On Finding An Agent / What’s Hot in Today’s Market? (An Agent’s Perspective)

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I was lucky enough this past weekend to attend a Super Saturday RWA  event in which agent Kristin Nelson was a featured speaker.  While discussing the course of her duties as an agent, she provided some rough statistics on what she sees every year: 100-150 queries a day, 700 partial submissions a year, 85 fulls.  She noted that out of these she may offer representation to 1 or 2 authors.  While these numbers are certainly daunting, Ms. Nelson did provide some good tips for snagging an agent:

  • Use Critique Partners or Beta Readers

You need to have a strong beginning to your manuscript.  A strong manuscript, period. Agents will generally only read the first page or two before stopping if the first pages are riddled with errors, contain too much backstory, or use inappropriate words or metaphors.

  • Don’t Query too Early

As excited as you might be about your work, take the time to learn more about the craft before blindly querying.  Because agents make their decisions so quickly, a good storyline might get passed up due to poor execution. 

  • Don’t Underestimate the Value of Contests or Conferences

While meeting an agent at a conference won’t guarantee you representation, it never hurts to be friendly.  An agent who remembers a friendly author may read the submission a bit quicker, though it won’t color the agent’s decision on whether or not the manuscript is publishable.  Similarly, finaling in a contest won’t guarantee you an agent, but if the final contest judges are agents and/or editors, it does get  your work in front of them.  Sometimes that makes all the difference.

  • If You Are Unpubbed, Consider Newer Agents

Ms. Nelson did note she has an extremely full plate right now, and that it would take a lot to wow her (though her associate agent Sara Megibow is actively recruiting new clients).  She suggests that those of us starting out might consider querying newer agents who are looking to take on more clients and may be willing to put in a bit more work.  However, the downside to this is the possibility that those newer agents might not stick around for the long haul.


Ms. Nelson also discussed what’s hot right now in publishing, though she cautioned that by the time you write to a trend, it’s usually over:

  • Paranormals

We all know there’s a glut in the market right now with paranormals.  Even though they are still selling, agents are getting tired of seeing these kinds of submissions.  For that reason, if your characters are traditional paranormal creatures (i.e. vampires, angels, demons, werewolves), there needs to be some special hook to catch an agent’s eye.

  • Sexy Urban Fantasy

Stories are trending hotter right now, and urban fantasy is a response to the glut in paranormals.  No HEA required. Smile

  • Young Adult

Particularly dystopian (like Hunger Games) and paranormal (Paranormalcy anyone?).

  • Contemporary Romance

Publishers across the board state they want fresh contemporary romance, but apparently they aren’t buying much of it so far.

So what do you think?  Were these tips for getting an agent useful?  What about the market trends: are they encouraging or discouraging?


6 thoughts on “On Finding An Agent / What’s Hot in Today’s Market? (An Agent’s Perspective)

    RachelFirasek said:
    November 8, 2010 at 8:23 am

    The post is very helpful, althought it’s hard as a writer to think about writing toward contemporary when all of the shelves are lined with everything else. Sigh.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 8, 2010 at 8:34 am

      I agree. It’s especially difficult when all the publishers say they are looking for it, but apparently aren’t buying much!

    Jennifer Spiller said:
    November 8, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Thanks for this post, Rosalie! It’s so helpful when people share their experiences at events that many of us can’t attend. Kristin’s perspective is always so well-informed and honest, and yet helpful and kind. Interesting about the Urban Fantasy, no? (And yes, that makes me smile, too).

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 8, 2010 at 9:16 am

      I personally enjoy it when others share their experiences, Jennifer, so I’m happy to share mine. 🙂

      I was excited to hear that urban fantasy is still hot for publishers. I’ve heard conflicting information on that lately. But I do so love the genre!

    Zrinka Jelic said:
    November 8, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I’ve read someplace about submitting to agents and editors and they all say the same. I can’t believe they have to say over and over to proofread your work before submitting! Doesn’t that go without saying? And I’ve also heard about agents getting burned out from vamps and wares. But urban fantasy can also be paranormal, can it not? I think if you stick with the classic it’s always “in style”.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

      You’d think people would know to proofread their work, Zrinka, but I suppose there are a lot of newbie writers out there. I don’t remember the exact statistic, but I think Ms. Nelson said that around 30% of the queries are automatically rejected because they don’t conform to guidelines. So there are that many people blindly submitting without really knowing anything about the industry.

      Embarrassing admission time: When I first decided to get published, I wrote my novel and started querying it without doing any research on the industry. It wasn’t until I started getting form rejections that I actually began to research. :-{ I imagine a lot of newbie writers do the same thing.

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