I’ve spent the entire weekend — on and off in between a few social engagements — investigating literary agents. And I feel as though my head is spinning.
First off, I do have an agent who I’ve been following for a while and plan to submit to. I saw her talk in two seminars a couple years ago and liked her energy, enthusiasm, knowledge and laid-back manor. She seems like someone I could work well with, and I hope she feels the same way once she has read my query.
However, after reading Jackie Kessler’s blog post about her query letter success, and how she sent her query to 30 agents she considered top tier for her work, I realized I shouldn’t limit myself either. That was confirmed with Nathan Bransford’s blog post today about the results of his Agent For a Day contest, which showed that these things are subjective, and what one person thinks is brilliant might make another roll their eyes.
While I’m hoping the agent I’ve been following doesn’t roll her eyes when she reads my query, I recognize that it is a possibility. So, I’ve been scouting.
Now, I’ve said before that going to conferences is a great way to research agents. Of course, you have to start doing that pretty early on in your writing to meet enough agents that you’ve got a good list to send to when you’re ready to send. And what if you haven’t managed to get to conferences? There are other ways to see if an agent will match you and your writing.
The first place to go for any writer looking for an agent is www.agentquery.com. Do a search under your book type, and you’ll get a list of agents who represent that type of book. For “middle grade,” I got a list of 124 agents. Phew! Now you know why I’ve been doing it all weekend. I’m not even finished going through them all.
The initial list will include info on whether the agent accepts unsolicited queries. If they don’t, move on, but I’ve found that most in my list do.
Next, look at the full profile page for the agent. Read about the types of books they like and want and the descriptions of the books they represent. There are lots of different types of middle grade books, and not every agent is going to be interested in reading the type I have written. If they’re not interested, I don’t want them to represent it (and they wouldn’t want to either) so why both query them? If you can find similar types of books either in tone or subject matter in their list, you’ve got a possible winner (I say possible, but we’ll get into that later). If you can’t find a similar type of book, don’t dismiss them. Check out their web site, if they have one, and see what books and clients they have listed there.
Once, you’ve identified the agent as liking your book’s style, next you want to research them as an agent and a person. A writer/agent partnership is a life-long one, and you want it to be good. You want to have an agent you respect, you trust and you can get along with. People are people, and, let’s be honest, we get along with some better than others.
The AgentQuery agent profile page might include links to the agent’s blog and/or website, interviews, etc. Click on those links and spend some time reading that person’s blog, reading their interviews. You’ll get a good idea of who the person is by what they write. If AgentQuery doesn’t have any links, Google the agent and see what you can find. Most agents have either a blog or done at least one interview at some time in their career.
If you can’t find any links about this person, use your gut based on the books they rep.
Now, what if you can’t find any info on the agent? Well, that’s up to you. For me, I wouldn’t put that agent in my top tier list, simply because I don’t want to waste their time or mine sending them something they might not like. If I couldn’t find any other agents that matched, maybe, but out of 124, I think I’ve found 20 good possibilies so far.
All this takes time, of course. But, although I’m anxious to send off my manuscript, I want it done right. Why put in all that work just to rush it now?
Hopefully, I’ll be finished my AgentQuery list in a few days (with my day-job, my available time has shortened), and I’ll let you know how I get along. This is just step 1.