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Large and Established:
A Website Case Study of Writers House
Let people know:
If you've read Finding and Choosing Literary Agents you know that one way to learn about an agent is to examine their website. The websites of established agencies will have many of the characteristics of the Writers House website, which I discuss below. Writers House has been around since 1973 and represents both adult and children's authors.
General impressions: The WH site features a spare and elegant design, and fewer than 10 pages. One of these has a history of the building the agency occupies; the building has an interesting history, and this is a nice touch. There is a Submissions page, a history of the agency, information about foreign rights subagents, information about film and TV deals, and not much more. There doesn't need to be.
Qualifications: The names of 17 agents are listed on the About Us page, with some of the names linked to their personal page on Publishers Marketplace. There's an introductory paragraph that talks generally about their qualifications, but no details about individuals are given. Again, there doesn't need to be more; the agents at Writers House are well known and can easily be found in industry reference books.
Clients: The approach that Writers House takes to showcasing their clients reveals their stature and highlights their history. Instead of listing individual clients and their credits, Writers House has an Award Winners page, with sections for both adult and children's books. Awards include the National Book Award, the Pulitizer Prize, the Newbery Medal, and many others. It's no more than a list and a smattering of book jacket images, but it tells you that Writers House has a history of representing the very best.
Of course, such a list can be easily checked, and so it means more than a page lavishly praising the achievements of an agency's clients that does not provide any specifics. How would you check it, if you came across such a list on the site of an agency you didn't know? Note down the names of the clients, and visit their websites. They may mention their agent somewhere on the site; if they don't, contact them and ask them to confirm that so-and-so is their agent. Do not ask for an introduction or for any other information. The confirmation is all you want.
Terms: Like many older firms, Writers House does not put any information about their standard terms on their website. This disappoints me, as I believe in transparency, but the omission tells a visitor something anyway: that their terms are "industry standard" and do not need to be shouted to the world.
Conclusions: Though somewhat different in style from Adams Literary, the websites of both agencies share key characteristics that clearly distinguish them from their shady siblings. They prominently feature the books of their clients, do not hide the names of their agents, and make no attempt to ingratiate themselves with visitors.
The Writers House website reflects what it says on their About Us page, "Our goals are long term and the environment we strive to create is one that invites authors and agents to stay with us for the duration of their careers." Sites put up by such established companies do not need to sell you on what they can do for you, and so they don't. An agency that takes a similar approach is Curtis Brown, Ltd.
To find more information, turn to Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market and to other resources that list agents. Ask other writers about them. What you learn will confirm the impression given by their website.
Information given here is based on visits to the Writers House site during the week of April 21-25, 2008.
Adams Literary study | Shady agency study
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