I’m seeing “start querying agents” and “find representation” in a lot of the new year’s goals posts on my friends list. Having just gone through the process last year, I know how much fun (ha!) that diving into the agent-search waters can be. The only thing I find harder to write than a query letter is a synopsis (because at least with the query letter you don’t have to try to make your ending sound spectacular in greatly condensed form). Mine went through several drafts over a number of weeks, ending with me sending three different versions to my crit partners begging for help choosing the best one–despite the fact that I’ve been through the process successfully before. And let’s not get into the stress of sending out the letters and manuscripts and waiting to hear back.
So I wanted to share some of the tools that helped me craft my query and prepare for the search, and feel a little bit confident that I knew what I was doing.
Making your submission list
QueryTracker’s Who Reps Who – One of the best places to start is by finding the agents who repped books you loved that you think are similar in content, style, or sensibility to yours. QueryTracker’s database is the best I’ve found, though I still recommend double-checking on Publisher’s Marketplace (see below) or a simple Google search to confirm the info as it’s occasionally out-of-date.
AgentQuery – An excellent site for searching for agents by genre; remember to check agency websites for current guidelines and sales. (Plus many agents these days have great blogs where you can get a sense of their approach and interests.)
Publisher’s Marketplace – Another way to find out who reps your favorite authors (although many agents don’t report any or all of their sales, so there’ll be some you can’t find) and also to get some idea of an agent’s tastes (what sorts of books they’ve repped and sold) and the variety of their connections (are most of their sales to the same few houses/editors or to a wide range?). Just remember, as mentioned, not some agents don’t report at all and many don’t report everything, so it’s an incomplete picture.
Verla Kay’s Message Board – Excellent all-round resource for children’s writers, but in this case particularly useful for seeing if there’s been any recent news or issues reported with agents you’re considering querying, regardless of whether you’re writing for children or adults (since an awful lot of adult agents also handle at least YA these days).
Writing your query
Evil Editor (use the tags to narrow the posts down by genres like Fantasy or YA), Query Shark, and the Miss Snark crapometer archives (scroll down from this link to the posts from Dec 30 and continue back from there) are full of excellent examples of both successful and (mostly) unsuccessful query letters and story pitches, with the thoughts of a professional on why they do or don’t work. You can learn a lot by example. You’ll also notice that the professionals don’t always agree, even on query format. That’s why it’s always important to read each agent’s guidelines before you query them, rather than sending out a bunch of queries all exactly the same.
Amazon or GoodReads – Look up your favorite books in your genre, and successful books with related premises. Read their back cover descriptions and try to figure out how you could structure your story description similarly. A good query pitch should read like cover copy–just enough detail and story to hook the reader.
Knowing what to expect once you start the search
QueryTracker’s agent statistics – Look up any agent and QueryTracker has stats for their response times to queries, partials, and fulls, and how many of those submissions ended in success. There are also comments from queriers about what sort of responses to expect.
Hope those sites help you as much as they helped me. 🙂 And if you have any sites or articles you’ve found helpful, share away!