Many say a query should include reference to a novel the agent has represented in the past that's similar to your own. How pertinent is this advice? If it's important, does a writer proceed by spending weeks reading numerous novels before querying each agent? I can't imagine doing so, and this tactic may not even succeed.
Mentioning a novel or novels the agent has represented serves several purposes. First, it tells the agent that you read (a surprising number of "writers" claim they don't) and that you know how your book would be positioned in the marketplace. Second, it tells the agent that you know and appreciate that she has sold books similar to your own, which suggests that you and she might in fact be a great match.
To figure out which agents are selling books like yours:
1. Read in the genre in which you write!
I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I'm a writer is because I love books! Every month, I head over to my local library and pick up between five and seven books in genres I love to read. I don't usually read all of them (because not all of them end up appealing to me when I start reading), but I've discovered amazing stories this way.
One writer in particular I recently discovered is Sara Creasy, who writes science fiction. Her book Song of Scarabaeus was an amazing mix of fascinating sci-fi plot and romance -- something I also aim to accomplish.
2. Check out the Acknowledgements.
New authors in particular often thank their agents in their Acknowledgements. So when you find a book you love, flip to the front and check the Acknowledgements.
Creasy did in fact mention her agent, Kristin Nelson, in her Acknowledgements, so I can make a note of this and go from there. But let's say the author you're admiring (and feel has a similar style and story to you) isn't mentioned in the Acknowledgements.
Lucky you -- you belong to QueryTracker, so you have a secret weapon in your arsenal!
3. Check out QueryTracker.net's Who Reps Whom database.
QueryTracker.net gives you access to the incredibly useful Who Reps Whom database. (Look under the Resources pulldown menu.) In this database you will find nearly 10,000 authors and the agents who represent them (or have represented them in the past). Lo and behold, Creasy's agent (Nelson) is also listed here.
- Be sure the author you're mentioning is in fact someone whose writing is similar to yours -- not just someone you admire. For example, you may love Stephen King's writing -- but do you really write like him?
- Try to pick authors who aren't household names. Again, this suggests that you really do read in the genre and know the work of the author you're mentioning.
- If you're able to, mention more than one author the agent represents.
- Try to explain -- briefly -- why you feel your story will appeal to the readers of the authors you're mentioning.
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!