Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
Romancing The Agent: one moment you’re querying them. Then, the next thing you know, the two of you are picking out a (publishing) house together!
Anyway. With my pathetic attempt at humor aside, let’s do this. (Cue dramatic knuckle cracking.) I don’t mean to brag, but I do know a thing or two about stalking agents from my querying days, and because I was so exceptionally skilled at it, I did discover one particular theme I feel is worth mentioning: that you should query agents not just because they represent your genre, but because you have researched them well and you have discovered that a) they have solid prior experience in the publishing industry and b) that you think you’ll mesh well personality-wise.
Let’s break that down for a moment, because I really do believe it is important.
a) Unfortunately, there are agents out there who, while they might mean well, are just so inexperienced in the industry that they’re likely to do you more harm than good. These agents are often referred to as “schmagents,” and they are luckily only a minuscule percentage of the agents out there, but it’s still worth being aware of. So, how do you make sure you aren’t querying a so-called schmagent? Check their bios, their Literary Rambles profiles (Just Google “[agent’s name] + Literary Rambles]” and it’ll be the top hit if they have done a profile on that agent), their Publisher’s Marketplace sales, their Absolute Write Background Check pages. Ask yourself: have they worked at, or at least interned for, agencies or publishers in the past? Do they list any publish experience beyond just an English degree and/or a “passion for books”? Do they work at any agency that seems to have sold to Big Five publishers? If you answered no to any or all of these questions, I suggest maybe skipping the agent, or at least asking someone who knows a lot about traditional publishing what their thoughts are on that agent’s legitimacy. Because these agents can be incredibly kind and generous and well-meaning, but if they don’t have any experience or editor contacts, then what’s the point? If they don’t even know editors at major houses to pitch your book to, it’s worse for you than not having an agent at all.
b) An agent-author relationship is still a relationship above all else, and relationships only works effectively if you are a good fit for one another. So when you find an agent you’re interested in querying, take the extra step and check their twitter feed and blog (if they have those) as well as search for any online interviews they did, or even checking their favorite books to see if you have similar tastes. See if their personality seems to compliment yours, because while you don’t necessarily need to be good friends with your agent, it’s a lot easier if you have some sort of personal connection.
So with all that said, how exactly do you find agents to query? There are tons of strategies out there for this (and you can even come up with your own!), but here is what I personally found to be most effective to give you a place to start:
– Find agents who represent books similar to yours. So let’s say you’ve written a gritty Young Adult sci-fi. And one day, you walk into a bookstore, and you see a really hauntingly awesome cover. So you turn it over and you realize the book is… a gritty sci-fi! Although an agent can’t represent you if your manuscript is too similar to one of her client’s books, agents do tend to love books with similar atmospheres (i.e. a “gritty sci-fi”) so if you see that sort of loose connection between your book and a published one, look up the agent! There are multiple ways to do this: one is to go to Publisher’s Marketplace if you’re a subscriber and search the author’s name (if you’re not a subscriber, you can always email me – jhansenauthor(at)gmail(dot)com – and I’ll happily look it up for you.) Another is to check the author’s website (usually in the “contact me” section) and see if an agent is listed. Or if none of the above work, QueryTracker has a great list of authors and their agents here, and it’s likely that the author will be listed for you.
Then, once you find the agent, send a query and mention how you found him or her!
– AgentQuery. AgentQuery is without a doubt my favorite agent-finding resource. The site contains a nearly-complete online database of literary agents, complete with brief information on that agent, including some of the agent’s past sales, the genres she represents, and so on. You can search agents by genre, location, keyword, and a host of other things here. It’s an excellent starting point for those who are new to querying.
– QueryTracker. QueryTracker, while not as easy as AgentQuery in my opinion, is great when you want to check out the response times of the agents you are querying, as writers comment on each agent’s profile with query results, the length of time it took until they heard back from the agent, and so on.
– Literary Rambles. Literary Rambles is the place to go, in my opinion, once you find an agent who you’re interested in querying but would like to know more about first. Essentially, the site is a cheat sheet. They do profiles on a large majority of the kidlit agents in the industry, wherein they provide snippets from the agent’s past interviews, that particular agent’s “Dos and Don’ts,” pet peeves, client lists, and so much more relevant info. If you go to their site, their whole left sidebar is a list of past agent profiles.
– Publisher’s Marketplace. Not all agents have Publisher’s Marketplace profiles available to non-subscribers, but many do. Publisher’s Marketplace is useful because it chronicles some of the agent’s past sales, giving you a sense of the kinds of publishers they frequently sell to and the kinds of books they frequently sell. For example, this PM profile for Jodi Reamer basically proves that she is a ninja, representing huge authors like Stephanie Meyer, John Green, Ally Condie, and so many more. (It’s worth noting that public PM pages aren’t usually updated.) (And once again, if you’d like me to look up some of the past sales by a certain agent on Publisher’s Marketplace, email me!)
– Twitter. Remember how I said it’s important to make sure you mesh with an agent before querying him or her? Twitter is a great way to figure that out. As an active Twitter user, I remember that I found a large number of the agents I eventually queried through following their tweets; in fact, most of agents who requested my manuscript I found through Twitter. Like Literary Rambles, Twitter is another agent cheat sheet, as many agents tweet query tips, types of manuscripts they’re currently looking to represent, and so on. (If you need a place to start, you can find a list of agents on Twitter here.)