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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Writers often ask me to recommend other agents after I’ve declined their work. Fair enough, I suppose, doesn’t hurt asking and all that, but it’s awkward. If I pass on a project but feel that I know the perfect agent, I will volunteer that agent’s name. Otherwise, I feel uncomfortable and somewhat put upon. There are so many ways to research agents now…   but I often do supply a name or two even though I don”t want to. I’m sympathetic with the writer, I really am, but it’s also really uncomfortable. When I do give a few names, I always say, please do not use my name. Agents don’t take kindly to agent referrals. In the words of a publisher I once worked for: damaged goods. I often think that’s ridiculous, what’s right for the goose isn’t necessarily  right for the cow. And yet, and yet, when an agent sends a writer my way (and they often do if the manuscript is about weight, mental illness, quirky, memoir, jewy etc.) I’m immediately turned off. If it’s so good, why did you pass? Of course, referrals from clients, famous writers, entertainment lawyers, astrophysicists, casting agents, and hemoglobins are TOTES welcome. Am I a fuckface or what? I feel like fucking off.

How do you get agent names?

49 Responses

  1. You’re right. Jewry, huh? (Have I got a memoir for you, doll cakes….)

  2. Either I do the research like all the good little boys and girls do, or I get down on my knees at the crossroads at midnight under the blood-red moon and listen closely to the whispering of the ghosts. Either way works for me.

  3. when i was a freshman on the jv volleyball team, i had a heart-throbbing crush on a boy who had been in my 8th grade math class. everyone knew that he and our star player had lost their virginity together over the summer. by the time we were in mid-season, she had moved on to a new guy and was all about setting me up with her ex. “he’ll so totally go out with you; i’ll call him.”

    it was a hard-won lesson at 15, but has served me well–that kinda threesome is never works to your advantage no matter which corner of the triangle you get.

    (not that i’m comparing you to our JV middle hitter–of course, you’re the heart-throb.)

  4. I got mine from querytracker.

  5. If I want to be certain they’re a perfect match, I search the wanted posters on the post office wall.

  6. I actually know an agent who has suggested your name to writers he claims aren’t a good fit for his agency’s focus. Shall I let him know (in a nice way, of course) that it might be better to encourage those folks to pursue self-publishing?

  7. I say the ‘Our Father’ once, then the Twenty-Third psalm, burn sage, walk in a circle three times, open my Herman’s, close my eyes and point. As my finger glides up and down the page I wait for the message, the pulse which tells me, via my finger, this is THE ONE.
    Paper cuts totally null and void this system.

    I’ve done this so many times that I’m beginning to think that maybe I should switch to Rosary Beads and candles but I’m not Catholic.
    I know I’ll go to Query Tracker with a Menorah and a book of matches.

  8. When the word “agent” is visible, I have decided to think outside the box of assumed context. ‘Senior Special Agent Raia’. I like that.

  9. Just keeping my ears open when a writer I admire or have some kind of connection to talks about their agent, usually in writerly-type magazines I see in the library. I found myself here after reading a cover story on Dave Cullen in some writer magazine and he talked about his agent rather glowingly. I was in the Columbine Library (not at the high school, but next to it) at the time. Got the books, found the blog, laughed my arse off (and am currently putting it right back on via the Ruffles I’m mainlining right now). Other than that, really only at literary festivals. Well, one literary festival.

    • I do what you do too…check out the agents of writers I like and if a writers speaks glowingly about their agent I’m all over them hoping it’s someone who takes my kind of stuff.
      Ah…this hasn’t worked either.

  10. I figured I’d jump on board — I just sent you a query for a quirky memoir about mental illness and weight! And I promise not to ask for a referral to other agents if you turn me down…

  11. I dunno. I am happy with my small press and I am agentless. So far they are letting me change genre (women’s commercial to literary short stories) and find my feet. Not sure an agent would let be me be so free because it makes no market sense.

    But maybe later on. Only it would be like searching for a new lover – it would have to feel oh-so-right.

  12. When I went house to house selling the Existential Vacuum, I found that staring at a door helped, but only for awhile. It was very lonely.

  13. I feel like fucking off too. You drive, I’ll buy the gas.

    • I’m sorry to keep sticking my nose in, it must be one of my obnoxious days, (yea so what else is new), anyway… it’s weird, two days ago I wrote about this very thing on my blog, sort of. I wonder why that happens. Okay I’ll shut up now. Promise, really.

  14. Tea leaves. And the internet.

  15. For a novel I wrote about five years ago, I had Jeff Herman’s big old book on my desk, going through alphabetically, first checking off agents who represented my “category” and then going back to read the agents comments and what authors they represented. I’d pick the ones I felt attracted to, made a date notation in the book margin, sent out a query, got rejected (some rejections softer than others — it does matter) and moved on to the next agent. The Writer’s Guide is a few years old now, but I still use it as a reference and do some research online. This time around, I’m trying to finish the book, polish up my query and then start the whole process all over again, hopefully with a better product to sell and more information on how to sell it.

  16. At times I felt like I should have been hired by the FBI when I went looking for an agent. I poured over the books that I loved for acknowledgements to agents, used the internet, bookmarked agent web sites (those that have them), read what they had to say, bought WD’s GLA, subscribed to Poets & Writers for the interviews with agents, subscribed to WD, again for the interviews with agents, joined the NC Writer’s Network, and obsessed over the names to put on my list off of AgentQuery. After all that, that’s not how I got an agent. Like you mention, it came from a…. sort of a… referral (eek!). It was by my editor to the agent – and now I’m wondering what he thought when she first approached him…maybe he felt like you did. CRINGE factor of 10. I guess since it worked out – it’s not like that now, of course. Plus I was clueless about who she’d approached,…so maybe that makes it less “cringey” as well.

    • Your editor contacting an agent to talk up your book is completely different from the case where Agent A rejects the writer but then refers that writer to Agent B. Like Betsy said, if Agent A loved it so much, why did she pass? The only time I could imagine this really working is if Agent A does not represent the writer’s genre or has a completely full list but happens to know the writer is a catch. (And this type of situation likely wouldn’t come through blind querying anyway, since queries for inappropriate genres are more often deleted unread.)

      In short: You’re fine!

  17. So awkward, especially since the people who ask for an agent recommendation don’t actually want a name. Instead, they want you to say, “Oh, yes! Susie Q Agent would be perfect. I’ll call her right now to tell her all about your lovely book!”

    Getting a polite personal rejection from an agent is nice, but it’s too bad more writers don’t realize that if that rejecting agent truly thought your book would suit another agent, they would have volunteered that info themselves.

  18. I don’t know, I’ve had much better success with people I’ve met or been referred to than with “cold queries.”
    I’ve got five agents reading my manuscript — one I met at a writer’s conference, one was from a consultation I paid for, one was because she’d heard of the manuscript from my sister, and two were from a query email.
    I’ve sent out 45 queries to agents I have no connections with, all targeted to agents who like memoir, who have said they’re open to new clients, and who do the kinds of memoir I’m working on.
    Eleven rejections, two partial requests, two full requests and nothing but the sound of silence from the rest of them…
    This is considered an overwhelmingly positive response.
    I get rejection. I get rejection form letters. The no response is the hardest one to handle. Did they get the query? Did they read it yet? Should I move on and query a new batch of agents, or is that email going to be in my inbox tomorrow and they’re just a bit behind?
    It’s a lot easier to query agents you “know” through someone else — there’s a much more likely rate of response!

    • The “no response” form of rejection is a relatively recent development. I think it sucks. If an agency is accepting unsolicited queries, they ought to be professional enough to respond. I mean, how hard is it? How many unpaid bright-eyed bushy-tailed interns does it take to fire off form rejections? Either through SASE’s or especially in the light-speed age of the interwebs? Huh? Huh? Oh, sure–they post on their website, “If you have heard back from us in an unspecified amorphous however long, you can figure we are either uninterested or too drunk to get off the floor or fucking our interns in the back room so go away.” I’m sorry, but I’m old school and that’s not what I call professional. Open for business is open for business; anything less is not.

      • I think it does suck, and yet this is very much like applying for a job, as my husband points out. If you are stuck and have to go to monster.com to look at jobs, even if you narrow down your list to those which are suited perfectly, you might not get any response.
        However, if you know someone who knows someone in the company, and they forward your resume to HR, they’ll look at it.
        Is it all about networking? I don’t know.
        I’m too new at this to tell. I’ve been a writer for twenty years, but in newspapers — it’s easy to get a job there. You walk into a newsroom in a new town and you’ll see people you know.
        Journalists are a chatty bunch, and they move from paper to paper and they go to the Republican National Convention or whatever it is that year, plus you recognize bylines. You just know how to get a job at a newspaper.
        Getting an agent, even though it’s still writing?
        It’s a whole different world.

      • I am yelling at contractors all the time, arguing with delivery drivers twice my size but dread notifying vendors their bid proposals weren’t accepted. Perhaps its empathy or wearing the hat of the messenger of bad news; either way a little part of me withers when I have that task. It’s probably the same with agents – only they are facing a larger number of submittals.

      • I see your point, Tetman, but I would so much rather hear nothing than ‘no’, especially when querying in bulk. A chorus of form rejections makes me want to stick a pen in my eye.

  19. Ew, really? I think it’s completely inappropriate to ask an agent who’s rejected your work if he/she has a recommendation for another agent, and I’m surprised you do it. That would be a non-responder for me. Delete.

    I get agent names by reading the acknowledgments section (or Googling, if there isn’t one), from books I adore. I LOVE acknowledgments sections. Love them. Especially when the writer goes overboard. It’s like watching reality tv.

    • Yeah, I love the acknowledgments, too. As well as prologues & epilogues. And dedications. And quotes at the beginning. It’s all the good stuff, like frosting on a cake.

    • Yes yes yes to your first paragraph. First, I don’t get how anyone could ask that. Then, it’s like going on a date then recommending that person, that person you didn’t click with, to somebody else. Not good enough for me! But, eh, maybe for you, you of lesser standards.

      I also love acknowledgements. But how often do you look up a writer’s agent and see, “closed to submissions”? That’s always fun.

  20. I once had someone yacking about town how tight we were (obviously not in the publishing industry). It was in poor taste and pissed me off, second only to the time he sat beside me at a social function and then quoted my observations as his own during an interview the next week. I may be nice at times, but come on. A real commitment involves paper and ink or a phone call. Otherwise, consider it words of wisdom of the just trying to be helpful kind.

    Agents. I got suggestions from someone whose opinion I trust. I didn’t ask for them, but gratefully accepted the gift in the manner it was meant and sent queries without using the person’s name. I hope to return the favor someday. As for the rest of the list, I’ve gathered intel from Publishers Marketplace and stalked a few candidates online to see how they interview and what they themselves write. Knowing what they rep goes without saying. But even after the analysis, I’m still someone who needs a gut feeling to clench a deal.

  21. I am currently working off a list compiled of agents mentioned in books I think would have an audience similar to mine; agents of friends who take my type of book; and agents who’ve rejected my fiction in the past, but at least read it, and who take my kind of book. Also, one agent found on QueryTracker.

  22. American Society of Journalists and Authors, where I first read a Betsey Lerner interview. They have chat boards and a monthly magazine and luncheons and you hear about agents. I’ve won two Christmas raffles to meet Jane Dystel and Paul Cirrone through them as well. Nothing like trade group or union, I say.

  23. When I was lookin’ (cause I ain’t got no friends in the right places) I used exclusively QueryTracker to do the research. Great site. I see in the message from Hope as I write this that she used them as well. I’ve no interest in them other than it’s a great site. They do a pretty thorough vetting before they will list an agent in order to omit any of the questionable so-called agents who prey on writers’ for their own ill-gotten gain and do little to nothing to get their books out to legit publishers, etc.

  24. I dislike most adj and adv, but it’s ENORMOUSLY generous of you to refer.

    It’s a great time, information-wise, to tilt at windmills. If agentquery.com had existed during my first attempt, I wouldn’t have queried the dead.

    Don’t know why I still feel so guilty about that.

  25. Over time, I’ve collected a little list of agents whose clients write stuff I like and who appear to be adored by their clients—and are interested in the kinds of things I write.

    It’s easy to follow blogs, guest posts, interviews, announcements,and social media (mediums? Mediae?) to see if they might be a good personality and philosophy fit, too.

    Of course, the querying process is going to refine this a lot, and I might very well need to run up a much longer list, but it’s a place to start without panicking about it.

  26. Nobody’s gonna go obvious and say ‘toilet stalls?’

  27. The official way is through query tracker. If nothing else it helps to get the lay of the land. But let’s face it, most agents are getting dowzens and dozens of queries every week and after a while it has to be a blur. The unofficial way is nothing new – networking. That’s what the people who ask you for a reference are trying to do. It’s always easier to go through someone the other person knows and hopefully respects, thus breaking down some barriers.

    I went to a book conference, sat in on a reading by an author whose book was similar genre to mine and I talked to him afterwards about getting an agent. He was great, very helpful and the cosmos aligned such that his agent was at the same meeting. I knew her well from her reputation, she was high on my list, but she’d turned down my written query, so I asked him to introduce us and we went from there.

    A number of book conferences have pitch sessions where you can talk to real live agents who are looking for clients and/or are friendly to the pitch process. At best you’ll get lucky and find a great agent. At worst you’ll get immediate feedback to your pitch – what works and what doesn’t.

  28. I did have a big-ass agent recommend I try one of the ‘newer and less abused’ agents in the same agency because it was obvious my book did not make her tingle. That she thought enough of it to suggest someone else; I considered it a very gracious move. If it was a stink-pile I think she just would have said no…unless the new agent was a bitch or they both wanted a good laugh.

    It gave me hope, that not all was lost, at least for a little while longer.

    Another agent, right up there on the big-hit list, gave me a no and actually said, “…I’m afraid I can’t recommend another agent for you.” Ah, I wasn’t asking him to, which told me he wanted no association with it. He did a first page edit though, man I was embarrassed but I learned a hell of lot from his effort to set me straight.

    I am grateful to both of them BTW.

  29. I suspect I could potentially be inviting sharp objects to be hurled my way, but after reading these comments, I must say that my entire experience with the whole agent thing is very different than most people’s, or at least most of you posters here…because…because…

    I got an agent on my very first submission, ever. I submitted a crappy write-up (I see that now) and a partial manuscript. The agent liked it. She called to sign me. Done. No tracking. No trial and tribulation. No rejections: It was the polar opposite of my dating life. This was with an agency that handles many best-selling authors I know of, but as far as I can tell, nary a one in my genre, nor the very different genre of my next book. But I signed anyway because, heaven knows, I’m not sure…maybe because nothing in life is easy and I liked the fact that this was so easy. Maybe I was invoking kismet. I really don’t know.

    A few months in, I realized that it was so not right for me and pulled back to think about it a bit. I decided that among other things, knowing my tendencies, if I didn’t end it now then I would never, ever end it later when I became more enmeshed with these nice people. And gosh, they were so nice. I am loyal (or maybe passive) to a fault. T-Mobile and their numerous dropped calls can certainly testify to that.

    The whole experience was rather like marrying your first boyfriend out of high school just not knowing any differently, and then quickly discovering you don’t want the same things. It’s not you, you’re very nice, it’s just me.

    I guess the cool thing about all of this is that now I have an idea what I want in an agent and know what the deal-breakers are. I wouldn’t have possibly known without that little jaunt into agency-land. Instead, I just kept writing. And I haven’t done any agency queries or anything since then, but kept my ears open when an author I admire talks about their agent….until…

    I got accepted into this literary festival thing last month and met with some agents and even publishers and…um…got really, really good feedback and invitations to send more than the few chapters the festival asked for. I haven’t done it yet (this weekend, I promise, I promise!), but maybe a miracle will happen and it will be easy all over again.

    Or maybe I’m about to enter a long, hardass slog from hell that will break my spirit and sanity. Who knows?

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