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A short guide to Planet Agent

A short guide to Planet Agent

We’ve done it! We’ve taken the massive amount of data on our site and produced the first ever comprehensive analysis of Planet Agent. We’ve captured data on every agent and reveal the results below. Take a look – and don’t forget to share this graphic as widely as you can: we think it matters.

A short guide to Planet Agent

If you want to reproduce the graphic, please do: just link back to the original. Thanks to fatjoe for the beautiful data work. NB: there are some typos/inaccuracies in the current draft; those errors will be corrected imminently – please check back later today.

A note on data

Number of agents/agencies. This figure, like all others, will be somewhat approximate, because there are always new agents entering the industry and older agents leaving it. We correct all errors as soon as we spot them, however, and the number of agents has remained fairly stable over the past 18 months, so we think the current total is very close to accurate.

Agency size. We do not include agents who specialise only in film & TV, thereby diminishing the size of some agencies (eg: United Agents or Curtis Brown) who have large entertainment departments and excluding others who are exclusively film & TV. Our definition of an agent is anyone who represents literary clients in their own right, but that definition will certainly include, for example, agents who spend 90% of their time on foreign rights sales and only manage a few clients directly.

Agency location. We’ve used the main office address to define location. About half of the agents not based in London are based in the one- or two-hour commuter belt outside it.

Ethnic backgrounds. Not all agents release photos and not all photos are of sufficient quality for us to determine ethnic origin with perfect confidence. However, using both names and photos we’ve only been able to identify 5 non-white agents. Allowing for a small margin of error, we are confident that less than 3% of agents are of non-white origin and, we believe, the correct number is more like 2%. There are, of course, plenty of non-British agents active in the industry, mostly Americans.

Client lists. An agent’s client list can be somewhat misleading. Some agents release no client list at all. (Naughty). Others give the names only of a few sample clients or, for example, those clients with websites. Where full client lists are given, some agents list only clients still actively writing, while others will list all those where there is (sometimes a rather theoretical) author-agent contract in place.

Agent photos. Self-explanatory mostly, but do note that we source our photos from all over the Internet, so an agent might, for example, release no photo via their agency website but will do so via Twitter or some other means. Agent Hunter’s selection of photos is therefore significantly more comprehensive than the selection you’d get from agency websites alone.

Biography. Our TI score awards points not simply for the existence of a biography but for the extent of its detail. A one line biog saying “X studied English at Oxford and joined the XYZ agency in 2002” would score very low. A more discursive and fact-filled biography would score more highly.

Literary likes and dislikes. Very few agents are explicit about the genres they do and don’t handle, but plenty of agents offer very useful guidance about their tastes and preferences. Again, we source that data from everywhere we can, so if an agent gives a talk that is then written up in the form of a blog, we’ll extract what value we can get from that blog. Our TI scores award points to the degree to which an agent is forthcoming about his or her tastes. The same thing goes (to a lesser degree) for an agent’s other loves and passions (which are relevant to writers because, for example, an agent who is a passionate sailor might well enjoy a thriller set at sea.) Our TI score also takes account of whether an agent offers useful guidance to writers on any aspect of writing or approaching agents.

Errors and omissions. We believe our database is the most comprehensive and up to date one available anywhere. We update it year-round and correct any errors as soon as possible, usually within 48 hours. We recognise, however, that no database is perfect and we encourage users to verify our data against other public sources (including agency websites) prior to sending out a submission. We give agents direct access to their own listing and encourage them to notify us of any mistakes. On occasion, agents have asked us to delete their entry or to enter data which we know to be inaccurate. We won’t delete entries, because we are in the business of truthfully conveying public information of relevantce to writer. We are, however, always happy to state that a particular agent is not open to new clients or to unsolicited manuscripts, if an agent tells us that that is the case. When an agent asks us to report information which we believe to be untrue, we report what we have been asked to say but will also say why we believe this information to be inaccurate. The data used in the infographic was drawn from our database in the week of 1 September 2014, and was believed to be correct at the time of collection.

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  • anderson

    Interesting points. But you’re missing a good reason why agents don’t publish photos of themselves or long bios about their personal lives. In their work serving authors, they efface their own personality. Keeping themselves out of the public eye helps the authors they represent. Also, what kind of prospective author is going to choose their agent based on a photograph? Successful agents don’t need to publicise themselves.

  • The Agent Hunter Team

    Hi and thanks for the comment – not least because it helps me be a bit clearer about what I mean. Of COURSE an agent’s personal life is personal and private. I do only mean a professional biography: “I studied X at the University of Y. I spent ten years at Penguin, mostly in commercial women’s fiction, then joined the agency of ABC in 2011” – or whatever. That’s not competing for the public attention, it’s just a bare professional disclosure of key facts.

    And of course writers don’t choose people on the basis of a photo … but we’re humans. If people don’t show their faces, they feel faceless. If I’m sending my submission off to someone who I want to represent my work for the duration of my career, I want to see a face. That makes no sense, I know – but wouldn’t you?

  • Hmmm…can’t help thinking that an agent’s online persona is just as valuable a tool as an author’s? And we know that agents like to see an online presence sometimes: why should we as authors, not expect the same from potential agents? I’d much rather deal with a human face and know a little bit about who I’m dealing with, even if they turn down my submission.

  • The Agent Hunter Team

    Absolutely! This guy isn’t selling you plumbing services: he or she is your potential partner for the next 20-30 years. Why wouldn’t you have the right to know about that person’s credentials to fill the role.

    And photos? We’re humans. We need faces.

  • Stephen Mark (@StephenMark18)

    I couldn’t agree more. They will learn. With the rise of selfpub and an author’s improving ability to bypass these dinosaurs, they will learn. Or die. Thank you WW for taking the initiative on this! 🙂

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