I’m getting close, I hope, to winding up the how-to-track-down-agents-to-query part of this series — and, ultimately, the Book Marketing 101 series as well. Frankly, I’m eager to get back to some issues of craft… although, of course, given my very practical focus, I shall probably discuss them within the context of common manuscript failings that make agency screeners’ hair stand on end.
Which wouldn’t have been a bad image to use on Halloween, come to think of it: Millicent in a fright wig, permanently scarred by the haunting memory of submissions past.
Last time, I waxed long, if not eloquent, on the desirability of bolstering up the information one might find in a standard agents’ guide, a conference blurb, or even an agency’s website with a little further research. Today, I’m going to talk about where to go to do it.
Fasten your seatbelts, everybody: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you have been conscientiously haunting the library for the past month, shaking the Dewey Decimal System vigorously until a dandy list of authors of books like yours dropped out of it. You’ve already tracked down the agents thanked in the acknowledgments, and now you’re all set to track down the others. And, having embarked upon that laudable endeavor, one question is ringing in your mind like the Liberty Bell:
Why on earth is this most basic information SO difficult to come by?
There’s no good reason for it, you know, at least in North America. Since all publishing deals in the U.S. are matters of public record (not the financial specifics, perhaps, but definitely the players), gathering this data should be the proverbial walk in the park. But it undoubtedly isn’t, at least without paying for access to an industry database.
Sometimes, you can learn who represents an author via a simple web search, but this, as I’m sure some of you know from frustrating experience, can be very time-consuming.
Why? Well, a standard search under the author’s name will generally pull up every review ever published about her work. As well as every article in which she is mentioned, and prompts to buy her book at Amazon AND B & N — not in that order — as well as the author’s own website, which often does not include representation information, surprisingly enough.
Wading through all of this information can be a long slog, and does not always lead to what you need.
That doesn’t mean, however, that none of what turns up will help you. If you are searching for the agent who represented a specific book, it is worthwhile to check out the industry reviews excerpted on the booksellers’ sites. Occasionally, the agent’s name is listed at the end of these reviews.
(Why would these reviews list such an arcane detail? Well, the industry reviews are the advance press — Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly — reviews written primarily for the benefit of retailers who are considering stocking the book, not readers who might conceivably buy it from retailers. They appear considerably before the release date; long enough, in fact, that it is not unheard-of for editors to pull a book from the print queue that has received a less-positive-than-anticipated advance reviews, so that the book may be re-revised prior to release. Print reviews, by contrast, tend to coincide with the book’s release, and are aimed at the general reading public. Thus, they seldom contain information of interest only to people in the industry.)
Actually, Amazon, B&N, and Powell’s all often post industry reviews, too, and it’s always worth checking to see if Publishers Weekly did an article on the deal. And if you really wanted to take a month to get a feel for who was who in your genre, you could sit down and read the last year’s worth of advance reviews. (If you do, and you write SF/fantasy, stick with Kirkus.)
But honestly, who has the time to read all of that AND write?
You were thinking that already, weren’t you? I can hear chairs shifting out there; skepticism is in the air, I can feel it. “Anne, Anne,” I hear some of you restless-but-observant types muttering, “you’ve been telling me for over two years that agents and editors are massively busy people who become impatient during the course of a two-minute pitch. Do you seriously expect me to believe that if THEY wanted to find out who represented a particular book, they would go shuffling though 50 websites?”
Okay, you’ve got me there: they wouldn’t. They would consult one of the standard industry databases. The catch: those databases are by subscription.
Translation: it’s gonna cost you something over and above your time.
Usually, you ostensibly join a sort of club, and one of the perqs of membership is database access. Almost invariably, you buy membership in specified time increments (often a month), rather than per-use, so if you are up for gorging yourself on agent info, you could conceivably lock yourself in a room with your computer for a week or two and generate a list of a couple of hundred names, along with the specifics of who has sold what lately, then cancel your membership.
You might be a little sick to your stomach afterward, having learned so much about what is and isn’t selling at the moment, but at least you would have a very up-to-date list.
Personally, I prefer the Publishers Marketplace database; it’s not terrifically expensive, and agents often use it themselves. It has a very straightforward function called WHO REPRESENTS, very easy to use. Feed in your favorite authors’ names, and presto! you have instant access to who sold their most recent projects. This, as those of you who have been trying to ferret out such information already know, can literally save you months.
You can also track individual agents, to see whom they represent and what they have sold in the last few years. If you sign up for the for-pay Publishers Lunch e-mailings (which isn’t a bad idea, as pretty much everyone in the industry reads it and/or Publishers Weekly; it’s a great way to gain a basic idea of how the biz works and how swiftly publishing fads change), you will gain access to this database.
PM charges month-to-month, so if you are strapped for cash, you could easily generate a list of authors, join for a month, search to your little heart’s content, then cancel. But you didn’t hear it from me. Or you could corral a few of your writer friends to go in on an ongoing subscription with you, with the understanding that you’ll share the data.
Even then, you might find it a little spendy, so I hasten to add: as savvy reader Nadine pointed out a few days ago, PM’s website does allow non-members to search at least part of its database; if you’re looking for who represented a book sold within the last few years, this is a good quick option. I notice, however, that such searches do not yield specific deal information — which renders it considerably more difficult to check what, for instance, an agent has sold in the last 6 months.
The difference, really, lies in the ability to fine-tune that query — and how much information you want to get about who is selling in your chosen book category right NOW, as opposed to a year or two ago, when the books hitting the shelves now were being acquired by editors.
Personally, I kind of like being able to look up everything that’s sold in my genre within the last month, but as we all know, my tastes a trifle odd.
Before you dismiss the idea of spending money on professional database access, do sit down and figure out how much your time is worth, because the practically-free method of acquiring the same information that I am about to suggest is so time-consuming that a subscription service may start to look downright reasonable.
If you DO have the time to invest, there is a free way to find out who represented any book, if it was published within the United States. As I mentioned above, the sale of a book is a matter of public record, and as such, publishers must provide information about who represented the author to anyone who asks.
So how do you get ’em to do it? Pick a book, call the publisher (there is often a phone number listed on the copyright page, to facilitate further book sales; if not, try the publisher’s website), and ask to speak to the publicity department. When you reach a human being (have a magazine handy; it can take awhile), ask who the agent of record was for the book.
You may encounter a certain amount of incredulity at your old-fashioned approach, but do not let that deter you: they are obligated to give you the information.
See why I thought you might find it a tad too time-consuming?
Don’t worry; I still have a few time-saving tricks up my sleeve. Keep up the good work!