On Researching an Agent

Alternative Title: Why Aren’t You Reading Query Shark?

Query writing is hard – that’s why our SYW forum for queries is lovingly titled “Query Letter Hell.” But I think writers (myself included) get so wrapped up in writing 1 to 3 perfect paragraphs that capture our novels in the prettiest nutshell possible that we lose sight of how important it is get the right query (and the right flavor of query) onto the right desk.

Some agencies, like the Waxman Agency, make it easier on us by posting brief agent biographies, and listing the books they’ve represented right on the front page. One agent there, Holly Root, is described as actively seeking Urban Fantasy. That’s amazingly interesting to me, since it’s my genre, but my next step is not to roll my query off the press and fire it into her inbox. I might as well flip a coin if I do that.

Agents Tweet. They’re on Facebook. They blog. More importantly, they go to conferences and sit on panels, which are often recorded in some fashion, and they freely express opinions all over the internet. When an agent says something that rings true in your heart, that’s someone you want behind your novel. That’s who you query.

But you can’t use that in your query if you don’t look for it.

Search terms to increase your Google-Fu:

Agent’s Name + panel + 2011 (or 2010, 2009, etc.)

Agent’s Name + spotlight

Agent’s Name + interview

Agent’s Name + Name of novel they represented (See what, if anything, they’ve said about what they represent)

5 thoughts on “On Researching an Agent”

  1. I personally gave up on agents. Most of my queries went completely unanswered, so I stopped writing them. I occasionally get a letter (an automatic response) saying that an agent doesn’t want a sample. Great, that was worth my time. I decided to self-publish, even if it means making no money (.99 cent category), and I’m glad I did. At least I’m getting read now and building a reputation. I’m only in my second month, but am selling more than a book a day.
    I think agents are not taking risks anymore. If you write a best seller, I’d definitely shop it around to agents–that’s what they want. If you write something a bit strange…self-publish.
    Good luck everyone!

  2. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to go, but I’d discourage writers from defaulting to it. There’s little way of predicting The Next Big Thing; if the zeitgeist were predictable, someone would already be capitalizing.

    With short fiction & short non-fiction, I encourage people to submit to or query the highest-paying, highest-distribution relevant markets first, and then to work their way down the totem pole as rejections trickle in.

    The same tactic can be applied to novels and longer non-fiction. Find the best interested party first, and then work your way down to less ideal parties. Agents and self publishing factor a bit weirdly into this, since both have an associated cost–the agent slices a fee off of potential income, and self-publishing costs even more time as well as capital. Still, I put agents at the top of the list. Their rejections don’t hurt anything. Self-publishing, while certainly valid, makes more sense as a last resort (for people who don’t have a backlist of out-of-print books to make useful) because it essentially closes off the established route: You can’t sell first rights to something if you’ve used them yourself.

  3. I also wondered if a self-published success would lead to a better query for later projects. When writing query letters for a first novel, the author-bio section is always a bit on the sparse side, so there’s nothing to grab an agent’s attention. If, however, a self-published novel acquires a large readership, I imagine that an agent will pay more attention to the author’s future projects. At least I hope that’s how it will work.

  4. Hi everyone, this is actually my first post. This line caught my attention because of the combination of agent and self publishing. I self published my first book “The Tower,”. Did I learn a lot from the process. I have pulled it so I could do a major revamp. I was one of those people who got in to big of a hurry and made lots of mistakes. As I said a couple lines ago it was a learning process.

    I just finished the first draft of my second book and I plan on going the quary letter route. I personally want to get experence with both routes. I think as a writer it will make me more rounded. I want an agent to do what agents do for me. How this will work out only time will tell.

  5. Some good tips there, I particularly like the Google hints. And also there are places like query tracker, author advance etc that will give you an idea of response times etc.

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