Author’s Note: Agent Hunting!

So, last month I told you guys I had just sent off a query letter to an agent. What I skipped was finding agents to send it to, and writing up the query letter. Really, each of those two things is its own column, because each was an equal pain in the butt. I had a good idea I wasn’t going to enjoy either process, despite my die-hard attempt to play Pollyanna! Pollyanna aside, I got through it successfully and can now pass on my — admittedly dubious — knowledge to you. You lucky person, you. Ha.

So! Let’s begin the process: time to find an agent.

Like any good little author, I asked around and looked at blogs and did my best to figure out what an agent expected, what the written (and unwritten!) rules were, what I should be doing, what agents were really good, etc. In my readings, I kept coming across one line: “Do your research!” This would have been very helpful, except no one ever said what that research was! Or rather, they might list one or two things, and I would think: “…that barely qualifies as research. What OTHER research should I be doing?” Remember when I skimmed through all those books to figure out what publishers and agents were good? Well, I was pretty sure THAT wasn’t the research people were talking about — it was way too simple!

…Have I mentioned I’m a perfectionist? Yes? No? Well, it turns out that was a good chunk of the research people meant. Anyway, for other perfectionists like me, I’m going to break down this research.

1. Find agents who represent what you’re writing. Do not, for example, send your sci-fi manuscript to a women’s lit agent, or your fiction novel to a fantasy agent. This is pretty simple to research: agents have these crazy things called webpages, so even if all you do to get an agent’s name is Google “writing agents,” you should still be able to tell.

3. After you’ve Googled “writing agents” and come up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry imaginable, check them against something like Writer Beware or Publisher’s Marketplace to make sure they’re actually legit, and not a phony. I mean, heck, anyone can claim to be an agent and put up a website. It’s not exactly regulated.

2. Read the agent’s webpage or blog for submission guidelines. Do exactly what they say. Do not do anything else.

That’s basically it. You can use things like Query Tracker to find agents, or you can Google them. I started by taking that list of books I made up months ago and submitting to the agents who’d sold works like mine. Then I went to the bookstore, scanned through more, wrote down titles and authors and Googled, for instance, “The Darkest Secret Gena Showalter agency” to find the agent that sold that book. (It’s the Knight Agency, which also sent me my first rejection letter.) Nine times out of ten, that worked pretty well! Most agents list the books they’ve sold on their website, so usually that search will pull them up.

There are some other things I learned in my mad scramble. For one, it’s all right to send queries out to ten agents at once — as long as they each have their own, slightly personalized, email. (I say email because that’s how most agents work these days: snail mail is typically a thing of the past! That said, follow the submission guidelines. If it says use snail mail, use snail mail!) Don’t send a mass query with ten agents in the address line; you can’t put their name on the letter, and it’s rude. But you can send the same query to ten agents in one day, as long as they each have an email of their own with their name in the salutation.

And speaking of sending to ten agents at once, batch your agents. Get a giant list of them — more than you ever thought you’d need — and send out to your favorites first, then the next ten, and the next ten, and so on. When I started this I didn’t even have ten, so it’s definitely been a learning experience for me. I really want to send to the people who are publishing books a lot like mine, so I make sure to include those when I see them in the book store… but I’m including anyone who publishes my genre, too.

Don’t assume that just because you get rejected, your book is no good. An agent can only handle so many authors at once; they’re looking for the perfect fit for their agency, not just a book they can sell.

Don’t get discouraged! While you’re sending out letters, set your book aside and start on the next one: if and when you sign a contract, it’ll likely be a multi-book deal. Might as well get a head start!

DO NOT argue with an agent. Think about it: if you were to tell someone you didn’t want to represent them and they argued with you, would you be more or less likely to change your mind? Uh-huh.

One fantastic resource I’ve found is the BookEnds, LLC‘s blog. This is like a treasure trove of good advice. I’ve been reading as much of it as I possibly can.

And the final thing… have patience. Oh, guys, this is such a study in patience. I’m often tempted to break and send my book to a smaller publisher that will take it without an agent because — look! It’s right there! I’ve already been published by smaller publishers, I’m sure they’d take it, I know it’d sell, it could be making me money right now and instead I’m waiting forever to find an agent. ARGH.

Then I remind myself that my favorite editor, Kate (who gave me a good chunk of the above advice), said not to get impatient or send it to a small publisher. She knows me verrrrrry well. So I’m passing that on to you: Don’t get impatient! Hang in there!

Of course, that said, if you’ve never published anything then small publishers are a good idea. Even agents want to see that you’ll keep writing; a list of previously published works helps, though it’s not mandatory!

You know what that means? Keep writing! So with that, I’m off to take my own advice. Good luck agent hunting!


Posted on July 26, 2011 at 20:12 by JB McDonald · Permalink
In: Books, Columns, Columns, The Written Word · Tagged with: , , ,

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  1. Written by Tim Sevenhuysen
    on 2011-07-31 at 19:52

    Useful advice. Thanks!

    I’m not quite at this point yet, but I’d like to be someday.

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