Thursday, October 25, 2012

Researching Agents -- Getting Down to Business.

The best time to acquaint yourself with agents is before your story is finished. With billions of (legitimate) agents, it’s best to research early so you aren’t utterly overwhelmed when it’s time to submit.
 Start with one of the links below and do a search for agents who work in your genres. Look at the agent’s website and read a few interviews, or their Twitter feed, or their Publisher’s Marketplace listing, and be sure they rep the kind of books you write. This is especially important if you cross genres or age groups. It’s good to weed out the agents that say “Absolutely no poetry/cookbooks/animal fiction!” if you are writing a cookbook in sonnets for finicky raccoons.

If an agent looks like a good match, then research more deeply. I do a search on Google, then cut and paste any info I can find about this agent into a Word document: interviews, submission info, pertinent tweets, biographical stuff, etc. etc. ad lib. I’m targeting agents that insist on editorial work; that represent authors, not single books; that specialize in children’s lit; whose interests are wide-ranging; and who would work with me on my long-term career goals. You might expect different things from your agent. That’s why we do the research.

Sometimes all your research simply reveals that the agent would not be a good match for you, so you take her off the list. No sweat! There are still plenty of agents in the sea. (NOT LITERALLY because the salt water would kill their e-readers.) Also this way you know that all your agents are legit, i.e. have a good sales record and take care of their clients.

When this agent is all researched out, be sure to list these things at the top of your Word document about her:

1)      How to submit a query to this agent. Do they want only a single-paged query, or will they accept sample pages? And how many? (Some accept three pages, some three chapters.)
2)      List the link to their submissions page and the email/snail mail address to send your query to.
3)      Also the short paragraph about why you consider this agent to be a good match for your novel.

Then when I’m writing the personalized lead-off sentence for my query, the info is right there. “I’m querying you because you repped “A World of Sin,” and my novel reeks of sin, and also gin. I am also looking for an editorial agent who is a bulldog with contracts, and you seem to fit the bill.” And for another agent, “You mentioned that you’d like to see a novel that’s like Beowulf … WITH MONKEYS. Well guess what I wrote!”

Make a document or spreadsheet for all the agents that interest you. Then you get a good idea of who you want on your A-list, your B-list, etc. Be sure to research a lot of agents. As Miss Snark says, query widely, because you never know who will pick up the MS.

Be patient and persistent. I’ve seen a good novel get representation after 78 rejections. One really awesome novel found representation after 130 rejections. That novel won all kinds of awards and is still in print three years after it was published. So when you get knocked down, get back up!
When it comes time to send out your query, ALWAYS go back to the agent’s website and make sure she has not changed her submission guidelines or email address. Also, be sure she is still open to submissions. From time to time agents will temporarily close to get caught up.

P.S. Here are some great websites for agent research!

1) Literary Rambles: This is probably the place to go first for the Agent Spotlight series, which focuses on a new children’s agent every Thursday. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre do all the Google-searching for you and list the highlights plus all the links in an easy-to-search format. Also author interviews and book giveaways!

2) AgentQuery: With tons of agent listings, and a search feature that lets you cross genres. Also valuable info on agent searches, etiquette, and how to avoid scammers (another reason you should carefully research your agents).

3) Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog: This is under the aegis of Writer’s Digest. Industry info, helpful posts. They also let you know about new agents entering the industry almost as soon as Publisher’s Marketplace announces them.

4) Publisher’s Marketplace: Where to find industry news, agents, editors, writers, you name it. For agents or editors, click on “Browse Members” on the left-hand side.

P.P.S. Go read about the photo of the awesome kingbird in the Denver Post!


  1. But I'm not sure what to do after I have an agent and I'm waiting and waiting. Ten months later. I haven't been as productive in between as I liked. What about other kinds of submissions to magazines etc. What do you suggest? I think I overlooked the small pieces for the hard back book, if you know what I mean. Now my personal bibliography looks very tiny. Not enough to maybe tempt a teaching job, and yet it seems to run in a circle.

    1. Well, scoring an agent does not equal instant success! Some MSS take a while to be sold. One author told me that she got an agent but then she didn't get a story sold for 12 years after that! *faints* But now she has several books out and she is no slouch. It's no good to wait anytime anything is out on submission -- get busy on the next story (which I know you have)! And yes, magazine pieces are good too, and it's nice to have the extra money.

      I need to holler at you because I'm so behind on emails -- but that doesn't stop me from messing around on the internet anyway. :p

  2. I'd like to read a cookbook in sonnets for finicky raccoons.