How to Use Publishers Marketplace When Querying

I often tell clients to invest $25 a month in a subscription when they begin querying. Unfortunately, though, this advice isn’t as intuitive as other querying advice (e.g., read the novels the agent represents, follow the submission guidelines, follow the #MSWL or #PitMad threads on Twitter). Here is a short Publishers Marketplace tutorial on how to get the most of out this tool when you query agents.


Quick Background

Publishers Marketplace (PM) is a publishing industry bulletin board. Anyone who works with books is free to buy a subscription and have a profile page on the site–even authors. When agents sell their clients’ books, they will often post a deal announcement on PM. The announcement mentions the manuscript, author, publisher, acquiring editor’s name, and deal size (e.g., “very nice deal” or “major deal”). What we’re interested in are the agents’ and editors’ deal pages, because the links at the top show a network of all the other agents or editors that they’ve worked with in the past 12 months.


The Publishers Marketplace Tutorial

PM is most helpful when you begin with a list of books that are like yours, as well as a few names of agents who represent what you write. In other words, to get the most out of PM, you need to start with a list of names—author names, agent names, and/or editor names.


Step 0: Where to Begin

So, let’s say you are an author in India who is writing a story set there. You would gather the following list in the following ways.

1. Jane Smith*, author (wrote a popular novel similar to yours, which you read and loved)
2. Anita Brown, author (while researching “favorites” lists on and in your genre, you discovered that this book is like yours and well respected)
3. Rohan Greene, author (same as above; and published within the past five years, ideally)
4. George Redding, agent (found by searching #MSWL, says he’s looking for novels set in Asia)
5. Vikas Paul (an Indian agent; you read an interview of him online and got a good feeling about his personality)
6. Tori Park (an agent you met at a conference and who expressed interest in your manuscript but later rejected it)
* = these are all fictitious names

Then you log on to PM. The goal is not only to find out which agent represents authors 1-3 and get submission info for agents 4-5, but to use PM to create a network of connections AROUND these people and generate a much longer list. PM is primarily valuable for its deal announcements and the ability to see which agents work with which editors. (See graphics below.)


Step 1: View the Dealmaker Page

Do a search on each name. You’ll likely get several results; one result might be an author page containing a bio and agent’s name. Other results might include deal announcements: click on the announcement and see what editor acquired the book. Click on the editor’s name. Each editor’s listing will show which agents have sold projects to that editor in the last 12 months. This is what you wantFrom each agent’s name, then, you can get four or more other agents’ names.

publishers marketplace tutorial 1


Step 2: Populate Your List

The reasoning behind this is that the publishing industry is all about personal tastes. If you can start with books that YOU like and which are similar in style or content to yours, you are beginning with taste: a particular style of fiction. Then you move your search outward from there, using the PM network to identify people who have represented and acquired books like yours. This helps narrow down the field while still generating twenty or more names you wouldn’t have thought to search for, otherwise.

publishers marketplace tutorial 2

Step 3: Browse the Top Agents in Your Genre

Publishers Marketplace also allows you to search for the “top dealmakers” in your category, which (if you’re reading this) is likely to be debut fiction. Browse the names and do your research, as described below.


Step 4: Individual Research

After that, research each new name on your list as you would any other agent: read about their bios, visit their agency website, ensure they are open to unsolicited submissions, and follow their submission guidelines, if so. You might only get eight or ten viable names for every twenty-five you find this way, but this is fine.


As a bonus, you are also likely to have something relevant to say in your query letter to them, too: e.g., “I am contacting you because you worked with Jane Doe, the editor at Harcourt who acquired TITLE, a novel that is similar to mine in that it, too, draws on the spiritual power and beauty of the Indian Himalayas.”


Final Thoughts

The publishing industry moves fast. When you compare your novel to others and search for similar titles, always favor the ones that have been published in the past two years. Agents and editors move around a lot, and from a business perspective, even successful novels have a short shelf life. It does no good to compare your family saga to Mario Puzo’s The Godfather–even though Puzo’s agent is still very much in the industry, the market has changed and Neil Olson rarely reads unsolicited submissions.


And finally, the publishing industry is tricky: flattery gets you everywhere, but agents have a finely tuned bullshit detector. If you start your search by using books they have represented, you really need to have read the books and be able to talk about them. It will be obvious if you haven’t–and even if you have just read lots of reviews. Be as honest with people as you want them to be with you.


I hope you’ve found this Publishers Marketplace tutorial helpful. Good luck!

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