When you first being querying, it seems there are a million-zillion literary agents, and you're not sure how to handle it (other than preparing yourself to query a hundred.)
But you're armed. 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.
Right, all million-zillion of them. Or maybe slightly fewer. Where to start?
Well, since I'm blogging for QueryTracker...you use QueryTracker. Login to your free account over at http://querytracker.net and check out 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 325 agents, listed in alphabetical order by agency name. 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 open to queries") and now we're down to 272 agents. That's still too many.
The data displays for you how agents prefer to be queried: email? snail mail? both? Look through the list for names you recognize and agencies 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. These have now been saved to "my list" (er, your list.) 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. When you're just starting out, 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 (it will open in a new window). 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. On the left you'll see a box with the name of your project,a nd beneath that, "Add the agent to my query list." Check the box.
Click on the "genres" tab to find out what genres the agent represents.
Go to "reports." The default report is "queries sent" and "all time." If you pull down the report type option, you'll get "query replies." 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.
The other reports will give you information about how quickly an agent responds, whether they typically request fulls or partials, how quickly they respond to requested submissions, and will even break down the agent's responses by genre. How cool is that?
How is QT obtaining this information? 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. And the site compiles more data every time someone uses it.
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 concatenated with everyone else's in order to detect trends.
Also, with the information on the agent's profile 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.