You've written your book and edited it. You've got a sparkling query letter that's been critiqued to a high shine over at the QueryTracker forum. In anticipation of following the directions, you've got a synopsis at the ready. Now all you need to do is query some agents.
There are hundreds, and you know not to query-bomb. Where to start?
Well, let's run through how to do this, since I remember how daunting it was when I started. Login to your free account over at http://querytracker.net and let's see how this works.
Under the "agents" menu it says "Search for agents." Click there. Presumably you know your genre, so that's the best place to start. Select your genre from the pull-down menu and click to search.
I picked Women's Fiction for my search criteria and the database gave me 288 agents. Since you don't intend to query all of them today, this needs to be narrowed down a bit. Fortunately, you can narrow them down right off the bat: the ones who aren't open to queries have a red circle-slash in the information
visible on the search results. You can check the box to remove those from your search results ("only show agents who are accepting unsolicited queries") and now we're down to 222 agents.
The data displays for you how agents prefer to be queried: email? snail mail? both? Look through the list for names you recognize. You can save as many agents as you want to your list of agents to query by clicking the box in the first column. That way you can come back to them later, and the names will all be saved in one place.
Now go under "reports" and look at the "top 10 reports." You'll see the names of the ten most requesting agents, the ten most queried agents, and so on. Right now the idea is to familiarize yourself with the names. Pick an agent and click on her name to view her report.
On the first page of the agent's report is a link to the agent's website, if the agent has one. Click on that and read the website. Do you like the agent? Good. Keep that window open so you'll know how the agent prefers to be queried, but also go back to the agent's QT report, save the agent to your list, and then go to "reports and statistics."
The default report is "queries" and "all time." Click on "generate report" and see what comes up. This report tells you how many QT users have queried this particular agent and what sort of responses they've received: a full request, a partial request, a rejection, or no response. This information tells you how actively this agent is looking for clients. It also tells you whether you should expect a rejection from this agent or whether no response means no.
How is QT obtaining this information? Because when a QT user decides to query this agent, she clicks on the box to put the agent on her query list. She indicates when she queried the agent. When she gets a response, she marks it off.
Over time, with all your queries compiled on "My Query List," you'll be able to keep track of whom you queried, when you queried them, and how they responded. Moreover, your data will be compiled with everyone else's in order to detect trends. How quickly the agent responds, for example (another report) or how long it takes this particular agent to read a full submission (yet another report.)
Also, with the information on the agent's report all in one place, it's easy to find the agent's website, the agent's twitter account, the agent's Publisher's Marketplace page, what genres they represent, and in many cases, other writers have pasted the text of their form letter query into the comments so you can verify that the personal-seeming rejection letter is really their form.
Effective querying means knowing which agents you want to query and making sure you get to all of the ones on your list. Having all the information in one place was the best help in finding my own agent.
Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.