Agents, How to Research Agents, Pitching, Querying, Research, Writing

How to Research Agents: Querying Strategy and Hitting Send!

Earlier this week I posted on how to create a detailed spreadsheet, and I realize most people aren’t going to get as detailed as me :). But one of the reasons I have so many columns in my spreadsheet is because I consider a number of factors when I decide how I’m going to approach querying. There is no right way to do this. I wish that querying were a science, but it’s not. I have approached it differently with every manuscript. The manuscript I’m polishing for Pitch Wars will be the sixth manuscript I query. Fingers crossed it’s the final one (eternal optimist here!).

Because I revived this series as a result of Pitch Wars, I’m going to angle it a little more that way. First of all, I’d make sure all of the agents (who accept your age/genre) participating in Pitch Wars are on your list. On my spreadsheet, I went through and marked these agents as Round 0 because I have not yet queried this manuscript. That way when I am finished updating my agent list and sort it, all of the PW agents will rise to the top. But, a few words of caution about the agent round in a contest:

  • Just because an agent doesn’t request your manuscript in a contest doesn’t mean he/she isn’t interested. There are A LOT of entries to go through. They may not get to yours. Or, your entry may shine better with a full query/sample. I’ve had agents request from me later when they skipped over my entry in a contest.
  • An agent participating in a contest may not be the best agent at the agency for your MS. I’m not saying you should ignore a request from them in the contest. But don’t assume a no-request from that agent in the contest means you shouldn’t query someone else at the agency.

Once all PW agents are accounted for, it’s time to start organizing the other agents into querying rounds, and this is even a little more tricky if you’re involved in a contest. (For PW, keep in mind you can’t query other agents until after the agent round.) If you have a ton of interest from the contest, you may want to go big and query the top agents on your list in case you have an offer from one of the contest agents. If you don’t have as many requests, you may want to be more cautious and test out your query and pages with smaller rounds. It’s really a matter of your confidence in your manuscript.

If it’s your first manuscript and you’re at all nervous about it, I’d start out with smaller rounds to test the waters–perhaps somewhere around seven queries at a time. If you’re more confident and know your materials are ready, you might want to do larger rounds of ten or fifteen. I’ve seen writers who do even more. Once you’ve decided the number, you can go back to the main question …

Who should you query first?

The million-dollar question! Here are some possibilities, along with pros and cons:

  • Your top-ranked agents
    • Pro: You’ll know right away if the agents you think are the best fit are a match.
    • Con: If your materials aren’t ready, you’ve lost your chance at your top picks. Here’s the good news if you’re a Pitch Wars mentee: You’ve already had a mentor (or two!) vet your materials, so hopefully they’re in great shape. But that doesn’t mean you should assume they’re perfect. There’s always the chance you need to make additional tweaks.
    • Other consideration: Keep in mind there’s no such thing as a dream agent. You might think someone’s a perfect fit based on what you read online, but you won’t know for sure until you have The Call and hear his/her vision for your book, so don’t let it get you down too much if that one agent you think is perfect rejects your query. Also remember there are many amazing agents out there without an online presence who are making deals and working hard for their clients. The right agent for you might be one of those you couldn’t find a lot of information about online and so didn’t rise to the top of your list.
  • Agents with the most requests
    • Pro: They may be more likely to request yours as well. Even if they do eventually reject, perhaps they’ll give you valuable feedback.
    • Con: You might feel worse if they don’t request yours. BUT, always remember: subjectivity.
  • Agents who respond
    • Pro: You will get an answer.
    • Con: None. This one’s a no-brainer for your first round in my opinion, unless you feel super-confident and there’s a no-response agent you just have to query right away.
  • Agents who respond quickly
    • Pro: You’ll know quickly what’s working.
    • Con: Faster rejection.
  • Agents who want a query only
    • Pro: This can tell you that your query’s effective. (You should do this with other writers before querying agents to make sure the query is clear, but agents still react differently than writers since they’re looking at the market as well, so it can be an effective strategy.)
    • Con: You can’t rely too heavily on this as tastes are still subjective. You may still get rejections that have nothing to do with your query needing work. (See my post on what I learned in a year of querying. I have a section on this.) My best advice here is that if you send out a round that is entirely query-only and they all reject, it’s probably your query. If you get at least a couple of requests, the other rejections may be due to tastes.
  • Agents who want a certain amount of pages
    • Pro: This may help you test out your pages, if agents are consistently requesting more.
    • Con: Again with the caution about tastes being subjective. Plus, you can’t be sure whether an agent requested/rejected based on the query.
  • Agents with whom you’ve had contact (met at a conference, requested from you before, etc.)
    • Pro: Having a previous relationship with an agent can get you in the door, although it still comes down to the right fit.
    • Con: It might hurt more if they reject you. Plus, having a previous relationship with an agent could blind you to another agent at the same agency who could be a better fit. Even if an agent has requested from you before, they might not again, as I’ve commented on before.
  • A combination
    • Pro: You don’t burn through all of your top-ranked agents at the beginning of your query list if you discover the MS needs a revision.
    • Con: If you get an offer, you may miss some of your top-ranked agents. Including some slow responders in early rounds may cause longer waits.

So, basically, it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and that’s different for everyone. I can’t give you a magic formula. I wish I had one myself!

How do you sort them into rounds?

Once you’ve figured out that all-important factor of how you want to organize your first round, you can sort the spreadsheet in a variety of different ways to plan out the rest of your rounds. Sort by Rank to go with your top-ranked agents first, by [genre/category] requests? in descending order to go with the agents with the most requests first, by Sub note to test a particular submission material, or by Responds? to go with only agents who respond. Generally I don’t sort by that last one–I just scan for it as I’m looking at the other fields. (As a side note, I’ve generally accounted for the Looking for column in my Rank, so any agents who were specifically looking for something that matches my manuscript have a higher rank and would come up there, but I still scan through that column to see if I want to move any agents up to a higher round.)

Once you’ve sorted, just put the round number (1, 2, 3, etc.) and repeat it the number of queries you plan to do in each round (7, 10, 15) until you get through all the agents you plan to query. And, voila, you have your agents set to query! Although nothing has to be set in stone. My list is always flexible. I modify it as contests crop up or if I see an agent tweet about something relevant they’re looking for.

As far as when I move to another round, when I queried my first couple of manuscripts, I waited until I had answers from every agent in a round before I started another. Now when I receive a response from one agent, I send another query. However, it’s still helpful to have these rounds set up because I look back at them to gauge how my query is doing and whether I need to pause and revise anything. It’s up to you what you feel comfortable with.

A Pitch Wars side note: Any of those PW agents who didn’t request from you? If you still want to query them, just sort them into the rounds with the rest.

Once you start querying, what’s the best way to track queries?

If you’re not a spreadsheet-lover like me, you can just track them in QueryTracker, and I do use that resource as well, but I still use my spreadsheet since I go an extra step and estimate out when I should hear back from an agent. While it’s still a game of averages and an agent may reply to me sooner or later than someone else, it keeps me from watching the site daily or refreshing my inbox, waiting for that agent to reply. Believe me, that way lies madness.

In the Query Sent field I just put the date I sent the query. Then, I calculate when I should hear back from the agent by referring to the Response Time field. If the agent lists a specific number of weeks in which he/she will respond, I count it out on my calendar and plug that date into the Should hear back by: field. If it’s an agent who says “six weeks if interested,” then my note in that field will list the date followed by “–close if no response.” If, on the other hand, the agent has instructions to follow up after a certain number of weeks, I include the date followed by “–follow up if no response.” However, I do monitor the agent’s Twitter feed/blog to see if they note that they’re behind. If so, I hold off on following up. Some agents may have a date with no instructions; there’s no action to take but it’s just to give me an idea of when I might hear. Others might have a question mark if the agent doesn’t list an expected response time. This field is really for my own piece of mind so I already have reasonable expectations on when I should receive a response.

When I receive a Query Response, I include the date and then whether it is a form rejection, personalized form rejection, detailed rejection, or request. Or, as mentioned above, if it’s an agent who lists a specific time in which they’ll respond if interested, I close it out.

  • For the first two, I put [date] – form/personalized form rejection, then I move the entire row to a new sheet within the spreadsheet labeled rejections. For me, keeping rejections in the same sheet with active queries is both clutter and sort of depressing.
  • For a detailed rejection, I put [date] – [pasted copy of the agent’s comments]. Once again, I move the row to the rejections sheet in the spreadsheet.
  • For a query past the agent’s stated response time if interested, I put [date] – closed due to no response. Then, you guessed it, I move the row to the rejections sheet.
  • For a request (yay!), I put [date] – partial/full request; [date] – sent. If the agent replies that they received the request, I note that in parenthesis. Not all agents do, though. Then, I have more fun playing with statistics. Remember I mentioned the Agents with Similar Tastes report in QueryTracker in the last post? Well, when I receive a request, I do the following:
    1. Go to the agent’s profile and click on Reports.
    2. Under Select a Report, choose Agents with Similar Tastes (must have a premium membership).
    3. To the right, a new pull-down menu will appear. Under Select a Genre, select the genre/category for your manuscript, and then click View Report.
    4. For each agent listed in the report, make a tally mark in the Note column (third from the left). Does this mean that because these agents have requested the same manuscripts before they’ll both request yours? Not necessarily (who knows what those other manuscripts were??), but it doesn’t hurt to track the information. I’ve been tracking this for five manuscripts now, and I’ve noticed that many of the agents with numerous tallies have eventually turned into requests for subsequent manuscripts, so I keep doing it!

For Partial Response, I use a similar system to the above–the date followed by the type of rejection or request (probably a full at this point!). And for Full Response, again a date and the type of rejection or, dare we hope, an offer! Perhaps you receive a revise and resubmit, but that’s a whole other post I’m not getting into here. If you get an offer, you’re probably done with the spreadsheet :). Well, maybe if you get more than one you’ll still take some notes.

So here are a couple of last-minute tips.

  • You’ve spent the time researching the agents, so pay attention to what they want! Don’t think you’ll be the exception to their guidelines or what they’re looking for. Don’t query more than one agent at the same agency unless they say you can, and don’t query an agent who is closed to queries.
  • Don’t query and tell. No matter what querying strategy you choose, agents want to feel like they’re your first choice. Who doesn’t? So don’t tweet or blog about how many agents you’ve queried or how many submissions you have out. Now, Pitch Wars is a unique situation, so in that case they’ll know the competition, and if you mention PW in your query to non-PW agents, they might check out your entry (although I doubt many would take the time). Just don’t put anything more out there than you have to. This is a time to be demure and keep your lips sealed. If you want to share with a friend, do it privately. (Like in the PW Facebook group :)).
  • Your spreadsheet is a living document. Keep updating it whenever new information crops up about agents who interest you, whether it’s a tip they share about something they’d like to represent or a book you’ve read from their list.

I think that’s it. Any final questions? Any other veteran queriers have tips to add?

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Creating a Detailed Spreadsheet

Thanks to my participation in Pitch Wars, I’ve met many wonderful writers through our Facebook group, and we’re in varying stages of the querying process. It’s reminded me that while some, like me, have been doing this a while, others are just starting out. A few years ago I did a series of posts on How to Research Agents, but I thought it might be helpful to compress those into fewer posts.

BUT, before I get into this, I do want to refer to one other post that was in the original series. It asks: What are you looking for from the publishing experience? Because this is an important question, and I don’t think it deserves to be shoehorned in here.

Now, back to researching agents.

Create a spreadsheet

My spreadsheet has 26 columns. I realize this may sound overwhelming, but I’ve been querying SIX YEARS, so I’ve added to it as I’ve gone along. I’ve listed the columns.

  • Rank
  • Round
  • Note
  • YA Requests?
  • Sub note
  • Responds?
  • Agent
  • Agency
  • Website
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Represents
  • Looking for
  • Books to Read
  • Books I’ve Read
  • Notes
  • Query Tips
  • Submission Guidelines
  • Response Time
  • RQ
  • Auto Response?
  • Query Sent
  • Should hear back by:
  • Query Response
  • Partial Response
  • Full Response

I’m going to explain most of these in this post, but I’m not going to explain them in order. The basic information is in the middle of the spreadsheet. Most of the information at the front end is what I use for sorting when I’m actually ready to query, so I don’t fill it in until the very end. Some of these I’ll explain in a second post.

Find the agents

The two most popular databases to research agents are QueryTracker.net and AgentQuery.com. I personally prefer QueryTracker, so I’m going to use it as my primary source. You’ll need to sign up for a free account in order to follow some of the instructions. However, if you plan to create an agent list, you’d want to do that anyway.

Let’s say you’re making a list of young adult agents in QueryTracker.

  1. Sign in.
  2. Click on the Agents tab in the upper left-hand corner.
  3. There are several options on the right-hand side. In the Genres option, select Young Adult from the pull-down menu. (Yes, I know YA is an age category, not a genre, but whatever.)

A list of agents will appear to the left.

Populate your spreadsheet

Fair warning: this is going to take a LOOONG TIME! If it’s your first time researching agents, we’re talking weeks if you’re thorough.

Agent, Agency, Website, Blog, Twitter

Click on the first agent and either copy/paste or type all available contact information into your spreadsheet. Some agents might not have a website, blog or Twitter. If they don’t, I put N/A in that column.

You might wonder why I don’t include the agent’s email address in my spreadsheet. Sometimes agents don’t use their direct emails for submissions. As a result, I prefer not to keep those on my spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally use the wrong one in communications. However, if you want to add it to yours, that’s up to you.

Represents, Looking for, Notes

Next, I visit the agency website. Generally an agency website will have a section titled Our Agents, Who We Are, etc. Under the Represents column, I list all of the categories the agent covers. For example, if Agent A represents picture books through young adult plus some adult non-fiction, I write “PB to YA, plus adult NF” in that column. You can create your own shorthand :). Personally, I think it’s important to know everything the agent represents, so I include all of the age categories in this column. I might decide to write in a different category at some point, so I want to know if that agent would be able to represent me in a different category. If they don’t, I may put a note in the Notes column to the effect of “May not be a good fit due to no PB” or whatever.

The Looking for column is where I put details related to what I’m writing–anything an agent says that clicks with my current project or what I’m planning to write. That might be as simple as a genre, or it might be very specific. It’s more than a list. I cut and paste in whole phrases and sentences so I don’t forget exactly what the agent said, and then I put a date behind it so I know when they said it–because that’s important, too. If the reference is too old, they might not be looking for it anymore. For example, my notes in this column might say:

  • Huge Stephanie Perkins and Meg Cabot fan, so please send me contemporary stories in that vein #MSWL (03/17); I am addicted to ID TV so any murder mystery/thrillers in #YA. #MSWL 06/16

Here are some resources for tracking down these gems.

  • Agency websites – A few very detailed agency websites that give agent wishlists.
  • Agent websites/blogs – You’re much more likely to find specifics on an agent’s personal blog or website. If it’s a blog, I recommend subscribing through a reader (I use Feedly) or via email so you can update your spreadsheet as new information is available.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – These are maintained by the agents themselves. Sometimes they’re very basic, but often they include wishlists.
  • Twitter – Many agents tweet ideas.
  • Literary Rambles – If you write for children (PB through YA), LiteraryRambles.com is a great resource. It compiles information on agents and links back to interviews with agents on everything from what they’re looking for to how to query them. Just be aware that sometimes the linked interviews are a few years old.
  • #MSWL – Agent Jessica Sinsheimer created this wonderful hashtag on Twitter that stands for manuscript wishlist. Agents tweet it off and on, and then there are scheduled events. There also is a website with longer MSWL paragraphs. When available, QueryTracker has a link to an agent’s MSWL tweets and paragraph.
  • Google – I like to click on the Google link in QueryTracker because it does the search for me. Then I scan through the results for the most recent interviews. If you’re researching for the first time, you should probably read them all to get a feel for the agent. Just keep in mind that the older the interview is, there’s a chance the agent might not still be looking for that exact thing. I mean, if Agent B said in 2012 that he was looking for a YA ghost story set in futuristic Texas, and you have one of those, go for it. Just be prepared in case he already found one.

One of the links that will always come up on a Google search is Absolute Write Water Cooler. This is a forum where writers discuss agencies and experiences they’ve had with them. Some writers also use it to track queries or submissions they’ve sent to agents. I’ve found it most useful to spot questionable agents. You should definitely click on this link and read through the comments. It might send you to an older date and you’ll have to click through to a more recent post, but see what people are saying and make sure there aren’t any red flags about the agent or agency. If there are, that’s the kind of information I put in the Notes column. Something like “Sketchy comments on AW.” Most of the time it will just be comments about submissions.

If, as I’m going along, something in particular stands out about an agent, I’ll stick it in the Notes column. Like, Agent C mentioned she really loves opera and my character gets sucked into an opera (happened with one of my previous manuscripts!). Or, Agent D’s favorite movie could be used as a comp title for my story. The Notes column is the place where I keep those interesting tidbits. I don’t have notes for every agent, so this column might remain blank for some.

Books to Read, Books I’ve Read

I have a whole page on my blog dedicated to middle grade and young adult books agents represent. If you’re searching for agents in those age categories, feel free to refer to it. I also have a post dedicated to how to find books agents represent. I include these columns on my spreadsheet in case I want to read any books represented by an agent before I query or to track books I’ve already read so I can mention them when personalizing a query. As for books you’ve already read, go look through the acknowledgments pages in your personal library. You may be surprised how many books you’ve already read by the agents on your list!

Submission Guidelines, Sub Note

Always go to direct sources for Submission Guidelines. While databases do their best to keep submission information up to date, they still rely on agents and/or users to supply the information. To find submission information, go to the following sources:

  • Agency websites – Usually there’s a tab labeled Submission Guidelines or Submit to Us. If not, submission information may be located under Contact Us. Sometimes there are general guidelines for the agency as a whole, and other times the site will direct you to an agent-specific page.
  • Agent blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages
  • If you are unable to locate any of these direct sources, refer to a database or interview.

Submission guidelines vary greatly. You could be submitting by pasting into an email, through an online form, or in rare cases sending attachments. The agency/agent may even be closed to submissions. You could paste all of the individual guidelines into your spreadsheet, but what if they change before you’re actually ready to query? You’re essentially creating your own database, and the information is only current the day you enter it. Instead, paste in the URL for the submission guidelines* so that you can review them carefully when you’re ready to query. Here are a couple of notes you may want to include in that field along with the URL:

  • If it’s an agency with multiple agents on your list, note whether you’re allowed to query multiple agents. Some agencies have a “no from one is a no from all” policy, meaning that if you query one agent, you cannot later query another agent. The idea is that if one agent feels a query is not a fit for him/her but might be for another agent at the agency, he/she will pass it on. Other agencies say not to query multiple agents simultaneously. This means that if one agent says no, you could later query another agent at the same agency because they do not pass queries along. But NEVER query two agents at the same agency at the same time.
  • Also make a note if the submission guidelines list any specific requirements the agency has once they request. For example, some agencies require an exclusive. They might waive this requirement if you already have requests out, but they might not, so you should keep it in mind if you plan to query them. I’ve also seen a few agencies that request something like a marketing plan.
  • If you find conflicting guidelines–for example, the agency website lists general guidelines, but the agent has a separate personal website–include both links, although you should ultimately follow the agent’s personal guidelines. I know of a few cases (ICM is one) where the agency website says it does not accept unsolicited submissions, but you can find guidelines for individual agents elsewhere.

*While I don’t include full submission guidelines in my spreadsheet because they often change, I do put a brief note at the front end of my spreadsheet for when I’m ready to query and want to test out different pieces (query, first pages, synopsis, etc.). I’ll explain more about this in my next post about querying strategy. For example, the Sub Notes column might say: query only, 5 pages, synopsis + 3 chapters, online form, etc. However, I always go back to the link in the Submission Guidelines column when I’m ready to prepare my submission.

Response Time, Auto Response, RQ, Responds?

You may be able to easily fill out the Response Time and Auto Response? from the agent’s submission page. Many agencies/agents list their expected response time and whether you may follow up after that time passes. Others have a no-response policy and may give you the amount of time within which they will respond if interested. Some agents even give updates on where they are with queries and submissions on Twitter or their blogs. Make a note in the Response Time field, along with where you found the information. Here’s how some of these options may look:

  • [number] weeks per agency website (resend after [number weeks/months])
  • [number] weeks per agent blog – Notice this one does not have a note about resending because the agent doesn’t invite check-ins.
  • [number] weeks if interested per Publishers Marketplace – If I haven’t received a response from that agent after the specified number of weeks, I close it out.
  • Only if interested per agency website – The agency doesn’t give a response and also doesn’t give a time frame in which they respond if interested.
  • Response times updated on blog/Twitter

Or, the guidelines might not say anything at all about how long they take to respond or if they do at all, in which case you’ll leave that field blank. You do have one other resource, but before you leave that submission page, take a quick look to see if it says the agency/agent has an auto-responder and just put “Yes” or “No” in the Auto Responder? field. I don’t spend actual time researching this, but I like to make a note of it.

Now, back to that other resource: QueryTracker. I LOVE the statistics in QueryTracker. Here’s the deal. TONS of writers have logged their queries and responses in the system. QueryTracker uses this information to create a wide variety of reports, one of which is on query response times. I like to know this about every agent I might query, regardless of whether the agent states a response time or not. That way when I’m ready to query, I can base early querying on who I know will respond quickly in order to test my query. Here’s how to get the report:

  1. Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
  2. Click on the Reports tab.
  3. In the Select a Report pull-down menu, choose Query Response Times.

And, voila! You have your results. I add a semi-colon behind the agent’s suggested response time and plug in the average times from the QueryTracker report. And if there’s a significant difference between requests and rejections or some other trend I notice–such as very few rejections–I’ll note that, too. Or, if you don’t care about that much detail, on the main page of each QueryTracker entry for an agent, there’s a percentage rate for the agent listing his/her Reply Rate. Possible completed entries might be:

  • 2 weeks per agency website; 15-20 days per QT; 85% reply rate
  • 8-10 weeks if interested per auto-reply; 24-60 days per QueryTracker (longer for requests, few rejections logged); 45% reply rate
  • 6-8 weeks per agency website; 1-4 days per QT; 75% reply rate – Some agents reply very quickly!
  • Request status update after 4 weeks if no response per agency website; 47-64 days per QT; 5% reply rate – And sometimes QueryTracker shows that the agents take way longer than the stated times. That’s when you know to hold off on that follow-up.

You may also be able to fill out the Responds? column to the left based on the Response Times column. I just put a simple yes/no in this column. As with the Sub Notes, I have this column to the left for purposes of deciding which agents to query first.

Query Tips

Query Tips are agent-specific tips they’ve mentioned in interviews/online–how they like queries tailored to them, such as:

  • State the book’s theme, or “hook,” in one concise sentence in the first paragraph. The author’s credentials should be included in one brief paragraph, along with his contact information. Thanking me for my time is always nice.
  • Likes personalization; word count/genre info at the end; don’t query around Christmas
  • Prefers word count/genre as first sentence.
  • Let [agent] know if you’re querying multiple agents. – Most agents assume this, but some want you to state it in the query.
  • There’s a sentence that sums up the plot, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.
  • The letter should be two short paragraphs: one that describes your book and one that describes you. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
  • No need to tell me how you came to query me, especially not as your query opener.
  • Being able to open your query letter with why you are approaching me and being aware of what my deals or book interests are can go a long way.
  • I like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

Notice how they don’t want the same thing? Tell me why you’re querying me! No, don’t! Word count at the beginning, the end … why not stick it in the middle? Just kidding :). You may want to leave this column blank until you have a query and are ready to personalize it to each agent then search for their individual tastes. You won’t find this information for every agent–only the ones who are active online or grant interviews. But when you do, it’s golden.

RQ

If you really like math (which I do), you can have fun by figuring out the agent’s reply quotient. It’s something a writer friend and mentor of mine, Krista Van Dolzer, came up with. You can just refer to her post on it, A New Way to Build a Query List, if you’re interested :). I built a formula into an extra sheet on my spreadsheet to make it easy. All of the statistics are available in Query Tracker, and this would fill in the RQ column on my spreadsheet.

YA Requests

The YA Requests? Column–or modify to whatever category you’re writing–is a major time suck but very interesting to know which agents are really into your category. However, it does require a premium QueryTracker membership. The premium membership is $25 but totally worth it for the statistics. While you can track some agent response times to queries through the comments section on each agent’s profile, you can see real-time responses within the Data Explorer with the premium membership. I use it as a tool to see how much of my genre/category the agent has requested in the past year. There are two easy ways to get to this report in QueryTracker.

  1. Click on Search for Literary Agents.
  2. In the Search field, type in the name of the Agent or Agency Name if you’d like to search for multiple agents at the same agency.
  3. Click on the symbol that looks like stacked discs to pull up the report of all queries logged in the system.
  4. To narrow the report by your genre or category, click on the arrow to the right of the “All Genres” pull-down menu and select the desired category or genre.
  5. Go through and count the number of requests for your category or genre. I generally do the past year. Whatever you decide, use the same cut-off date for all of the agents so you have the same sample.
  6. In the Requests? column, type in “[number] requests in last [time period]”.
  7. At the top of the page, click on Literary Agents and it will return you to the page with the list of agents at the agency you searched for.

Alternatively, you can navigate to each individual agent’s profile, click on the Reports tab, click on the “Data Explorer” link, then follow steps 4-6 above.

You can use this same report to determine if an agent responds to queries for the Responds? column. Depending on how quickly they respond, you may need to click back through a few pages, but this report will show either requests, rejections or closed due to no response.

Note

You may have noticed there’s column called Note in those columns to the left, even though I already have a Notes column. I know that’s lame, and you can call it something else if it’s less confusing for you. This column is basically my catchall for any information I don’t want to miss as I’m organizing agents into querying rounds. Here are a few things I note in this column:

  • If I’ve met/will meet the agent at a conference. In the latter case, I might want to hold off querying them until after.
  • If they are participating in an online contest that I plan to enter, I list the contest’s name. That way I also know to hold off querying until after.
  • If the agent has requested one of my previous manuscripts.
  • If the agent represents someone I know personally.
  • If the agent requests exclusives.
  • If an agent is closed to queries, I mark it along with the length of time if that’s mentioned.
  • Once I’ve started querying and receive requests, I use this column to track statistics from another fun report in QueryTracker: Agents with Similar Tastes.

Rank

After researching these agents and their tastes, you should have a pretty good idea of which agents you’re most interested in. I assign each agent a Rank based on how likely I think they are to be a fit for my current manuscript. My rankings range from 1 to 4 with .5 increments; you can use whatever system you want. But because this column is one of the ways I sort the spreadsheet when I’m ready to start separating the agents into querying rounds, it’s also necessary to mark agents I can’t query. So if an agent is closed to queries, I put N/A (not applicable) in that column. I also use this column to make a selection for those agencies where I can only query one agent. By assessing all of the data–what they’re looking for (most important!!), how many requests they’ve made, whether they respond, etc.–I choose which agent at that agency is the best fit, assign him/her a ranking, and put N/A for the others at that agency. You may even want to move those agents to a new sheet in your spreadsheet labeled N/A to de-clutter it. That’s totally up to you, though. I’d keep the ones who are closed to queries on your main sheet as they may re-open before you finish querying. If they do, you can assign them a rank and make them active.

Querying strategy is too long to cover in a paragraph, and there isn’t one right answer, so it’s going to have to be a separate post on how I create my querying Rounds. I’ll cover how you might approach ordering the agents on your list. I’ve done it differently with every manuscript, so don’t expect a step-by-step process. What you can expect is to have a lot of information from which to develop your own strategy. I’ll also cover how I track my queries and submissions.

If you made it to the end of this post, I salute you. But I thought it was worth compiling everything into a single post. Obviously your spreadsheet can be as detailed or simple as you want it to be. Feel free to ask any questions you may have about my process!

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Ready to Query

It’s here! The final post! When I started this series, I had no idea it would take so many weeks to get through populating an agent spreadsheet. Wait. That’s not true. I knew it took that long to do the research. I just didn’t realize it would take me that long to explain it. But here we are, about to add the last few columns to the spreadsheet. All that’s left are the actual fields to track the queries. So, to the right of the Auto Response? column, add the following five columns:

Query Sent Should hear back by: Query Response Partial Response Full Response

Now, since I love to make use of the statistics in QueryTracker, I also pay it forward and track my queries there as well, but while QueryTracker will show me nice circle graphs with percentages of how many positive and negative responses I have, it doesn’t show me qualitative information all in one place like my own spreadsheet. So, here’s how I use each of these fields.

In the Query Sent field I just put the date I sent the query. Easy, right? I have noticed that for sorting purposes it works best if you put a zero in front of January through September dates, i.e., 04/14/14. Then, I calculate when I should hear back from the agent by referring to the Response Time field. If the agent lists a specific number of weeks in which he/she will respond, I count it out on my calendar and plug that date into the Should hear back by: field. If it’s an agent who says “six weeks if interested,” then my note in that field will list the date followed by “–close if no response.” If, on the other hand, the agent has instructions to follow up after a certain number of weeks, I include the date followed by “–follow up if no response.” However, I do monitor the agent’s Twitter feed/blog to see if they note that they’re behind. If so, I hold off on following up. Some agents may have a date with no instructions, if there’s no action to take but it’s just to give me an idea of when I might hear. Others might have a question mark if the agent doesn’t list an expected response time. This field is really for my own piece of mind so I already have reasonable expectations on when I should receive a response.

When I receive a Query Response, I include the date and then whether it is a form rejection, personalized form rejection, detailed rejection, or request. Or, as mentioned above, if it’s an agent who lists a specific time in which they’ll respond if interested, I close it out.

  • For the first two, I put [date] – form/personalized form rejection, then I move the entire row to a new sheet within the spreadsheet labeled rejections. There’s no need to keep rejections mixed in with active queries.
  • For a detailed rejection, I put [date] – [pasted copy of the agent’s comments]. Once again, I move the row to the rejections sheet in the spreadsheet.
  • For a query past the agent’s stated response time if interested, I put [date] – closed due to no response. Then, you guessed it, I move the row to the rejections sheet.
  • For a request (yay!), I put [date] – partial/full request; [date] – sent. If the agent replies that they received the request, I note that in parenthesis. Not all agents do, though. Then, I have more fun playing with statistics. Remember I mentioned the Agents with Similar Tastes report in QueryTracker in the last post? Well, when I receive a request, I do the following:
    1. Go to the agent’s profile and click on Reports.
    2. Under Select a Report, choose Agents with Similar Tastes (must have a premium membership).
    3. To the right, a new pull-down menu will appear. Under Select a Genre, select the genre/category for your manuscript, and then click View Report.
    4. For each agent listed in the report, make a tally mark in the Note column (third from the left). Does this mean that because these agents have requested the same manuscripts before they’ll both request yours? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t hurt to track the information. I’m still testing it out, but my theory is that if you have an agent with a lot of tallies, meaning he/she has the same taste as many other agents who have requested from you, it can only be a positive thing …

For Partial Response, I use a similar system to the above–the date followed by the type of rejection or request (probably a full at this point!). And for Full Response, again a date and the type of rejection or, dare we hope, an offer! Actually, if you get an offer, you’re probably done with the spreadsheet :). Well, maybe if you get more than one you’ll still take some notes.

Ok, that’s it, all 25 columns in my agent spreadsheet. So here are a couple of last-minute tips.

  • You’ve spent the time researching the agents, so pay attention to what they want! Don’t think you’ll be the exception to their guidelines or what they’re looking for. Don’t query more than one agent at the same agency unless they say you can, and don’t query an agent who is closed to queries.
  • I spent all this time on researching agents, but you all know you need to work on those queries and other submission materials separately, right? Right. That’s what I figured.
  • Don’t query and tell. No matter what querying strategy you choose, agents want to feel like they’re your first choice. Who doesn’t? So don’t go around tweeting or blogging about how many agents you’ve queried or how many submissions you have out. Now, if you enter an online contest, they’re going to know about it, and that’s fine. Just don’t put anything more out there than you have to. This is a time to be demure and keep your lips sealed. If you want to share with a friend, do it privately.
  • Your spreadsheet is a living document. Keep updating it whenever new information crops up about agents who interest you, whether it’s a tip they share about something they’d like to represent or a book you’ve read from their list.

I think that’s it. Any final questions?

Other posts in this series:

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Querying Rounds

Ah, querying strategy. There’s no right way to do this, as I’ve written about once before. I’ve had a couple of people comment on the fact that I have 25 columns in my spreadsheet. Well, I didn’t originally have so many columns at the front of the spreadsheet. I added more columns with successive manuscripts as I learned that there were more factors to consider as I was deciding who to query when. I alluded to some of these considerations in last week’s post, but I wanted to spend more time on each of them and also put forward some of the different ways you can approach ordering agents into querying rounds. But maybe I should start with a basic question:

How many agents should be in a round?

It partially depends on how confident you are in your materials. If it’s your first manuscript, I’d start out with smaller rounds to test the waters–perhaps somewhere around seven queries at a time. So, that means you would organize the agents into groups of seven. If you’ve queried multiple manuscripts and know your materials are ready, you might want to do larger rounds of ten or fifteen. I’ve seen writers who do even more. Once you’ve decided the number, you can go back to the main question …

Who should you query first?

The million-dollar question! Here are some possibilities, along with pros and cons:

  • Your top-ranked agents
    • Pro: You’ll know right away if your favorites are a match.
    • Con: If your materials aren’t ready, you’ve lost your chance at your top picks. And I’m going to be brutally honest here: for 90 percent of first-time queriers, you’re not ready when you start querying. I wasn’t. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. This post on why it’s so hard to get your first novel published remains one of my most popular for a reason. But hey, maybe you’ll be in that lucky 10 percent. I hope so!
    • Other consideration: Keep in mind there’s no such thing as a dream agent. You might think someone’s a perfect fit based on what you read online, but you won’t know for sure until you have The Call and hear his/her vision for your book, so don’t let it get you down too much if that one agent you think is perfect rejects your query.
  • Agents with the most requests
    • Pro: They may be more likely to request yours as well. Even if they do eventually reject, perhaps they’ll give you valuable feedback.
    • Con: You might feel worse if they don’t request yours. BUT, always remember subjectivity.
  • Agents who respond
    • Pro: You will get an answer.
    • Con: None. This one’s a no-brainer for your first round in my opinion unless you feel super-confident and there’s a no-response agent you just have to query right away.
  • Agents who respond quickly
    • Pro: You’ll know quickly what’s working.
    • Con: Faster rejection.
  • Agents who want a query only
    • Pro: This can tell you that your query’s effective. (You should do this with other writers before querying agents to make sure the query is clear, but agents still react differently than writers since they’re looking at the market as well, so it can be an effective strategy.)
    • Con: You can’t rely too heavily on this as tastes are still subjective. You may still get rejections that have nothing to do with your query needing work. (See my post on what I learned in a year of querying. I have a section on this.) My best advice here is that if you send out a round that is entirely query-only and they all reject, it’s probably your query. If you get at least a couple of requests, the other rejections may be due to tastes.
  • Agents with whom you’ve had contact (met at a conference, requested from you before, etc.)
    • Pro: Having a previous relationship with an agent can get you in the door, although it still comes down to the right fit.
    • Con: It might hurt more if they reject you. Plus, having a previous relationship with an agent could blind you to another agent at the same agency who could be a better fit. Even if an agent has requested from you before, they might not again, as I’ve commented on before.

So, basically, you could go with any of these or a combination. It all comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and that’s different for everyone. I can’t give you a magic formula. I wish I had one myself!

How do you sort them into rounds?

Once you’ve figured out that all-important factor of how you want to organize your first round, you can sort the spreadsheet in a variety of different ways to plan out the rest of your rounds. Sort by Rank to go with your top-ranked agents first, by [genre/category] requests? in descending order to go with the agents with the most requests first, by Sub note to test a particular submission material, or by Responds? to go with only agents who respond. Generally I don’t sort by that last one–I just scan for it as I’m looking at the other fields. (As a side note, I’ve generally accounted for the Looking for column in my Rank, so any agents who were specifically looking for something that matches my manuscript have a higher rank and would come up there, but I still scan through that column to see if I want to move any agents up to a higher round.)

Once you’ve sorted, just put the round number (1, 2, 3, etc.) and repeat it the number of queries you plan to do in each round (7, 10, 15) until you get through all the agents you plan to query. And, voila, you have your agents set to query! Although nothing has to be set in stone. My list is always flexible. I modify it as contests crop up or if I see an agent tweet about something relevant they’re looking for.

Ok, we’re down to only one post left in this series, and that one will include the actual querying fields. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but I do have one other fun QueryTracker report I use that I add to one of these up-front fields once I’ve started querying, so I’ll include it in that post. I hope these are helpful!

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Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Fun with Statistics

In case you’re just joining this series, I started it because a writer queried me and brought it to my attention that some newer writers may not know how to build an agent spreadsheet. We’re now on the fifth post in the series (sixth if you count the one I’d written last year on finding books agents represent). To find them all, click on the How to Research Agents category to the right.

So, now that you’ve put in the basic details, researched what the agents are looking for, figured out what you want from the agent relationship, and inputted the agents’ submission guidelines, it’s time to put in the front-end details that will help you determine how to organize the agents into querying rounds. For this purpose, I insert six columns to the left of the agent’s name. If you were working ahead in the last post, you may have already inserted one of these, so  adjust as needed.

Rank Round Note [Genre/Cat] requests? Sub note Responds?

I’m going to explain these out of order, starting with the one you may have already completed if you worked ahead. And I’ll warn you in advance–we won’t fill out all of these today.

Sub note

While I don’t include full submission guidelines in my spreadsheet because they often change, I do put a brief note at the front end of my spreadsheet. For example, this column might say: query only, 5 pages, synopsis + 3 chapters, online form, etc. However, I always go back to the link in the Submission Guidelines column when I’m ready to prepare my submission, and if you haven’t already completed this step, that’s where you should go now to find the information.

Here’s why I like to have it up front. When you’re ready to query, there are different pieces of your submission package: your query, your first pages, your synopsis. You will want to test out these different pieces, and depending on how confident you are in each piece, it may be beneficial to choose agents for your first round based on what they request with that initial submission. So you may want to include a few agents who want a query only, a few who want a query and the first five pages, a few who want a query, synopsis and pages, and so on. Having the information at the front of the spreadsheet may help you decide which agents to try first.

Responds?

You may be able to fill in this column from your research into submission guidelines. Check your Response Times column and see what the agency/agent resources said. I just put a simple yes/no in this column. But don’t give up if there wasn’t an answer. If you decide to purchase a premium QueryTracker membership, you can still answer this question. I’ll get to that below.

[Genre/Cat] Requests?

Ooh, I have so much fun with this! However, it does require a premium QueryTracker membership and some time. The premium membership is $25 but totally worth it for the statistics it gives you access to. While you can track some agent response times to queries through the comments section on each agent’s profile, you can see real-time responses within the Data Explorer with the premium membership. I use it as a tool to see how much of my genre/category the agent has requested in the past year. There are two easy ways to get to this report in QueryTracker. Since your spreadsheet is probably still sorted by agency, we’ll start this way:

  1. Click on Search for Literary Agents.
  2. On the left-hand side, click on the Agent or Agency Name option, then type in the agency name. It will pull up all of the agents at that agency.
  3. Click on the blue “Ex” in the agent’s row to pull up the report of all queries logged in the system.
  4. To narrow the report by your genre or category, click on the arrow to the right of the “All Genres” pull-down menu and select the desired category or genre. (QueryTracker calls Young Adult and Middle Grade genres, even though these really are age categories.)
  5. Go through and count the number of requests for your category or genre. I generally do the past year. Whatever you decide, use the same cut-off date for all of the agents so you have the same sample.
  6. In the [Genre/Cat] Requests? column, type in “[number] requests in last [time period]”.
  7. At the top of the page, click on Search for Literary Agents and it will return you to the page with the list of agents at the agency you searched for.

Alternatively, you can navigate to each individual agent’s profile, click on the Reports tab, click on the “Data Explorer” link, then follow steps 4-6 above.

You can use this same report to determine if an agent responds to queries for the Responds? column. Depending on how quickly they respond, you may need to click back through a few pages, but this report will show either requests, rejections or closed due to no response.

Note

You may be thinking, “Wait, Michelle, there’s already a Notes column!” Well, yeah, that’s why this one’s called Note without the “s”. Ok, I know that’s lame, and you can call it something else if it’s less confusing for you. This column is basically my catch-all for any information I don’t want to miss as I’m organizing agents into querying rounds. Here are a few things I note in this column:

  • If I’ve met/will meet the agent at a conference. In the latter case, I might want to hold off querying them until after.
  • If they are participating in an online contest that I plan to enter, I list the contest’s name. That way I also know to hold off querying until after.
  • If the agent has requested one of my previous manuscripts.
  • If the agent represents someone I know personally.
  • If the agent requests exclusives.
  • If an agent is closed to queries, I mark it along with the length of time if that’s mentioned.
  • Once I’ve started querying and receive requests, I use this column to track statistics from another fun report in QueryTracker: Agents with Similar Tastes. I’m not going to get into that today since presumably you haven’t queried yet–I didn’t use it for my first manuscript. However, I will address it in the final post when we add the querying fields.

Rank

After researching these agents and their tastes, you should have a pretty good idea of which agents you’re most interested in. I assign each agent a rank based on how likely I think they are to be a fit for my current manuscript. My rankings range from 1 to 4 with .5 increments, but you can use whatever system you want. But because this column is one of the ways I sort the spreadsheet when I’m ready to start separating the agents into querying rounds, it’s also necessary to mark agents I can’t query differently. So if an agent is closed to queries, I put N/A (not applicable) in that column.

I also use this column to make a selection for those agencies where I can only query one agent. By assessing all of the data–what they’re looking for, how many requests they’ve made, whether they respond, etc.–I choose which agent at that agency is the best fit, assign him/her a ranking, and put N/A for the others at that agency. You may even want to move those agents to a new sheet in your spreadsheet labeled N/A to de-clutter it. That’s totally up to you, though. I’d keep the ones who are closed to queries on your main sheet as they may re-open before you finish querying. If they do, you can assign them a rank and make them active.

Round

Querying strategy is too long to cover in a paragraph, and there isn’t one right answer, so it’s going to have to be a separate post. I’ll cover that next week with some ideas on how you might approach ordering the agents on your list. I’ve done it differently with every manuscript, so don’t expect a step-by-step process. What you can expect is to have a lot of information from which to develop your own strategy.

Other posts in this series:

 

Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Submission Guidelines

It’s time to move on to submission guidelines, and this is a really long post, so let’s get to it. We’ll be adding a few more columns to the spreadsheet today. As a reminder, the columns we currently have are:

Agent, Agency, Website, Blog, Twitter, Represents, Looking for, Books to Read, Books I’ve Read, Notes

To the right of these columns, let’s add:

Query Tips Submission Guidelines Response Time Auto Response?

As with researching what agents are looking for, always go to a direct source for submissions guidelines. While databases do their best to keep submission information up to date, they still rely on agents and/or users to supply the information. To find submission information, go to the following sources:

  • Agency websites – Usually there’s a tab labeled Submission Guidelines or Submit to Us. If not, submission information may be located under Contact Us. Sometimes there are general guidelines for the agency as a whole, and other times the site will direct you to an agent-specific page.
  • Agent websites/blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages
  • If you are unable to locate any of these direct sources, refer to a database or interview.

Submission guidelines vary greatly. You could be submitting by pasting into an email, through an online form, or in rare cases sending attachments. The agency/agent may even be closed to submissions. You could paste all of the individual guidelines into your spreadsheet, but what if they change before you’re actually ready to query? You’re essentially creating your own database, and the information is only current the day you enter it. Instead, paste in the URL for the submission guidelines* so that you can review them carefully when you’re ready to query. Here are a couple of notes you should include in that field along with the URL:

  • If it’s an agency with multiple agents on your list, make a note of whether you are allowed to query multiple agents. Some agencies have a “no from one is a no from all” policy, meaning that if you query one agent, you cannot later query another agent. The idea is that if one agent feels a query is not a fit for him/her but might be for another agent at the agency, he/she will pass it on. Other agencies say not to query multiple agents simultaneously. This means that if one agent says no, you could later query another agent at the same agency because they do not pass queries along. But NEVER query two agents at the same agency at the same time.
  • Also make a note if the submission guidelines list any specific requirements the agency has once they request. For example, some agencies require an exclusive. They might waive this requirement if you already have requests out, but they might not, so you should keep it in mind if you plan to query them. I’ve also seen a few agencies that request something like a marketing plan.
  • If you find conflicting guidelines–for example, the agency website lists general guidelines, but the agent has a separate personal website–include both links, although you should ultimately follow the agent’s personal guidelines. I know of a few cases (ICM is one) where the agency website says it does not accept unsolicited submissions, but you can find guidelines for individual agents elsewhere.

You may be able to easily fill out the next two fields, Response Time and Auto Response?, from the agent’s submission page. Many agencies/agents list their expected response time and whether you may follow up after that time passes. Others have a no-response policy and may give you the amount of time within which they will respond if interested. Some agents even give updates on where they are with queries and submissions on Twitter or their blogs. Make a note in the Response Time field, along with where you found the information. Here’s how some of these options may look:

  • [number] weeks per agency website (resend after [number weeks/months])
  • [number] weeks per agent blog – Notice this one does not have a note about resending because the agent does not invite check-ins.
  • [number] weeks if interested per Publishers Marketplace – If I have not received a response from that agent after the specified number of weeks, I close it out.
  • Only if interested per agency website – My least favorite because the agency doesn’t give a response and also doesn’t give a time frame in which they respond if interested.
  • Response times updated on blog/Twitter

Or, the guidelines might not say anything at all about how long they take to respond or if they do at all, in which case you’ll leave that field blank. You do have one other resource, but before you leave that submission page, take a quick look to see if it says the agency/agent has an auto-responder and just put “Yes” or “No” in the Auto Responder? field. I don’t spend actual time researching this, but I like to make a note of it.

Now, back to that other resource: QueryTracker. I LOVE the statistics in QueryTracker. Here’s the deal. TONS of writers have logged their queries and responses in the system. QueryTracker uses this information to create a wide variety of reports, one of which is on query response times. I like to know this about every agent I might query, regardless of whether the agent states a response time or not. That way when I’m ready to query, I can base early querying on who I know will respond quickly in order to test my query. Here’s how to get the report:

  1. Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
  2. Click on the Reports tab.
  3. In the Select a Report pull-down menu, choose Query Response Times.

And, voila! You have your results. I add a semi-colon behind the agent’s suggested response time and plug in the average times from the QueryTracker report. And if there’s a significant difference between requests and rejections or some other trend I notice–such as very few rejections–I’ll note that, too. Possible completed entries might be:

  • 2 weeks per agency website; 15-20 days per QT
  • 8-10 weeks if interested per auto-reply; 24-60 days per QueryTracker (longer for requests, few rejections logged)
  • 6-8 weeks per agency website; 1-4 days per QT – Some agents reply very quickly!
  • Request status update after 4 weeks if no response per agency website; 47-64 days per QT – And sometimes QueryTracker shows that the agents take way longer than the stated times. That’s when you know to hold off on that follow-up.

We still have one empty column: Query Tips. I’m not getting into how to write a query here. What I put in this column are agent-specific tips–how they like queries tailored to them, such as:

  • State the book’s theme, or “hook,” in one concise sentence in the first paragraph. The author’s credentials should be included in one brief paragraph, along with his contact information. Thanking me for my time is always nice.
  • Likes personalization; word count/genre info at the end; don’t query around Christmas
  • Prefers word count/genre as first sentence.
  • Let [agent] know if you’re querying multiple agents. – Most agents assume this, but some want you to state it in the query.
  • There’s a sentence that sums up the plot, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.
  • The letter should be two short paragraphs: one that describes your book and one that describes you. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
  • No need to tell me how you came to query me, especially not as your query opener.
  • Being able to open your query letter with why you are approaching me and being aware of what my deals or book interests are can go a long way.
  • I like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

Notice how they don’t want the same thing? Tell me why you’re querying me! No, don’t! Word count at the beginning, the end … why not stick it in the middle? Just kidding :).  You may want to leave this column blank until you have a query and are ready to personalize it to each agent, then go searching for their individual tastes. If you decide to fill it in now, I suggest going back to the QueryTracker entry for each agent so you can easily click on the external links available there and also referring to the resources listed in step 2 of the post on what agents are looking for (except for #MSWL, which is entirely about their wishlists). Literary Rambles, in particular, has a section on query tips. If you find a whole post with tips, copy in the link. You won’t find this information for every agent–only the ones who are active online or grant interviews. But when you do, it’s golden.

Wow, this post was crazy long, but I couldn’t find a good place to divide it into two without making you have to redo your searches. You should now have fourteen columns in your spreadsheet (fifteen if you followed the asterisk and worked ahead). If you recall, I said mine has twenty-five. I bet you’re wondering what’s left. Well, until next week …

*While I don’t include all of the submission guidelines on my spreadsheet, I do include what they expect you to submit–query only, 10 pages, 3 chapters + synopsis, etc.–in a separate column to the left of the Agent column. I plan to cover this in a later post about how I divide the agents into querying rounds as I partially base that on how I want to test my query and pages, but if you want to work ahead, you could add a Sub note column to the left of the Agent column and enter that basic information as you’re going through these other fields. If not, I will cover it again later.

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Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: What Are You Looking For?

We’re going to step back from adding to the spreadsheet today. Because I realized that if you are new to this process of researching agents, I need to put on the Auntie Michelle hat and give you a bit of advice. It feels a little weird because I’m not an aunt at all, but whatever. The mom hat? I’m used to that one.

So, we could go on filling out your spreadsheet with information on how to query the hundreds of agents you’ve found, BUT you are not going to want to query all of these agents. Some of them you can’t–and I’ll address that when we get to the post on submission guidelines–and others won’t be a good fit for you. In the post on what agents are really looking for, you may have already made some notes about agents who aren’t the best fit based on their preferences. But there are some other reasons agents might not be the best fit, and that has to do with what you’re looking for in an agent.

I’m going to try not to editorialize this with my own preferences but just put the information out there so you can make your own judgments. If, as you answer these questions for the agents on your list, you see something that doesn’t fit with what you want in an agent, put a comment in the Notes section of your spreadsheet. You can find many of the answers through those same resources we used in the last post. And remember: if you have any doubts at all about an agent, you should not query him/her.

What do you want out of your publishing experience? A deal at a major publishing house? A deal with a small press? An e-book? Any of the above?

You might not think these questions are important at this stage, but they may be the most important questions. Because not everyone has the same goal, and not every agency has the same focus. Some agencies have contacts at a wide variety of publishing houses, from the major houses to small presses. Other agencies focus only on small presses or possibly even e-imprint only houses. Now, there’s no guarantee that if you sign with an agent who starts with the major houses you won’t still find a home with a small press. It’s about finding the right fit for your book. But, you should be aware of where the agents you choose to query will focus their attention. And that means knowing what you want out of the publishing process. What’s so great about this journey is that everyone can choose their own path–what’s perfect for one author may not be for another.

So, in order to figure out if an agent’s focus is in line with your goals, you need to look into what books the agent represents. How do you know what type of editor contacts they may have? Well, do you recognize the publisher names? Like HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penquin, Putnam, etc.? These major publishers also have a number of other imprints that go along with them, so it’s possible you might not recognize all of their variations, but if the agent/agency works with major houses, you should recognize at least some of the publishers. If you visit an agency website where you don’t recognize any of the publishers, chances are the agency focuses on smaller presses. Or maybe you’re really savvy and already know which small press you want to target and will recognize that name :). I’ve also seen a few agency websites where the published books are all e-imprints, so if that’s your goal, there are agents out there who focus specifically on e-publishers. Just be aware that if you come across an agency that has no books published with major houses, that agent may not have connections with those editors.

And hey, you may eventually decide you don’t want an agent at all, that you’d rather self-publish. That is a completely viable option. I know many writers who have successfully gone this route. It’s all about deciding what’s right for you.

Do you want an established agent? A new agent? No preference?

There are advantages to either. An established agent already has contacts in the industry, a publishing history, and books you can read to get a sense of his/her taste. However, he/she probably already has a fairly full client list as well and may be harder to attract. A new agent may be easier to snare (oh, they’ll love that word!) and more willing to take a chance on a manuscript that needs more work but may have fewer contacts–or not. It depends on what kind of internships he/she completed before progressing to full agent. It’s also important to consider what kind of agency he/she works for. Is it an established agency with a strong track record? If the new agent is working with established agents, he/she has the benefit of mentors to help make connections and guide him/her through the process.

My caution would be to carefully look at new agents who are on their own. Did he/she complete an internship at a reputable agency and complete publishing deals there? What contacts does he/she have? Is he/she a member or associate member of AAR? (See this link for membership requirements. Even some reputable agents choose not to join, so it’s not a deal-breaker.) Has he/she made any deals yet? Does he/she have some other publishing background? Perhaps you can’t answer these questions until the agent makes an offer and you talk to them. Just be aware and make a note if you are at all unsure about the agent’s experience.

How editorial do you want your agent to be?

Do you want an agent who will go through extensive revisions with you before he/she sends your work to editors? Do you need that extra layer of confidence that the manuscript is exactly where it needs to be before it goes to publishers? Or is your agent’s confidence in your work as it is enough for you? It’s something you should be thinking about. Agents run the gamut from having you do extensive rewrites to giving minimal revisions before sending to publishers. This question may be a little harder to answer through online research, but you may have come across the answer in interviews. Literary Rambles, in particular, generally addresses this question. If you have a strong opinion one way or the other and find the answer, I suggest making a note of it.

Is there anything in the agent’s online personality that clashes with yours?

Most agents stay professional online, but personalities still shine through. And while your relationship with your future agent will be a professional one, if you’re at all uncertain about how you might click, you shouldn’t waste an agent’s time. If there’s anything that raises a red flag for you–whether that’s an agent’s opinion or the way he/she reacts to a particular situation that crops up online–if it’s going to bother you and could affect a future working relationship, make a note of it. I generally keep personal and professional separate, but there’s been at least one case where the way an agent said something online just bugged me, and as a result, that agent moved way down my list. You will be working closely with your agent for a long time, so being able to respect them is very important.

Ok, this post has gotten quite long, so I think I need to stop there. However, I think there may be other points I should address before we move onto querying. Do any of my other writer friends have suggestions for other questions to ask about potential agents? If so, I will add a Part 2 before moving on to the submission post.

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