Nick Mamatas’s Simple Guide to Finding a Literary Agent

Nick Mamatas wrote a post on Facebook today about how writers can go about finding an agent.

As someone who will hopefully start shopping a book around soon, this was a godsend. Straightforward, no nonsense.

With Mr. Mamatas’s permission, here is the post as he wrote it.

This is *one* method of finding a literary agent. Note to writers: leaving a comment that reads, “Nuh-uh, because I found my agent a different way!” is basically an IQ test you have decided to fail publicly.

The best way to find agents is by starting with writers who have recently commercially published something similar to your own book. Use search engines, or the acknowledgment pages of their books, to create a list of twenty-five agents.

Then break that list of 25 into 5 groups of 5, based basically on how important/prominent the agents are. Do whatever those five agents say—if they want a query or sample chapters or whatever, just comply. They’ll probably want slightly different things.

Six weeks later, hit the second list of five. Six weeks after that, the next five.

After the second raft, you’ll probably start getting answers. Some may ask for the whole ms on “exclusive”—90 days or so to think about it. If the agent is very good, give it to ’em. If not, keep on sending more packages out.

While you are doing this, work on your next book, as the response you get from an agent might just be, “Not this one, but do you have anything else?” and you want to be able to answer “YES.”
If at the end of 25 agents you get 25 form rejections, something is dreadfully wrong with your book.

If you get a lot of positive responses, but no agent, take a little break and try again with that second book. If you got an agent, you have an agent!

Now as far as agents go, good agents:

  • generally speaking have a New York office
  • have clients you’ve heard of
  • have clients whose books you can find by walking into a Barnes and Noble and looking (and you should go to a B&N and look)
  • are enthusiastic about you, not just about the single book you are pitching
  • do not also work for or as a packager
  • do not charge reading fees or any other out-of-pocket expenses except perhaps for international mailing of published books to foreign agents or publishers—and those charges will be subtracted from foreign sales monies
  • do not generally charge more than 15% commissions
  • have no independent interest in your stuff—that is, they’re not also a film producer and want to make a side deal with you, etc.

And that’s it. Nick Mamatas’s guide to finding an agent.

Take a look at Nick’s latest, a book of cocktail recipes and cocktail-themed stories by some truly talented people, co-edited by Molly Tanzer.

A cocktail is like an excellent story―bitter and sweet and over too quickly, but the memory of it stays with you. From the Pimm’s Cup to Smoking Bishop, the Manhattan to the Moscow Mule, Mixed Up features not only more than two dozen classic recipes and hot tips on ingredients and preparations, but new cocktail-themed short stories from some of today’s most popular and acclaimed writers.

Top photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash


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