Do Your Research

On Twitter this morning, an author I follow retweeted another author that he follows, who spake thusly:


Still looking for the right publisher for my newest #book . If anyone knows of a good publisher or agent, please let me know. No selfpub plz


And I thought, he’s kidding, right? There is no way anyone can answer this because the author in search of a publisher gave no info about the book he’s hoping to publish. Nada. This person has apparently already self-published one book, but didn’t specify if the new book is a sequel, in the same genre, or something completely different. Maybe some of his followers know more about the book, but retweeting it to people who don’t is pretty pointless. Frankly I wasn’t interested enough to even ask. Nor do I have any info on agents, but it’s not that hard to find.

Here’s the thing: Agents and publishers are very specialized. Writers need to do their own research and find an agent that handles the kind of material they write. An agent who reps (represents) Young Adult books may or may not also rep erotica (very likely not). Some will handle a variety of genres (mystery, historical fiction, women’s fiction), whereas some may have a much narrower focus. A poetry publisher will not be interested in a memoir of a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Newbies to the writing and publishing business have to understand that it IS a business, and they need to become as informed and in-touch as any business professional who hopes to succeed in their chosen career. And here’s the biggest thing: It is no one’s responsibility to do it for you. Even if someone does have a working relationship with an agent, that doesn’t mean it would be the right agent for this particular book. I thought we were past the time when writers thought all they needed to do was sit in a coffee shop typing out their masterpiece and then turn it over to a publisher who would instantly recognize their genius and deliver it to the world. Apparently not.

Agents are like anyone else, they have their likes and dislikes. This is why it’s so important to do research, see who else the agent has published, if they seem to be interested in what you’re offering. Just because that agent likes one writer doesn’t mean they’ll like what the next writer sends along. To use a dated analogy, they’re not like phone booths – “Oh look, there’s one.” Just wastes everyone’s time.

This kind of plea makes me wonder if this author also thinks signing a contract is the end of the work for the writer. Whether self-publishing or getting a contract with a publishing house, the bulk of marketing and advertising will still fall to the writer. Unless you’re Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, your publisher is not going to be taking out full page ads in the New York Times to advertise your book. To quote Westley in The Princess Bride, “Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Do your homework. Read up on publishers and agents. They’re all online now so it’s much easier than it used to be. Back in the dim time writers had to head down to the library to read the mastheads of magazines for editors’ names and addresses, most of which would be out-of-date by the time you read it. I honestly don’t know how people found agents in those days. Probably going through the phone book.

Nowadays agents and publishers are all online. Try a quick Google search for “literary agents on Twitter” and follow the ones who rep what you write. Read their bios on their sites. They will spell out in glorious technicolor detail what they handle, and what they’re looking for. If you’re pitching a military steampunk novel to an agent who only reps childrens’ books, don’t be shocked when they don’t even respond to your query.

Follow the hashtag #MSWL (My Secret Wish List) on Twitter to see what agents are really looking for right now.

Pick up the Writer’s Digest “Writer’s Market” or “Fiction Market” or “Poet’s Market.” They even publish a separate “Guide to Literary Agents.” Writer’s Digest site is a great place for any writer to begin. There’s a wealth of information there no matter what you write. Check here. I’m not shilling for them, but I would have been lost without their magazine when I first started writing.

Read  Writer Beware, which will steer you clear of scams and shady publishers and agents.

That tweet this morning reminded me why I don’t hang out in writing chat groups online. They’re full of newbie, aspiring writers (which is fine in and of itself) who spend half the time begging other people for ideas. “I don’t know what my main character should do, can someone give me an idea?” Hand to god, I am not making this up. I feel a little bit like I’m channeling Harlan Ellison here, but if you have no ideas you should probably do something else. It’s the writer’s job to write the book, unless you plan to credit the person who supplies all your ideas as your co-author on the book.

I have no way of knowing how much info the tweeter this morning expected other people to provide since I didn’t respond, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was expecting other people to research agents for him and get back to him with the details. That could be a full time job. But I bet the pay is lousy.

UPDATE March 24: Here is a searchable database of agents


End rant. Here, have a pretty picture for reading all that.


11 thoughts on “Do Your Research

    1. Haha, thanks 😉 I just can’t imagine what people are thinking. Maybe the author thought others would respond and ask more questions about the book, but why would anyone bother? I’d never heard of this person before. And I know there are more out there like him, not willing to do the work, just expecting others to spoonfeed the info to them. There are too many resources now readily available for free to be that lazy. Or maybe he thought he could drop a name to someone else’s agent and get an “in” that way? Even if I had an agent for whatever stuff this person writes, I wouldn’t want someone I didn’t know using my name as a calling card.


      1. Right??? I am always shocked by how important people think they are. I appreciated your rant though because I learned a lot and should I ever need an agent I know what not to do:D


  1. This post should be required reading for all new writers. I bought a Kindle copy of Writer’s Market for $12 a couple of years ago. Price has probably gone up now but still, if you’re not willing to spend that much money for a guide to agents and publishers and presses, you aren’t that heavily invested in your writing.

    Thanks for the #MSWL hashtag. Never heard of it before.


    1. Thanks, Robin. Before I ever attempted to get anything published, I read WD for YEARS and I think I still have a lot of old issues sitting around in the basement. Lawrence Block used to write the fiction column that was (and probably still is) the last couple pages of the mag. His columns were a hoot. I think I quit reading it when he left the mag and Nancy Kress took over the fiction column. I’m sure there’s still a ton of good info in it, especially for newbies. I used to read ALL the writing mags (The Writer, Poets & Writers, etc.). Even the Writer’s Market books have tons of good info beyond listing markets. I keep my old copies.

      I love checking out the #MSWL hashtag, it can be very inspiring to see what agents are asking for. I’m glad you liked my ranty rant, which was a lot rantier before I toned it down a bit 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I meant Writer’s Market. I always mix them up. My middle school English teacher had published a children’s book, and she introduced me to Writer’s Market, even let me take her copy home so that I could familiarize myself with it. It’s much better to have a tangible copy than the eBook, but the eBook is okay. You can highlight in it and of course take notes the old-fashioned way! It’s indispensable, like a good dictionary and thesaurus.


  2. Great post, DD. The points you mention are all things someone looking for an agent should know. As, indeed, you have stated. As a writer who is at present looking for a publisher, I can say that you’ve nailed it–there’s nothing easy about it. Sadly, many writers don’t realize this.


    1. Thanks, Chris. I was just so floored by the request, and almost more so that the person I follow would bother to RT such a thing. I sort of feel sorry for any agent the person does end up querying, though. If they turn the author down I wouldn’t put it past this one to send some nasty response to the rejection.


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