I got an email today from a writer who's looking for an agent. Not by any means the first such email I've received, though this was certainly one of the more courteous and professional ones. But when I opened it I felt the usual small wave of stress when I saw the familiar question: could I give the writer the names of some agents who are looking for the kind of book she writes?
And then, since earlier today I'd been having a far-ranging talk with one of my writer neighbors, Joanna Campbell Slan, on such topics as business etiquette and the fine art of saying no, I suddenly realized why this question stresses me.
Because while I would really like to be helpful and supportive to the person who emailed me, I don't know the answer. Agents currently looking for a particular kind of book--even the kind of book I write? Beats me. Because I'm not looking for an agent. I have an agent; we've been working productively together for over a decade. If I didn't have an agent, or if I were looking to make a change, I'd be sifting every source of information available. I'd be so focused on the subject that the mere mention of the word "agent" would make me snap to attention and then shake my head in frustration if the subject were actually secret agents, real estate agents, or Agent Orange. But since I'm not agent hunting, I don't have an up-to-date list of prime agent targets in my head. And while that may be inconvenient for people who'd like such a list, I need the mental space the list would occupy--to say nothing of the time I'd need to keep it current--for other things. Like my writing.
That doesn't mean I know nothing about finding an agent. I blogged a while back for the Femmes Fatales about how I'd go about finding an agent if I had it to do all over again, and called it Finding the One True Agent. Every so often I review that blog post to see if I've thought of anything new or changed my mind about any of my recommendations. Eventually that will happen, and I will revise my post and put it in the For Writers section of my own website. But so far, the essay stands.
And if I didn't cover it in that post, it's probably because I don't know.
No, I don't know the names of the half dozen/dozen/half a hundred agents to whom you should submit your mystery/heroic fantasy/YA novel. But here's how you can find those names. And sorry, I haven't heard of Agent X. That doesn't mean he or she isn't a good agent, or even a famous agent. It just means I haven't heard of him/her.
Admitting you don't know something can be wonderfully freeing.