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agents of change
a literary agent blog roundup
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

For every complaint I hear that publishing never changes, I hear an equal and opposite complaint that it's not what it used to be. And in many ways, it's not. I can tell you from experience that at least one segment of the road to publication -- the part where you search for an agent and secure representation -- has been completely revolutionized in the past five years. Not even ten. Five.

A few years ago I was shocked to find that a few literary agents were blogging (see those roundups here: 2006, 2007.) Now, oodles of them are. Oodles. And not just blogging, but Tweeting too, which gives an amazing immediacy and sense of individuality to an entire profession of folks who used to seem distant and unreachable and blankly impassive.

If you are serious about finding the right agent to secure you the right deal with a traditional publishing house, and you're not researching agents online... well, frankly, you're making yourself more likely to fail. You don't need to read the blogs every day. You shouldn't obsess about it to the point where you're spending more of your computer time on reading them than actually working on your manuscript. But you should be familiar with at least a few.

Here are those few.

Jessica Faust at BookEnds, LLC. BookEnds is a group blog for the whole agency, but most of the posts are Jessica's, and she's got a great style that's neither too sharp nor too soft. The agency takes both fiction and non-fiction, so this is a good place to learn about what's required of a submission. Wondering what makes an agent stop reading your query? About contracts? About comp titles? Pay a visit. There's something new nearly every day.

Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants. Like Jessica, Kristin updates almost daily, and her topics range through every part of the process, from unsolicited manuscripts to subsidiary rights. She actually doesn't rant that much -- as the blog subtitle says, she's "a very nice literary agent" who "indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry." More than any of the other agent blogs I read, she talks about the inner workings of contract clauses and trends in electronic rights, so if you feel like you've already got a handle on query writing and aren't sure if you have anything else to learn, go here. There's always something else to learn.

Betsy Lerner at The Forest for the Trees. Among other things, Betsy is a really tremendous writer. If you lined up posts from agent blogs side by side, it'd be easy to pick out this set of sentences as hers: "The lady who doesn’t move wears pale salmon huarache style loafers. I notice them because I am still on the floor picking up pages. It’s times like these when you think about an iPad." You could also read her book (of the same name as the blog), but she answers a lot of reader questions, which is a nice way to ensure the topic range is a wide one.

Janet Reid at QueryShark and Janet Reid, Literary Agent. Two blogs for the price of one! Janet is sharp and opinionated, sometimes terse, often snarky, and a very, very straight shooter. Her personal agent blog focuses more on upcoming and current books than many of the other blogs, and QueryShark is unique: she critiques complete queries submitted by strangers, and it's amazing how you can learn to do something right just by watching other people do it wrong. People can tell you all day long how your query should "have a unique voice" and "be just long enough" and "answer the 'so what' question", but it's incredibly helpful to see these abstract principles in action. Go look. Right now.

Nathan Bransford at Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent. Over the past few years, Nathan's blog has grown into a whole bigger animal. He routinely gets more than 100 comments on each post, his website now has forums where aspiring writers talk to each other, and his This Week in Publishing roundups do a tremendous job gathering news from hither and yon. He runs contests like Agent For a Day, where readers get a chance to pick their favorites from queries and/or samples, which (like Query Shark) teaches by example.

One last thing worth noting: in telling you to read agent blogs, I'm not saying that these are the agents you should be submitting to. It's an odd dance. Each of these agents is really just speaking for him or herself, and not giving you a secret key that will unlock all of publishing's doors. And yet, by reading them, you find out more about the industry. I'm not searching for an agent -- I have one, and I couldn't love her more -- but I still read these blogs, because they're informative, intelligent, and entertaining.

(Really, really entertaining.)


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

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