Whilst getting a literary agent isn't the only route to success any more, if you can find a trustworthy professional to champion your work, the benefits are obviously many. Because my novel contracts were negotiated by a good, experienced agent I had the all important get-out clauses there which meant my rights eventually reverted. My work now belongs to me again and I am free to publish and sell my novels as ebooks today. Translation deals are the other big one, with agents (and their companies) having spent years, decades, building up trustworthy international relationships.
I'm so busy with the publishing side now I'm not actively seeking an agent at the moment. But if the opportunity arose I wouldn't turn away. Well, it did recently, not so recently, when my first agent, contacted on another matter for one of the authors I was editing, agreed to read my 3rd novel, The Born Again Virgin. This was so many months ago. And that's all fine. It's a pass. With yet another cover, the Virgin is gradually finding her mojo. Thankfully there are many agents in the sea and unbridled enthusiasm for one's work has to be the kick-off point for any such relationship. And thankfully too it looks like the job of finding an agent just became a whole lot less stressful.
A fantastic new service called Agent Hunter has just been launched in the UK by The Writer's Workshop (founder Harry Bingham did a guest post here in 2011). You can sign in for free and take a preliminary look around. Full access is £12.00 a year with a 7 day free trial.
Much like Michael Macintyre's joke about how all of us when first subscribing to Google Earth immediately look up our own houses, so I went to have a look at my ex agents. The information was good. My first agent is on the hunt for several genres. High-concept novels; a crime writer planning a series plus she'd like to find a Marina Lewycka-style contemporary literary author who writes about current issues like immigration. She's also looking for intelligent fiction for older women (!) - and mentions Joanna Trollope (who she did compare me to when we had our first exciting meetings). That's pretty good, detailed information for a database. There's also a link to the agency with clear submission requirements (my God they accept email now, how amazing)... My 2nd agent I see has 82 clients, and under the "Advice & Dislikes" section says she has a particular pet hate for writers who display a sense of self importance or need to prove something in style and content which she'll reject as over-written and under-confident.
Online agent databases have been running in the US for some time now, the UK has always been so far behind. This one promises regular updates and looks to be the business. A great service for writers, and for the agents who presumably will soon be getting more suitable manuscripts coming through their In Boxes. Congratulations to Harry, Laura and The Writers' Workshop and hurrah for progress.
There's a publisher section as well which I still have to investigate...