to help with everything from choosing a utility company to finding a magazine for your short story, it’s no surprise to find someone’s come up with a database of author’s agents and publishers. But do these things deliver what they promise?
Renewing our household contents insurance recently, my husband diligently
entered the details of my newly acquired painting, considered the available
options, pressed buy, only to find a few days later that it wasn’t included on
the insurance schedule and we had to start the whole process again.
And why does my search through hundreds of holiday cottages never secure
me the idyllic hideaway with uninterrupted views of mountains and sea, full of character but not lacking in creature comforts and only a ten minute walk from a charming gastropub and artisan bakery?
Agent Hunter is presented as a comprehensive list of British agents and publishers, and I’m not in a position to argue. There’s handy background information about many of them and links to websites and articles the agent’s role and how to submit. But as a tool for honing in on the best bet for your novel, it does suffer from glitches not so dissimilar from those insurance comparison websites. And while I wouldn’t expect to secure an agent without doing some more research of my own behind the scenes, I was disappointed that it lacked our basic facility that even the holiday cottage websites had: the option to highlight favourites or to delete
items from a search.
Nevertheless, with a novel seeking an agent, I’ll certainly be making use of this tool. I just wish they’d called it Agent Lister.
Read on for a more detailed account of what I was hoping for, how I set about looking for it and what I found.
With a training in scientific method, I should try to be explicit about what I’m measuring this against or, at least, the prejudices I’m bringing to the
process. If this hadn’t come my way, I’d probably have been sending out my novel to a handful of contacts gleaned from The Writers’ Workshop Conference and a similar but more low-key event locally (a couple of which I feel quite hopeful about, although not exactly confident), random dabbling in the internet and a battered copy of The Writer’s Handbook circa (gulp) 2004. The questions I’m asking are:
1. Will it enable me to identify more agents who might be interested in the kind of novel I have written?
2. If so, how speedy and friendly will I find the process of identifying them?
3. Will it leave me any more or less confident about submitting to agents?
With great excitement, I logged in and selected my genre. Up came the
mugshots and introductory details of the first of over 100 potential agents. By selecting “keen to build client list”, “takes email submissions” and “AAA member”, I narrowed this down to a more manageable 61. Adding “more than ten years experience” gets it down to 32. Factors such as whether or not they have a blog or use twitter, attend writers’ conferences, number of clients and size of the agency seemed to me, if not irrelevant to the relationship between author and agent, not something to influence my search at this stage of the game.
There’s also the option of refining my search through keywords pertaining to the agent’s likes and dislikes, but none of the words I put in the search box come up with any matches. Never mind, I didn’t want to restrict my search prematurely. Time to have a closer look at the individual profiles.
The problem is that my search has generated a good proportion of anonymous silhouettes instead of photographs, zeros in the space after “agent since”, or “number of clients” and the ominous “no biographical information in the public domain”. I’ve no objection to a person wanting to safeguard her privacy, but it doesn’t sound so inviting. But it’s actually the zeros that are the most annoying because I don’t know what they mean. It’s unlikely (isn’t it) that all these agents promoting themselves have no clients, so presumably this is missing data, rather than clients = none, but when I select for clients more than thirty (which isn’t necessarily what I want) they disappear.
On the other hand, that does give me just thirteen profiles to go through, which even I can tolerate in one sitting. Disappointingly, only a few explicitly mention literary fiction (and how many times do they tell us, to know our genre better than we know ourselves) and a couple explicitly state that they do not accept email submissions, despite this being one of the first things I’d selected for in my search. On the other hand, it throws up a couple of names I’d not come across before but like the look of. Annoyingly, however, while I can save the whole list of thirteen agents (or any of the searches) there doesn’t seem to be any way of identifying favourites to come back to, or deleting unsuitables from a list. I end up jotting them down on a scrap of paper.
To summarise, it’s like choosing the holiday cottage all over again. I wanted perfection and, after a fair bit of frustration, I’ve got a bed for the night … but at least I can go back again for more. As a list of agents and agencies all in one place, it’s got a lot to recommend it, a bit like a book, I suppose. It’s well presented, easy on the eye and claims to include all agents in the UK. Some will tell you what they’re looking for, how to submit, their likes and dislikes, with links to their websites and other relevant spots. I’d feel happier recommending it if it were nearer the price of a paperback than a hardback, but that may be more about the fact that I got to test-drive it for free. Anyway, it’s cheaper than The Writer’s Handbook was (I see from the website they ceased production in 2011, maybe because people preferred to look online) although I have had mine for ten years rather than one! But I’m not here to advise you on how
to spend your money.
The information on individual agents is variable and, while this may be a reflection on the agents themselves rather than the diligence of Agent Hunter’s developers, it does limit its usefulness. As a means of habituating oneself to the alien world of literary agents, it’s a good place to play around, but as a serious tool for zooming in on which agent is right for you, it’s got a way to go. Some of the search items (such as who represents a particular author can easily be found on Google) and others (such as number of clients) are unimportant or potentially unreliable because of lack of clarity about how missing data has been managed. But the biggest limitation is the lack of a capacity to amend the list your search has generated. You can
save the whole search but you can’t strike of the agents you don’t like the look of or add to favourites the ones you do. This seems to me such an enormous gap I feel I must be missing something. Perhaps it was just
that I was hoping for a knight in shining armour to come and sweep me off my feet.