Agents, Querying, Revising

Tracking Agent Responses & Knowing When to Revise

If you read my posts on Creating a Detailed Spreadsheet and Querying Strategy and Hitting Send, then you know I’m a bit of a statistics freak. Well, I actually take my statistics even a bit farther once I’m querying. I track how agents are responding to my query and pages so I know whether they’re working and I need to revise anything. It’s not an exact science because a rejection could be entirely based on premise and have nothing to do with the materials themselves, but if the numbers start adding up against a particular submission package, it’s worth taking a second look. Obviously I’m hoping that none of this will be necessary this time around thanks to the fabulous assistance of my Pitch Wars mentors, but it’s still smart to be prepared ;).

So here’s what I do.

1. Add a new sheet to my spreadsheet called Stats.

2. Create tables for Queries, Requests, and Submissions. Leave several columns between each. The total should be a sum.

 

 

 

 

3. Make pie charts for each of these. I’ll use one as an example.

a. Highlight everything except the total.

b. Select Charts, then Pie, and choose whatever type of pie chart you like, and voila!, a pie chart will appear. If you want it to show percentages, right click on the pie and select Add Data Labels. If you then right click on Format Data Series, you can choose whether those are the numbers or percentages. I personally prefer to see percentages.

 

 

 

 

 

c. A note as to how I fill these tables out: Queries start as No Reply Yet and move to requests, rejections or personalized rejections–just because it’s unique if you get a personalized rejection on a query. Partials sometimes get moved to the partial to full category because I like to track if a submission is upgraded. The third category is to track responses to the requests. If a request turns into a rejection, I move it there so that my total always stays the same as that total in the Requests table.

But this isn’t the only thing I’m tracking. Remember I said I tracked the types of materials as well?

4. Track what the agents are rejecting by creating a table and pie chart of submission materials. I usually add to the table with what the agents are asking for as I go, but I copied this table from my last MS, so it’s pretty comprehensive. You can create the pie chart following the same directions as above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a. You may be asking: Why the heck do you want to know this information, Michelle? So, I didn’t include the numbers in the table, but you can see in the pie chart that the two biggest chunks are 5 and 10 pages for my rejections. I ended up doing a major revision on this manuscript, and my pie chart for the revision rejections looks quite different. There’s also the factor that I received an R&R from an agent, but having these statistics to review factored heavily into deciding whether to pursue it.

5. Track positive/negative comments. If agents reject a partial or full manuscript, they sometimes send feedback. It’s not a guarantee, but when it happens, it’s golden. But it’s important to remember one agent’s opinion may differ from another’s, and so I also try to track this graphically. Sometimes it’s not possible because it doesn’t line up at all, but other times the comments will start matching up, and that’s when you know you should stop querying and revise. I make two tables as below.

Then, instead of a pie chart, I make clustered bar graphs so I can compare. In this example to the left? I was getting conflicting opinions on X and wanted to chart agent opinions. Ultimately an agent asked me to rewrite it without X and I did. Actually, now that I look at this chart, I’m realizing the second R&R I did addressed a couple more of those negative comments. Hmm …

I realize this post may seem like a downer because it assumes you won’t land an agent as soon as you start querying. Well … the odds of that just aren’t very high. It could happen, but if it doesn’t, don’t let it deter you. There are so many agents out there, and if you’re smart about querying, your yes may still happen with your fiftieth or hundredth query. There are many stories like that!

Contests are amazing. I’ve been involved in several over the years with various manuscripts, and each time I was hopeful, but even when your entry is a hot property (and I’ve been there!), it’s still your actual materials that have to keep the agent’s interest. No matter how sexy your pitch and first page are, every page then on has to hold the agent’s interest for them to offer representation, so it’s a good idea to have a strategy in place to keep an eye on whether you’re on track. It doesn’t have to be my strategy–because I realize I’m a bit over the top ;)–but be aware of what you’re sending out and if you’re getting positive feedback.

Good luck as you go forth and query. And to my fellow Pitch Wars mentees, whether it’s your first manuscript, your sixth (like me!), or your tenth, you have so many cheerleaders ready to applaud your successes and pick you up when a rejection comes. Some of my closest writer friends are from a contest I participated in five and a half years ago–The Writer’s Voice. It’s actually why I started this blog :). I’m so grateful for those friendships and the new ones I’m making every day in this community.

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, Querying, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying

Well, friends, here we are: six years of querying.

Three weeks ago I was in New York City with my husband. We went on a bike tour of Central Park, and I have asthma, so that’s already a bit of a challenge. But when you add in a cold, plus the fact that my bike was faulty and wouldn’t go into first gear and I was pedaling uphill, it nearly resulted in me giving up–which is how I sometimes feel about this publishing journey. But then one of my writing friends will step in with encouraging words about my latest manuscript and I’ll have hope again, just like when my husband switched bikes with me and I could finally make it up those tortuous hills. At least they paid off with some amazing views.

Full disclosure: I let him take this picture while I wiped out on the grass.

But back to the writing … I do have a few new lessons to impart from this sixth year of querying, but as usual, if you’d like to refer to what I’ve posted in the previous years, here they are: what I learned in one, two, three, four, and five years of querying. Because I do try to only include new points every year :).

It gets harder and harder to talk about your writing with non-writers. It wasn’t so bad when I was just starting out. I was so excited to be writing, and I still love that I have the opportunity to write every day. Not everyone is so blessed. But after seven years of doing it full-time, there’s this question I get that makes me crazy. I know other unpublished writers hear it too.

“Are you still writing?”

And I just want to shout “Yes! Stop asking!” I know that with every manuscript my writing improves and I get that much closer to my ultimate goal of publication, but these well-meaning friends don’t understand and assume that because they haven’t seen a physical book with my name on it I must be doing something else now.

I also struggle with questions from non-writers about how my writing is going. So often I see this look in their eyes that is very close to pity. Like I’m running in this hamster wheel of writing another manuscript, sending it out, and getting rejected again. I feel a bit judged, like they probably think I’m never going to get there. I do have a select few non-writer friends who have taken the time to understand the process and really do get it. I’m very grateful for them.

Let me also say that my husband is the most amazing, supportive partner I could ever ask for. He supports me fully, even if he does have the unrealistic expectation that someday I will write a series that results in a theme park like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t write the kinds of books that merit theme parks, but I love how big you dream, honey!

It’s always worth trying a new writing/critiquing strategy. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate drafting, and I realize that for about half of you, that’s completely unfathomable because you love the drafting and hate the revising. I’m constantly searching for new ways to make drafting palatable, and I really like the one I landed on this past year. I attended a workshop on writing in reverse, and although it was really more about planning in reverse, I decided to take it to the next level and actually draft my whole novel in reverse, starting with the final chapter and writing the whole thing backwards. I loved it! Granted, I also applied strategies from K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL and outlined the sucker in much more detail than ever before. Interestingly, I found that I was happier with my first chapter than usual, while my last chapters meandered a bit–sort of the opposite of the problem you usually have than when you write forward, yes? I chronicled my adventures writing in reverse, so feel free to read about them.

On the critiquing side, I’ve always sent full manuscripts to readers after revising the first draft pretty substantially. But as I knew I couldn’t query my work in progress for a while due to waiting to hear on another, I decided to try swapping sections weekly with another writer while I was still revising the first draft, and I found there were some really great benefits to that process. I blogged about swapping weekly, but mainly I loved how it enabled me to anticipate what the reader might have an issue with later in the manuscript and fix it before she reached that chapter.

Deciding to take on a revise and resubmit, even if it resonates with you, doesn’t mean it will turn into an offer. I mentioned this in a previous year, but I think it’s worth repeating. If an agent gives you feedback, says that magical word “if,” and the accompanying feedback makes a light bulb go off in your brain with a million ideas for how to fix the issues other agents have mentioned about your manuscript, then you should absolutely do an R&R. But it’s always a gamble. Hopefully they will love the execution of your changes, but even if they don’t, be grateful for the opportunity. Whatever you end up doing with the manuscript, if the changes truly resonate with you, you have a better product in the end.

You become so used to rejections even a rejection on an R&R you put your heart and soul into hardly causes a blip. I wouldn’t have thought this possible. In fact, I know I mentioned in previous years that although query rejections no longer bothered me, the rejections on fulls still did. I thought it impossible to get to the point where full manuscript rejections truly wouldn’t phase me, and perhaps they will again, but when the rejection on this R&R arrived–and believe me, I pinned a ton of hope on it–I just shrugged it off. It does help that I was waiting on the response a while and was entrenched in working on another project.

Fewer agents reply to queries, and some don’t even reply to requests. I mentioned in year three that some agents who had replied to my queries in year one had become no-response-means-no agents. Now that I’m at year six and QueryTracker has even more detailed statistics (I do love statistics!), I’ve noticed even more agents have moved to the dark side (ha!). But actually, if that’s their policy, I don’t care as long as it’s stated. I respect agents’ time, and someday when I have one, I hope they’re devoting most of it to me ;). What I find to be a more disturbing trend is when an agent requests and never replies. I’ve had a few of those, and they’re agents who are making deals, so they’re not schmagents. I’m not naming names, so don’t bother asking. I just quietly cross them off my own list and continue on with the other fabulous agents out there.

You live off moments of hope, whether they happen to you or a writer friend. You get so many rejections on this journey, you have to hold onto every piece of happy news. It’s especially gratifying when it’s good news for you, like an encouraging note from an agent or possibly even an email that invites you to resubmit, but I like to celebrate just as much for my writer friends. In the past year, I’ve had writer friends sign book deals, win contests, and share other news that makes me dance happily at my desk. Last week I read a post from another writer–someone I don’t know personally–who had been on this journey for seven years and finally signed with her first agent, and that encouraged me too. When other writers have happy news, it gives me hope that my own happy news will be around the corner. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re where I am, I hope you will too!

I figure that’s a good place to end–with hope. Because we all need some hope. I’m certainly not giving up. I have so many ideas knocking around in my brain, and if it’s not the one I’m working on now that leads to that physical book I hold in my hand, hopefully it will be the next one!

I’d love to hear where you are on the journey and what gives you hope!

Agents, Conferences, Pitching, Querying, Writing

How to Stalk WriteOnCon Ninja Agents 2017

If you’re in the kidlit community, you probably know about WriteOnCon and missed it as terribly as I did in 2015 and 2016. Well, hallelujah, it’s back! I don’t have anything to query at the moment, but I do have a work-in-progress ready for some feedback in the forums, so I’ll definitely be dipping a toe in. And of course I’ll be soaking in all the amazing knowledge to be gained from the blogs, vlogs, and live sessions starting tomorrow. Woohoo! (If you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for??)

But back to the title of this post. In case you are new to WriteOnCon, you may be wondering what a Ninja Agent is. Basically, it’s a literary agent who sneaks through the forums leaving comments. Their identities are closely guarded, even after the conference is over. The only way you find out who they are is if they send you a private message with a request.

Anyway, you want to stalk these agents, whether they comment on your query/first 250/first five pages or not. The knowledge you’ll gain from their critiques of others can often be applied to your own materials.

I originally posted about how to stalk Ninja Agents in 2013 and updated it in 2014. Since the forums are on an entirely new platform this year, I decided another update was required. I’m just digging into the forums in earnest today, so I may make adjustments to this post as I learn more, but here we go.

1. Log in to the forum.

2a. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see who’s online (Users Online or Users Online in the Last 24 Hours). Unfortunately, these aren’t in any kind of order. I recommend doing Command+F and searching for “Ninja”–it’s quicker than scanning by eye.

2b. If there are no Ninja Agents online at the moment/in the last 24 hours, scroll back to the top and click on Members. Using the search field on the right-hand side, search for “Ninja” and a list of all Ninja Agents will come up. This list shows you how many posts each ninja has made and how recently.

3.  Click on a Ninja Agent to go to his/her profile.

4.  Click on “View this member’s recent posts” and, voila!, you can see everywhere the agent has commented. To see the post he/she is responding to, click on the title of the thread.

If you want to get even more stalkery, you could keep a Ninja Agent’s profile up on your computer and watch his/her current activity. Or you can locate someone on Twitter who’s already doing that and giving updates. In previous years, there’s always been someone giving Twitter updates once a Ninja Agent was spotted. The hashtag for the conference is #writeoncon.

I tried several different options in the search function to see if there was a way to pull up all of the Ninja Agents at once since you could do that on the previous platform. It doesn’t appear to be possible, but if someone else figures it out, let me know and I’ll add it.

Another option is to go through and follow all of the Ninja Agents individually. Once you do so, if you click on Following in your Profile, it will show you their activity. However, it will mix the Ninja Agent activity with that of everyone else you follow, and it’s not just what they’ve posted. It also lists anyone they follow or become friends with. I did notice that the Ninja Agents tend to follow all of the other Ninja Agents. So, for example, if you click on Ninja Midnight and then Following, it will show you the activity of other Ninja Agents. But again, there’s a lot of activity other than posts mixed in (like “Ninja Dusk changed their avatar”), so whether you go that route depends on whether you want to wade through the extras.

If you’re already in the forums, come find me! My username is michelleimason. My work-in-progress is a young adult contemporary titled YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

Agents, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing, Young Adult

What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying

It’s here! I have officially been querying for four years. (Actually it was July 11, but since that’s a Saturday this year, we’ll just consider it today.) And in a strange coincidence, four years ago I sent off my first round of queries and then we packed up and drove down to Springfield, Mo., to visit family. This afternoon, we are driving to Springfield for a family wedding (although I have not sent off a round of queries, so it’s not completely the same). Anyway, I’ve experienced many ups and downs during the process and learned a ton. You can read about each year in succession, as I try not to repeat the lessons of previous years in the current year’s post. Here are links to the others:

What hasn’t changed is that I remain optimistic. I know I will find the right fit for my writing. So without further ado, here are the new things I’ve learned in the past year.

You don’t have to spend as much time researching agents … because you already know them so well. I’ve gotten to the point where many of the agents are like old friends. I’ve been over their profiles, watched their Twitter feeds, read their interviews, etc., so many times, that I know their preferences like the back of my hand. So when it’s time to send out queries, I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing before I put together a query for them. Sure, I still check the agency website to make sure nothing’s changed, but I don’t have to spend the hours I used to scouring the internet for information about them to make sure I get the personalization just right.

The caliber of beta readers and critique partners you work with gets higher and higher. The longer you’re in the writing community, the better the chances are that the writers you know have gone on to get agents and even publishing deals. For my last manuscript, I had three pre-published authors and two agented authors read for me. (And after reading, another reader got a book deal, and another landed an agent.) Most of these were writers I knew back when we were all unagented. We started out in the same place, but we’ve grown together. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I see my name in the acknowledgements page of a published novel :). That’s the nature of this long journey.

Just because an agent requested from you before doesn’t mean that agent is still the best fit for you at that agency. I understand the knee-jerk reaction to go with the agent you’ve been in contact with before, the one who’s shown an interest in your previous work. BUT, it’s possible that agent isn’t the best fit for what you’re writing now or for your complete body of work. I did some serious thinking before I started querying my last project. My first instinct was to go with the known, but the more I studied the bios and interviews, the more my gut told me to go with Agent B at a couple of agencies, even though I’d had requests from Agent A. And you know what? I got a request from Agent B.

This can also be something to consider with all the moving around that agents do. If Agent A has requested from you before but Agent B moves to Agent A’s agency and you’ve always really wanted to work with Agent B, don’t automatically think you have to submit to Agent A because of that past correspondence. Make sure you’re submitting to the agent who is the best fit for you now.

You might think you know the agents out there who are the best fit for your work, but you really don’t. I realize this point may seem at complete odds with my first point, but hear me out. I participated in a few pitch contests this past year, and I was shocked by a few of the agents who expressed an interest. A couple of them were newer agents I just didn’t know much about yet. But some were agents I knew about and just hadn’t considered because I’d pushed them further down the list for previous manuscripts. But you know what? I shouldn’t have done that.

Querying is about what’s the best fit for my career now, not in the past. I’ve changed as a writer over the past four years. I started out focusing on middle grade, but it turns out I have more of a young adult voice. I realized I was ignoring agents who didn’t do middle grade; that was a mistake. Because my current MS was YA, my next MS was YA, and the one I was considering after that was YA, too. So … the MG issue probably isn’t coming up anytime soon. My point is that you shouldn’t discount agents or curtail your list too much. Now, I’m not saying send it to agents who don’t rep what you write. Absolutely don’t do that. But make sure your priorities fit your current career goals and not your past goals.

The more thoroughly you research agents up front, the fewer requests you’ll get further down your list. I’m not saying you won’t get requests from the agents you don’t include in your first few rounds because some agents just don’t put much information out there about what they’re looking for. However, if you order your spreadsheet the way I do, you start with the agents you think are most likely to be interested in your manuscript, so your request rate is likely to be higher in your earlier rounds of querying. Don’t let that discourage you! I’ve learned there are always a few agents who surprise me in later rounds of querying and move up to earlier rounds when I query the next manuscript. (I wrote a whole series of posts on How to Research Agents. If you click on the first one, it includes links to all of them.)

You can tell by the rejections when you’re getting close. I heard this truth back when I first started querying, but I didn’t understand what it meant. I get it now, because the tone of many of the rejections has changed. Often they arrive with a tenor of hope: “I know another agent will snap you up soon!” This might sound like a really nice form rejection, but I know it isn’t because the rejections on the earlier manuscripts carried the more generic “Another agent may feel differently.” (I actually mentioned this in the Year One post!). Now, just because several agents say this doesn’t mean it will come true, but it still gives me hope. Maybe sometimes I go back and read through those rejections for a pick-me-up :). I’ve never said that before!

You start to consider other options. Don’t get me wrong–signing with an agent is still my goal. However, my mind is more open to other possibilities and other paths to publication. I know I’m not alone in this. I have writer friends who have been querying for years without signing with an agent who decided to submit directly to publishers or even self-publish. I still believe that if I keep at it, eventually I’ll succeed with an agent. But I’ve also started to realize that the path may not be as straight as I expected it to be. For someone as linear as I am, that’s a bit difficult to wrap my mind around, but I’m getting there.

You have greater confidence in your gut. I’ve written about this separately, most recently in a post on subjectivity, but I’ve gotten better about knowing when to implement feedback–whether from agents or CPs–and when to file it away. In the early days of querying, I was likely to jump on the tiniest bit of feedback and revise, regardless of whether I was 100 percent on board with it. Today, I’ll set aside feedback that doesn’t resonate with me, even if it’s from someone I greatly respect. In many ways, it’s harder to ignore honestly given feedback you can’t buy into than to use it, but I’ve been on the end of revising a way that didn’t feel right to me before, and that resulted in an MS that didn’t read right for anyone. I’m not sure you can get to this point of trusting your gut without those years of experience, so my guidance here is more a reassurance that you will get there.

Ok, I think that’s about it. I’ve been collecting these thoughts all year, and I may start collecting them for next year as early as tomorrow :). For everyone else who’s on this journey with me, hang in there! It’s all about finding the right fit for your work at the right time. And to my friends who continue to support me, thank you! I appreciate every one of you.

Agents, Querying, Writing

A Prayer for My Future Agent

As a person of faith, prayer plays an important part in my life. I pray about pretty much everything, including my writing journey. I prayed about whether my manuscript was ready to query. I’ve prayed about when to wait and when to move forward. Most of all, I pray for patience. Lots of patience. Like, all the time.

It occurred to me this morning that in all of that praying, I’ve never actually prayed for my future agent. This might sound odd, like I’m getting ahead of myself, but I have faith that I’ll find that perfect agent match eventually, whether it’s next week or next year. You also might think, “Whoa, Michelle. What if your future agent doesn’t believe in prayer?” Well, if they come upon this post, hopefully they’ll either think, “Oh, that’s nice that her faith is important to her and she was thinking about me.” Or maybe they’ll shrug it off and love my writing so much they don’t care. If they really are my future agent, it will be one of those two. If this post scares them away from representing me, then we aren’t the best fit anyway. Because my purpose isn’t to convert them, just to pray for our future working relationship. They don’t have to believe the same thing I do for that. So here goes:

I pray that you love my writing so much you can’t put it down.

I pray that we share a vision for my career that results in a productive, mutually beneficial working relationship.

I pray that we always show each other respect in our communications and give each other the benefit of the doubt if there is a disagreement.

I pray that you’ll challenge me to continue improving as a writer.

I pray that we’ll work together for the long term.

I pray for your success in your career, not just with me but with all of your clients. Maybe you’ll discover the next Harry Potter? (It doesn’t hurt to ask.)

I pray for general peace and whatever it is you need most in your life outside of agenting.

Ok, I think that’s it. In the meantime, I’ll get back to that prayer for patience :).