We’ve spent some time on the blog discussing query letters, synopses, elevator pitches, genres, and manuscript formatting.
Let’s say you’ve done all that. You’ve written a great novel, ran it through a critique buddy or two, polished the query letter, all of it.
Researching literary agents, of course.
I think this step actually starts way back at the beginning and you should do it in bits and pieces as you prepare to query. No matter how you do it, just make sure you do. After all, you want to place your novel with an agent that will A) be a good match for you personality-wise B) likes your genre C) has contacts in your genre and D) has the best possibility of garnering a request from the query letter.
Thus, you must research.
Now, if you know me, I actually despise research—except for researching agents. I find this kind of research hopeful, because I know that I can find the literary agents that will be the best ones to query for my work. Here’s a few tips for making this process a little easier.
1. Search by genre. There is absolutely no point in querying agents who don’t represent your genre. It’s a colossal waste of your time—and theirs. Using the main QueryTracker site, this is easy, easy, easy.
Simply find your genre in the drop down menu and click search.
2. Once you’ve identified agents according to genre, find out all you can about them. On the "Overview & User Comments" tab, I can see everything I need to research the agent. For Kae Tienstra, there is her email address, a website listed, a blog, links to Publisher’s Marketplace, AgentQuery, AAR, Preditors & Editors, methods of submitting, the whole nine yards.
I typically open all of these links at once by clicking on them and letting them load in their own window. Then I systematically read each one, checking for the following:
o Submission Guidelines
o What they’re looking for
o Response times
o Anything else I think would help identify Kae as an agent I want to query.
Another thing I check on QueryTracker: the user comments. I can see experiences from people who have queried this agent before. And if you’re a premium member, you can run all kinds of reports about query response times, request rates and agents with similar tastes.
3. Now I’m 95% sure that I want to query Kae. One more thing I always do: a Google search with the words, “interview with literary agent XXX”. This is a good way to further discover if the agent you’re researching is looking for a book like yours. We’ve done two interviews with literary agents (Anna Webman and Beth Fleisher) as well as a reposting of Ginger Clark’s interview. Cynthia Leitich Smith does several interviews each month with literary agents on her blog, Cynsations. The Guide to Literary Agents blog is also a terrific resource for interviews and what specific agents are looking for.
Now that I know I want to query Kae, I prepare the first paragraph of my query letter. I tend to try to find something personal about each agent to begin the query with. This is where the blog I’ve been reading or the interview I’ve found comes in. My first line is usually something like this: “In an interview you gave on the Cynsations blog, you said you were looking for “teen protagonists with a strong voice”. Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, XXX.”
Then I launch into my hook, query, sinker. The agent knows I’ve done my research, and that I’m not spamming every agent in AgentLand with the same email.
I think many times, aspiring authors will only complete step number one, and search by genre. I don’t think this is enough. I think you owe it to yourself and to the agents you’re querying to do more than that. Read their websites and blogs. Familiarize yourself with their sales records and what they’re selling. Find out everything you can about the agent and their agency (forum discussions, following them on Twitter, reading books by authors they represent) before you hit send or affix that postage stamp.
Researching agents should not be skipped. It’s as important as the query letter. And we all know how important that is. A fabulous query letter is worthless unless you get it in front of the right agents. So roll up those sleeves, and do your research!