Question on literary agents

Deke

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So I hit my goal for the day as far as writing goes (I’m world building for my space opera) and I decided to have a look at the process of finding a literary agent, mostly out of curiousity since I’m a long ways away from needing one.

I found that my assumptions of the process were incorrect, like way incorrect. I thought that there were agents out there that took submissions for genres and you sent them your query letter and manuscript and they said yes or no.

What I found after going down the rabbit hole for about three hours was that every literary agents advertisements were incredibly specific, and the ones in my category, space opera, there was not a single agent that the great google could find looking for anything close to military s/f or space opera. Examples of what I found were along the lines of “I’m looking for a space opera with a steampunk theme that critiques European colonialism. NO HUMANOID ALIENS”

I guess most of what I had researched about the process made me believe that the agents represented a genre and simply read your query letter and maybe some of your manuscript and decided if they liked it or not. I didn’t realize that their focus was that narrow or that they seemed to be ordering the book they wanted.

Can anyone who has been around this block for a while tell me if that is really the way the process works or if I just haven’t done enough digging or am incorrect?

My original idea (and I have learned that almost every original idea I have needs to be tweaked lol) was to trad publish with a literary agent but if the agenting world is in reality what I have seen so far then 1. I doubt I could find one 2. I don’t think I would be interested in writing a story for them. I mean I decided to write a book because I like to tell my own stories I didn’t want to be a short order cook pumping out stories neatly cut out to fit in some agents “preferred style”.

Really just a bit lost with this whole process and could use some of you uber experienced writers to help me understand this shiny new world I find myself in.

(edit: don’t misunderstand I do realize that no matter how I publish I will have to abide by certain rules. Ex- word counts, writing styles, etc.)
 

HareBrain

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What I found after going down the rabbit hole for about three hours was that every literary agents advertisements were incredibly specific
Where did you look? Some agents publish very specific "wants" on Twitter (under the #MSWL hashtag) but this doesn't mean that's all they're looking for; it's just something that's come into their head they think would be cool or particularly of the moment. Almost every agent will consider a broad range of stuff within a genre (or even across all genres, depending on the agent). The best place to look for submission guidance is their websites. If they have particular "no"s, they'll usually list them there.
 

Deke

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Where did you look? Some agents publish very specific "wants" on Twitter (under the #MSWL hashtag) but this doesn't mean that's all they're looking for; it's just something that's come into their head they think would be cool or particularly of the moment. Almost every agent will consider a broad range of stuff within a genre (or even across all genres, depending on the agent). The best place to look for submission guidance is their websites. If they have particular "no"s, they'll usually list them there.

I was looking on a MSWL website for a while but also under some different websites for agents.

I think I haven’t found the right way to hunt them down maybe? I was not having a lot of of success with finding websites for individual agents or agenting companies using keyword searches.

Maybe it was the MSWL thing that threw me off and I mistook that wish list as how agents actually operated.
 

Tirellan

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There are several places that have useful agent listing, the largest being querytracker.net. There is a long list of US SF/F agents here: A compiled list of SF/Fantasy agents... and a list of UK sf/f agents here: http://martinowton.com/pdf/sf.pdf (this is my own site). I would caution you to look for yourself for the most recent info on any agents you pick out from the lists. Things change and the changes may not get picked up.
 

Deke

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There are several places that have useful agent listing, the largest being querytracker.net. There is a long list of US SF/F agents here: A compiled list of SF/Fantasy agents... and a list of UK sf/f agents here: http://martinowton.com/pdf/sf.pdf (this is my own site). I would caution you to look for yourself for the most recent info on any agents you pick out from the lists. Things change and the changes may not get picked up.
Thanks for that, I’ll make sure to put it to good use. I’m glad to once again be mistaken.
 

Dan Jones

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I am here to do the thing!
I mean I decided to write a book because I like to tell my own stories I didn’t want to be a short order cook pumping out stories neatly cut out to fit in some agents “preferred style”.
You're right about this much, at least. You should write the thing that you would like to read. At least that way you'll be passionate about it, and the way I see it is, if you like it then somebody somewhere will like it too. But finding that someone is, admittedly, extremely difficult.

The slush pile does lead to some gems being unearthed. But the chances of it happening, if you look at the sheer numbers of it, are vanishingly small, because a) the sheer numbers and b) according to the agents themselves the quality of manuscripts they receive is always improving, so you have to be outstandingly excellent to be considered.

But don't let this get you down. The best thing to do is simply write, hone your chops, prepare yourself for disappointment but grow sufficiently thick skin to not let it deter you from persevering. And start talking to people, because you'll find unexpected contacts and information by reaching out. You've made a good first couple of steps by starting your book, and joining Chrons.

And, welcome to Chrons!
 

Stephen Palmer

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The slush pile is how I got started 27 years ago...
My only advice is agents are more difficult to persuade than publishers. Try them first!
 

Maseeha.Aellari

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I've been querying for about a year, so I've got some experience.

Yes, agents can be very specific about certain things. This is what would be on their MSWL generally. Other times, you can find agents looking for something in your genre just by looking it up.

I did a little digging and I found this: Space Opera | MsWishList
It's a recent list of agents who have space opera on their MSWL. I don't know the specifics of their focus, but I hope it helps.

All things conisdered, finding an agent is hard! Good luck :)
 

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