapter.

If you can't put it in print beforehand, you sure won't be able to do it afterward.

Buy a book on the process, look up agents' names, and set to work.
Ok, thanks.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 02-03-2006, 02:15 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Deep Space
Posts: 33,487
Besides the advice already given, think about attending a writers conference. There are a few in the Bay Area. Most have opportunities for you to pitch your work to an agent - and sometimes publishers. The agents who have spoken at these conferences say that when you do send in your package, putting the personal touch of having met the agent gets your package to the top of their very large pile.

You'll also likely get some very good advice.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 02-03-2006, 02:56 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 34,915
Remember this iron-clad rule: Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, pay money to an agent.

That will eliminate the scams. (No, not even if they give you a good reason.)

Once you have a book, you can find literary agents in Fiction Writers Market and Literary Marketplace (most libraries will have one or the other at the reference desk -- get the latest version). Then write a query letter and see who's interested.
__________________
Author of Staroamer's Fate and Syron's Fate, now back in print.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 02-03-2006, 04:35 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 22,875
Oh yeah. All the above advice goes straight out the window if you're a celebrity. Insane ramblings are almost better than the sane ones, in that case.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 03-17-2006, 09:12 PM
elfkin477 elfkin477 is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: NH
Posts: 19,269
Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
Remember this iron-clad rule: Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, pay money to an agent.
This answers one question I had, but why don't you pay them anything? Even lawyers ask for a retainer... By extention does this mean they'll only accept you as a client if they think odds are very good they can find a publisher for your work?
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 03-17-2006, 09:17 PM
friedo friedo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Brooklyn
Posts: 20,181
Quote:
Originally Posted by elfkin477
This answers one question I had, but why don't you pay them anything? Even lawyers ask for a retainer... By extention does this mean they'll only accept you as a client if they think odds are very good they can find a publisher for your work?
Yep. All legitimate agents work only on commission.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 03-17-2006, 09:34 PM
Bomzaway Bomzaway is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
If you go to the reference section of your local book store, you can probably find a publication called "The Writer's Market". If you're serious about getting an agent, then this is a good place to start your search. Here's a link.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 03-17-2006, 10:06 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 22,875
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bomzaway
If you go to the reference section of your local book store, you can probably find a publication called "The Writer's Market". If you're serious about getting an agent, then this is a good place to start your search. Here's a link.
Sorry, but no. Writer's Market is for amateurs and suckers. People and publications actually try not to be listed for fear of the hordes of crayon-scribbling illiterates an address published there brings. They publish annually and yet manage always to be several years out of date, as well. I know nothing about the website. It may help with the out of date material, but probably not unless the markets cooperate.

Go to Amazon and search on literary agents. You'll find a long list of specialized books on the subject. Sight unseen I would recommend any of them over Writer's Market.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 03-17-2006, 10:16 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 34,915
Quote:
Originally Posted by elfkin477
This answers one question I had, but why don't you pay them anything? Even lawyers ask for a retainer... By extention does this mean they'll only accept you as a client if they think odds are very good they can find a publisher for your work?
Exactly. That's why it's hard to get a legitimate agent: you have to show that you've written a publishable book.

At the same time, the scam agents always ask for money up front. It used to be they asked for a fee to represent you; now they ask for it to cover "expenses." The thing is, if they're getting money from you up front, they don't have to work too hard at selling the book. Even if it's utterly unpublishable crap, they still can make money on it; their fees will more than cover the cost of sending the book to a couple of publishers.

A legit agent gets nothing unless the book sells. This means she'll be picky, but once she decides to take you on as a client, she doesn't get paid unless you do. That's a major incentive to sell the book.
__________________
Author of Staroamer's Fate and Syron's Fate, now back in print.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 03-18-2006, 12:16 AM
Rigamarole Rigamarole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Muad'Dib
Like the big ranting thread I recently posted shows, I think I have pretty much figured everything out. At least I have got down the “Who, What, When, Where and Why” of life

Oh yeah? Are you sure about that?
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 03-18-2006, 01:51 AM
Bomzaway Bomzaway is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Sorry, but no. Writer's Market is for amateurs and suckers.
The writer of the OP happens to be an amatuer. Writer's Market has some good solid tips for finding an agent or publisher, how to submit, advice from successful writers, even tips on how to handle the taxes on any income one might receive from a published work. Despite your opinions on the accuracy of the listings, it's a decent place to start.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 03-18-2006, 08:17 AM
zut zut is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Detroit, MI
Posts: 3,628
Nice. All the Google ads I see go to scam agents (plus one scam publisher). The Google ads usually don't bother me, but these pro-ignorance ads do.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 03-18-2006, 11:25 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Greenbelt, Maryland
Posts: 11,555
Muad'Dib writes:

> Does anyone know where I can find a really good literary agent that is talented
> enough to con some publishing house into printing my insane rantings?

I think the most difficult book to sell to a publisher or a prospective agent would be a collection of rants about life, the universe, and everything by someone with no public recognition whatsoever. Consider the other sorts of books by first-time authors that sometimes sell well. A well-known comedian writes a book of his (supposedly) funny ramblings. A well-known politician writes a book about his (supposed) wise political philosophy. A scientist with good credentials writes a (supposedly) good popular account of his subject for general readers. The comedian and the politician already have presold audiences. The agent and the publisher read their manuscripts and decide that these books will appeal to the fans/supporters of the writer. If the scientist has the proper credentials in his field, the scientist's popularization will get a reading by someone else qualified in the science to check its accuracy and someone familiar with science popularizations to check if it's clear enough for a general audience.

But why would a publisher or an agent conceivably want to bother to read a book by some nobody of general rantings. The chances that it will sell are so small that it's not worth their time even looking at. The only chance you have for ever selling such a book is to become at least slightly well-known as a lecturer or an article writer on the general rantings you do. Otherwise, you have no chance whatsoever to sell the book.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 03-18-2006, 01:26 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 34,915
Quote:
Originally Posted by zut
Nice. All the Google ads I see go to scam agents (plus one scam publisher). The Google ads usually don't bother me, but these pro-ignorance ads do.
One more rule of thumb: no legitmate agent advertises. They get plenty of queries anyway, so there's no need to spend the money.

Fakes, of course, always need new blood (since they're not making money selling books), so they do advertise.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 03-19-2006, 01:37 AM
Gozu Tashoya Gozu Tashoya is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Congratulations on reaching the point where you need to start looking into an agent. Maybe this will help: Neil Gaiman on literary agents.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 03-19-2006, 09:57 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 22,875
Gaiman's post is a fine compilation of things people in the f&sf community have been saying for years. It's odd that the f&sf people, out of all the different writers' communities, have done the most to share wisdom on the real world of publishing and the traps it holds for would-be writers.

But the OP also has to take especial note of someone Teresa says:
Quote:
a. No matter how you think it works, the publishing industry doesn't
work the way you think it does. This is true even for publishing
professionals. They know how their part of the industry works, and
they know a lot about adjacent areas, but the further afield they go,
the less reliable their expertise will be. People who aren't in the
industry generally don't have a clue.
The advice on Gaiman's page is heavily biased toward becoming a fiction writer, and even more specifically, a genre fiction writer. It is mostly not terribly applicable toward a book of nonfiction rants.

The one thing that should be adapted is:
Quote:
b. Some ways you might get an agent without getting an offer: Be
obviously and extraordinarily good. Sell a lot of short stories. Have
some other seriously hot credentials.
If the OP can write, then he should have less trouble placing short rants somewhere than an entire book. Write first. Get a portfolio. Get some credentials. Get some praise. Then look to make a book of your work. Don't put the cart before the horse and all those lovable old adages.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 03-19-2006, 10:12 AM
MessyPaint MessyPaint is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
If the OP can write, then he should have less trouble placing short rants somewhere than an entire book. Write first. Get a portfolio. Get some credentials. Get some praise. Then look to make a book of your work. Don't put the cart before the horse and all those lovable old adages.
So, you would reccommend writing short stories and attempt to publish them in magazines for feedback, even before attempting to publish your book? I don't know who to turn to for feedback at the moment and I am currently on a hiatus from college.

Is general fiction considered a genre? I've researched and found many communities for specific genre fiction (mystery, action, romance etc) but all of my favorite books and books that might be most similiar to the niche of writing i am trying to achieve all seem to be labeled as "general fiction". I am having difficulty interpreting this broad world of what exactly general fiction is and how to enter it.

In publishing poetry, are genres generally as important when it comes to submitting? I know sometimes the submission guidlines are asking for a certain length and subject, but is this often the case? Are there many journals which ask for all types?

Thank you!
__________________
Sister
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 03-19-2006, 10:34 AM
zuma zuma is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Since you already have a list of names you're 99% of the way there. Good luck... These jackasses are brutal as we know heh.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 03-19-2006, 10:51 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 22,875
Quote:
Originally Posted by MessyPaint
So, you would reccommend writing short stories and attempt to publish them in magazines for feedback, even before attempting to publish your book? I don't know who to turn to for feedback at the moment and I am currently on a hiatus from college.
Absolutely.

Quote:
Is general fiction considered a genre? I've researched and found many communities for specific genre fiction (mystery, action, romance etc) but all of my favorite books and books that might be most similiar to the niche of writing i am trying to achieve all seem to be labeled as "general fiction". I am having difficulty interpreting this broad world of what exactly general fiction is and how to enter it.
General fiction is mostly the province of little magazines, literary journals, and small press publications. There are thousands of these, most of them small and local. Very few of them pay in anything more than copies of the magazine but you can build up an impressive resume if you are prolific.

One good listing can be found here. However, you'd do better to investigate your local writing community and find out what's being published. Look in alternative weeklies, local bookstores, college or night classes on writing, or writers' organizations to found out about them.

Quote:
In publishing poetry, are genres generally as important when it comes to submitting? I know sometimes the submission guidlines are asking for a certain length and subject, but is this often the case? Are there many journals which ask for all types?
Yes, genres are as distinct in poetry as elsewhere. Most of the literary journals publish poetry as well as short stories. Very few of the genre magazines do, however, although there are specialized genre poetry magazines. A good market review for f&sf, for example is Ralan's.

I have to admit that there is a distinction between "general fiction" and "literary fiction," and I don't know what you mean by saying you write general fiction. If you don't write literary you'll have a much more difficult time at short lengths. Most mainsteam general fiction is novel-length only. That's one of the exceptions to the general rule.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 03-19-2006, 11:24 AM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Toadspittle Hill
Posts: 6,069
As someone who has had more than one agent:

1) Be famous.

failing that, you should probably do all of the following:

2) Get good enough that your work impresses strangers

3) Make friends. Lots of friends. Friends with successful authors, friends with editors at publishing houses, friends with agents. I cannot over-emphasize the need to network. From what I see going on around me in the publishing world, it's how 50-75% of things get done. Friendships will get your work in front of editors, get you introduced to better (and sympathetic ... after all, you're a friend of a friend) agents, etc.

4) Submit your work to dozens of agents, and be prepared to have all of them reject it.



One thing you need to keep in mind is that an enormous part of manuscript (etc.) selection/rejection by agents and editors is based entirely on personal tastes and whims. Not to say that your work may not suck--it probably does, since all of us had work that really sucked at one point--but even if it's good, it just may not interest the agent/editor in any way. Just like authors, agents and editors usually get into the business so that they can have a hand in making the sorts of books they like to read themselves.

So it takes a lot of trial and error. But, the good thing is, there are lots of agents out there.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 03-19-2006, 12:21 PM
Gozu Tashoya Gozu Tashoya is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by MessyPaint
Is general fiction considered a genre? I've researched and found many communities for specific genre fiction (mystery, action, romance etc) but all of my favorite books and books that might be most similiar to the niche of writing i am trying to achieve all seem to be labeled as "general fiction". I am having difficulty interpreting this broad world of what exactly general fiction is and how to enter it.
I agree with what Exapno Mapcase said. If by "general fiction" you mean literary fiction, you'd pretty much be best served by going down to your local bookstore, looking at the literary mags there, checking out their submission guidelines, and going to town.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 09:44 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.