QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, June 22, 2009

Researching Literary Agents

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.

What next?

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!

Elana Johnson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Besides a serious addiction to the Internet, she can never get enough reality TV, Dove dark or reasons to laugh. Click here to visit her blog.


Robyn Campbell said...

Elana, doing this now. The researching agents thing. I would not be without my QueryTracker. That would be like taking my food away. Hmm, ever thought of commercials? I'm available. *grins*

Stina said...

Great post, Elana!

I love research, but researching agents has never been my favorite past time. Though on the plus side, I've created a list of "Oh please please please want to represent me!", "Oh you'd be a cool agent," and "And if you reject me, no biggie" agents. Fortunately all my request have come from the first two categories and all of my rejections from the last one (though the rejections have been represented by the other two categories as well). The list helps deal with the rejections, and reminds me not to discount someone because I don't think I stand a chance (I'm talking the big time agent. Everyone's dream agent.)

I used to add the personal reseach stuff to my queries, but found it didn't matter. I was still getting requests even when I didn't mention their past sells or the books they rep. Of course with some agents, it doesn't hurt to pander to their egos. ;)

Anonymous said...

Haha...working on this one as we speak!!!

Windy said...

Thanks, Elana!

Tess said...

Props to query tracker - you guys really helped me when I queried (and scored) my agent a little while ago. (thank you, thank you!) I would only add this: consider finding out which books they rep that are like yours and then actually read one of those books, so you can mention their specific work and maybe even have a conversation about it during 'the call'.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Great post -- and very timely! Thank you.

Paul W. West, Author said...

I have a bone to pick with QueryTracker's "basic search". When I search for agents repping YA novels, I only get two (2) agents. I know there are more than that. IMO Agent Query has a far better search engine.

Patrick said...

Paul, Make sure you don't have any other criteria selected on the search page. For instance, do you have a region selected? Or maybe you have a secondary genre chosen? Either of these will fine-tune your search and could give fewer results.

When I search just YA, I get 276 results.

Elana Johnson said...

Same here, Paul. I just got six pages of YA agents... And mine brought up 292 Patrick... That's weird. But still way more than 2. I know sometimes I get less in the "Advanced" tab for some reason. Let me know if it still doesn't work.

Hardygirl said...

Such GREAT advice! Wish I'd seen something like this at the beginning of my journey. I had to learn it all the hard way!


feywriter said...

One very valid reason I've learned to research deeper than "do they rep Fantasy?" is how many I've found that only want contemporary or urban fantasy. It would be a waste of time to send them my traditional fantasy.

Unknown said...

I agree that it's best to start this research in the beginning. As I continue writing my YA ms, I am reading agent interviews, blogs, etc. and then either adding to my query list or crossing off a name. My list is divided into agents I definitely want to query and then a section of ones labeled "maybe." My hope is that by the time I finish my ms, I'll have my list of agents ready to go for queries. Thanks for the post.

Stina said...

Too bad QT doesn't define genre further. Feywriter had a good point about genre. A lot of agents are only interested in urban fantasy and paranormal. It would be nice to know which type of fantasy are getting the requests. But I realize this would be tricky since many of the other genre also have subgenres to them.

And one more thing (I promise). Right now you can only select up to two categories for our ms. Mine is YA urban fantasy romance (my wip has a strong romance element). While it's not a big deal for most genres (you're supposed to limit your book to two), it is a big deal for YA. Someone might think the agent doesn't request any romance because I marked mine as YA fantasy.

Paul W. West, Author said...

Patrick Said: Paul, Make sure you don't have any other criteria selected on the search page. For instance, do you have a region selected? Or maybe you have a secondary genre chosen? Either of these will fine-tune your search and could give fewer results.

When I search just YA, I get 276 results.


I apologize. Somehow an agent's name was filled in in the "Agency Name" box. I deleted it and got 5 pages of agents.

Thanks for your help, and you're too Elana.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I'm a big fan of agent research too. A big part of my research involved keeping a reading log. It not only helps you target agents, but can improve your critical reading too. More here if interested:

(I also posted the query letter that led to my offer. See sidebar)