Looking through my Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook, an invaluable source of information and advice for any writer UK or Ireland based or interested in those markets, I pick out some possible literary agents, since both my poetry and my humorous fantasy novel have reached the point where I want to have a go. I eliminate the ones whose summary information indicates they’re unlikely to be the right choice, for example those of whom it’s said “No poetry, no fantasy” or “no unsolicited submissions” (yes, you might expect that of publishers, but there are agents like that. Soon there will be literary agent reaching agents whose job, for a fee, is to find you a literary agent).
Then, bit by bit, I trawl through the ones left whose websites are listed in the book, which is about 60-65%. Do the others not have websites? Not a good sign in that case.
I find an interesting diversity. I’m looking for quite specific information – which authors do they represent (gives an idea of where their strengths and interests are)? Do they state any special areas of expertise or areas they don’t handle? Are books just a sideline for an agency mainly dealing in film or play scripts? What can we learn about the owners and agents which might suggest a good or a bad fit with me? Are they currently interested in new authors? Do they charge a reading fee?
Some websites make finding this information easy. Some make it hard. Several were obviously devised to look clever and pretty. Pictures of book covers with the author’s name and book title appeared and disappeared in a way that would have impressed me if I was looking for a work of art, but did not give me enough time to note the details, even mentally. The home page of one site consisted of a couple of lines of dark print, not very large, at the top and a huge blank white space undeneath. This may have been very symbolic and artistic, but it didn’t tell me anything useful and it took me a while to realise some of the words at the top were clickable. Others were simple, accessible and informative. Some even made their people sound fun as well as sensible.
On the basis of the specific information I was seeking, but also the impression of the organisation’s character I got from the website, I now have a shortlist and a longlist. If people taking a cut to represent me don’t know how to represent themselves, it isn’t a good sign. Well, next stage soon.