Where do agents look for new clients?

Skip the slush pile by putting your writing on display in key places.

Where do agents look for new clients? This illustration shows a varied crowd of silhouttes looking at artwork in a museum.

How to put your own work on display

As dozens of the agents and writers we spoke to for this article note, aspiring authors have three actionable options if they want to flip the power dynamic and have an agent come to them.

Option 1: Publish short fiction well.

By that, I mean send to journals that regularly appear in the prize anthologies, like Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, etc. (The journals name-dropped above aren’t a bad place to start.) And if you’re a nonfiction writer, publish in the glossy mags you find at Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. (Rule of Thumb A: If you’re getting 50 cents a word or better, it’s probably a big/respectable enough venue to catch an agent’s eye.)

Option 2: Enter contests.

(Rule of Thumb B: If the prize is $1,000+, it’s probably a big enough contest for agents to notice. They simply can’t afford to track who wins the $250 fiction chapbook prize from a university press contest.)

Option 3: Maintain an engaging digital presence.

Obviously, a well-received blog can do it. But even if you don’t have or want your own blog, simply having good writing of yours “out there” and available online to agents is a must. Outlets like the Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, and other online venues are a fine way to share your best writing widely enough to get noticed.

It may take many queries and a few publications in prestigious places before agents start biting – but the notion of skipping an agent’s slush pile certainly makes all the effort worthwhile. 

—Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books, and he runs the creative writing program at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Web: ryangvancleave.com.