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.
- YA Requests?
- Sub note
- Looking for
- Books to Read
- Books I’ve Read
- Query Tips
- Submission Guidelines
- Response Time
- 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.
- Sign in.
- Click on the Agents tab in the upper left-hand corner.
- 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:
- Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
- Click on the Reports tab.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
- Click on Search for Literary Agents.
- 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.
- Click on the symbol that looks like stacked discs to pull up the report of all queries logged in the system.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the Requests? column, type in “[number] requests in last [time period]”.
- 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.
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.
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!