My granny once gave me some great advice on gardening. She said, “Always grow plants that you like, and that like you back.” So don’t go planting clematis if you don’t like clematis. And if you do like clematis, but those darn things keep dying on you, then just move on. Plant something different.
Good rule, right? And it applies to agents too.
We’ll start with the first part of Granny’s Rule:
Find the agents who want YOU
You need to approach literary agents who are keen to hear from people like you. It’s pointless wasting your energy on the rest.
That means you want literary agents who:
Are open to submissions in your genre.
Either welcome submissions from new writers or are, at least, open to great new slushpile submissions.
So if, for example, you’re a crime writer, and an agent is open to submissions from crime writers, and if that agent welcomes slushpile submissions, then you need to pop that agent on your longlist.
That’s a good start, but agents aren’t very specialist and in most cases, your longlist will be something like 100+ names long. Yikes!
The second half of Granny’s Rule enables you to reduce that total to something manageable. Here’s how it works:
Finding the agents YOU want
Take your longlist and pick out any literary agents that you especially like the sound of:
Maybe they represent some of your favourite authors in your genre.
Or they represent a favourite author in a different genre, even.
Or they don’t represent a particular favourite writer of yours, but they have commented admiringly on that author.
They share a passion of yours. (For example, your book is in part about Greece, and you notice this agent has Greek ancestry, or runs writing retreats in Greece, or represents books about the country, etc)
They made a comment in a blog / on YouTube / at our Festival of Writing / or anywhere else . . . and for whatever reason that comment struck a chord in you.
Really, you’re just looking for points of contact that make sense given your (relatively scant) information resources. You are looking for about 12 names in total. (Oh, and this page isn’t a complete guide to getting an agent. You can get that here. You can get help on your query letter here, and your synopsis here. You can get an overview of all your options on how to get published right here if you need it. Phew!)
There are two common ways to search for literary agents and neither of them are smart.
Dumb agent search method #1
Send your stuff only to the industry’s most high-profile literary agents
OK, if you happen to be called Ms Meghan Markle and you have an autobiography to sell, this would be a great strategy.
For anyone else? It’s dumb.
The highest profile agents have the glossiest client lists. That means (a) they probably won’t take you on, (b) they probably won’t even read your work, and (c) even if they did they would have a lot less time for you than a newer, hungrier agent would.
Why would you want that person? Answer: you don’t.
Dumb agent search method #2 Only apply to literary agents close to where you live
If you live in central London or New York, that’s a perfectly fine approach. If you live anywhere else, it’s dumb.
Agents cluster in major cities because that’s where the publishers are. You do need your agent to be in constant touch with publishers. You do not need your agent to physically meet you often. Quite honestly? Once a year would be fine – and you’ll be in town least that often to see your publishers.
Literary Agents: The Complete UK List
Want access to all the data? Want to unlock those search tools?
The list below is a complete list of UK agents. If you follow the links, you’ll find profile summaries for each agent – but the full data will remain locked.