How to Research Literary Agents
I’m going to cover how to research literary agents, specifically agents interested in picture books, and share some of my favorite free resources with you.
If you’re a SCBWI member, you have access to The Book, which has the following sections: Agent Directory, Agented By, and Finding an Agent: Best Practices. If you haven’t checked those out, that should be your first stop.
Why do I need to research?
Well, agents are only interested in representing books that they love and believe they can sell. That means you don’t want to send your picture book manuscript or dummy to an agent who has only sold adult romance novels or inspirational self-help books. You’d be wasting both of your time.
And even if agents represent picture books, you want to make sure they represent the kind of picture book that you need them to sell. There are a lot of different kinds of picture books. Don’t send rhymers to agents who don’t want to see rhyming picture books. You won’t be the exception. Some agents are more interested in fiction or nonfiction. Look at the books they’ve actually sold. I also search for interviews and manuscript wish list requests to see if they’re asking for anything in particular.
Okay! How do I send my story?
Hold on. You’ll also want to research whether or not an agent is open to queries. Some aren’t. If they are open to queries, do they prefer email or snail mail? What are their guidelines? Do they like queries to follow a certain format? Should you paste your manuscript below your email query or attach it?
There are all kinds of things to research. And there are all kinds of ways to go about it. Instead of overwhelming you with all of the possibilities, I’m going to share what has worked best for me.
Who represents picture books?
My first stop on the Internet is usually Literary Rambles. Natalie Aguirre spotlights children’s literary agents and links to their agency websites and other interviews. These spotlights are exactly what you need to help you get a broad overview of an agent’s taste.
One of my favorite things about her website is how user friendly it is. The agents are listed alphabetically in the left side bar, so if I’m looking for information on one particular agent, I can find it quickly. She even gives you the option to search by the age categories the agents represent. Natalie and her former blogging partner have spotlighted so many agents that it’s great to not have to comb through all of them looking for all of the agents who just represent picture books.
Literary Rambles also has a fantastic post on the questions you should ask an agent who might be offering representation. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
How do I contact an agent?
Go to the literary agency’s website and follow their guidelines. Different agencies have different guidelines. A lot of agency websites will have specific advice on querying. Don’t assume that just because you’ve read the advice on one agency website that it’s going to be the same for all agencies. Guidelines can even vary from agent to agent within an agency.
Here are some examples of agency guidelines:
I also read through ALL of the agency bios, searching for the best agent to represent my work. Sometimes I find a better fit than the agent I was researching in the first place. If you write and/or illustrate more than just picture books, it’s better to find an agent who will represent all of your age categories and genres.
What if I need more information?
Type the agent’s name into your favorite search engine. Interviews and other information should come up. Johnell DeWitt is currently my favorite blogger for picture book agent interviews. If you have a favorite, please share in the comments.
Sometimes you can access an agent’s Publishers Marketplace page for free. If so, that’s a fantastic resource.
She also has her own podcast, Literaticast, in which, among other things, she discusses the kind of agent you don’t want: the dreaded schmagent. I highly recommend her podcast. It’s educational AND entertaining.
How do I use my research without sounding creepy?
Focus on business information, not personal information. In other words, personalize your query with the information you find in interviews or on the agency’s website, not the information the agent posts on social media about herself or her family.
I also recommend reading books the agent has sold to publishers. We’re book people, so we understand the power of genuinely connecting over shared love of a book.
Remember that agents are people. Most of them are lovely, and they truly want to fall in love with stories and sell them. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated, and only send them your best.
And that covers most of the free resources that I use. I also highly recommend Storyteller Academy’s Submission Ready class. I learned a lot from Melissa and Ariel about how to research agents and publishing houses.
Let me know if you still have questions about how to research literary agents!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.