So, you’ve written your book. You read through it. You spent countless hours revising, moving characters, transposing chapters, rewriting scenes, deleting directionless dialogue, fine-tuning language, and cutting down on fluff. Right?
If not, go back and do that. A lot. No first draft is done. That’s why they’re called first drafts. Inevitably, there will be multiple drafts (and numbering systems help keep us organized).
So, you’ve written your query letter. You’ve researched what goes in a query letter, read hundreds of examples of successful and failed ones, revised the crap out of it, run it past friends and family, and you’ve honed your sample pages to a shiny gleam of professional perfection and literary mastery. If you picked up a book and read your query letter as the back cover, you’d buy it instantly. Right?
If not, go back and do that. A lot. Your query letter is your one chance to make a first impression. A lot of agents don’t want to see repeats, so once they turn you down, it’s likely permanent. Most authors make the mistake of querying before they’re done (like me). Spend enough time and put enough effort into what is essentially the few-page culmination of months/years of work. If you’re feeling the burning white hot sensation of fear, good. If you take this process lightly, you won’t produce something you’re proud of. Understand the stakes so you can understand the effort required.
So, you want to find a literary agent to represent you. You’ve Googled every permutation of the type of fiction and agent you want. You’ve looked through databases like agentquery, Poets & Writers Org, Reader’s Digest, and Publisher’s Marketplace. Right?
You’ve found a slew of names, but how can you tell who is legit and who will quit?
You have to do your research. Some sites will recommend you send out query letters to agents in gigantic batches. That’s bad advice.
You want to query around ten at a time, and that’s if you’re confident of your letter and sample pages. If you get zero requests for material from any of the agents you’ve sent to, then you want to take a good look at the letter and have some beta readers look through it. Then look at your sample pages, and read them like a critic.
So how do you pick the right literary agents to submit to?
1. Visit their client list. Did their clients do well? Any bestsellers? Any authors who are actively still writing/publishing? Is this a new, hungry agent, or a tried-true veteran?
2. Visit their bio/profile on the agency site. Does the agent have a compelling bio? Do they seem passionate, excited, and professional? Do they represent your genre? (You do NOT want to query an agent who doesn’t represent your work. That’s a waste of everyone’s time, and it shows you didn’t do your research.)
3. Check out their Publisher’s Marketplace profile. This is where they update (or forget to update) their top clients list, reviews of their authors’ works, list genres/specialties, recent sales (including things like foreign rights and upcoming books, which can tell you a lot about whether the agent is willing to do legal legwork to promote your book in other arenas), and they’ll link to submission requirements.
4. SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS. Find them. Follow them. Sometimes the agency has umbrella rules listed on their site somewhere. Sometimes, individual agents have their own preferences. One agent might want a query, three pages, and a synopsis. Another agent might want a query and ten pages. Another agent might just want the query. Some want double-spaced, some don’t care. NO AGENTS WANT ATTACHMENTS. They want EVERYTHING in the body text of the email. Breaking an agent’s rules is a quick way to get an auto-rejection.
5. Follow the links the agent provides on his/her page. This will often link to their blog, twitter, etc. if they have those. We live in an increasingly digital age, so you’ll want to find agents who can keep up and match your level of involvement.
6. Visit their blog. They’re in a marketing and selling business, so most agents will have either a blog or other platform to interact with other agents, authors, and readers. If they’re doing a lot of promotional work for their authors, then that’s a good sign that they’ll work with you to give your book its best shot.
7. Visit their twitter. Are they professional? Do they have the type of personality you can get along with? Do their authors have strong presences on twitter? Do they have a long history of collaboration with other agents/authors/etc.? Does it look like they encourage their authors to promote their own work? Social media is a strong part of being an accessible author/agent, so you’ll want to work with people who will do what’s best for you as far as your writer’s platform is concerned.
8. Visit their represented author’s blogs/twitter. An agent’s clients will tell you a lot about the agent. Does the author know how to promote his/her own work? Does it look like the author/agent communicate via twitter/etc.? Does the author’s blog look professional? All of these things can depend on the authors just as much as the agent, but you’ll want to know what group you’re joining.
Picking a literary agent has as much to do with the agent as it does the agent’s client list. An agent’s client list is a track record. It shows you what kind of books agents are passionate enough to take on, and how successful those ventures have been.
Following these steps to stalking a literary agent will allow you to decide which of the hundreds and thousands of agents you dig up are worth the pursuit.
Remember, finding a literary agent is primarily a professional venture, but it is also about personal tastes, compatible personalities, and aligning career interests. Treat the whole search with respect, and treat the literary agents with respect and professionalism. This is their job. They know what they’re doing.