View Full Version : How broad to spread querying genres.

M. Scott
03-23-2011, 02:39 AM
This is more of an open-ended question regarding the selection criteria anyone else uses when choosing an agent to query. Here is my current situation:

I'm querying a manuscript and writing another work. The one I am querying is something of a horror tale that takes place in Veracruz and draws very heavily on Aztec religion and history, but takes place in the modern age.

When I move on to websites such as AgentQuery and 1000literary agents, I go for the more precise searches. However, if I simply select "Horror," I get less than 40 potential agent names to query.

If I go more broad and select: "Action/adventure, multicultural, Fantasy, Horror, thriller, science fiction and experimental," I get over 600 agents.

The issue is such that I don't want to be too broad or narrow, much like with a job application. I think it would be foolish to send to an extremely select number of agents (although I would start with the ones I really want) and bank on one of a few panning out. It would also be foolish to submit to half of the agents out there who might only want a subgenre that is tangentially related to my work.

My question is: "What do you do?"

One other issue is personalization. I feel like my current efforts in querying are far too much of a copy and past job. Although, my feelings don't change what may or may not be a rule of thumb within the literary world. I've noticed a trend that agents on their blogs/websites generally like, or say they like, personalized queries that show you've done your research on the agency -- Nathan Bransfield who used to be with Curtis Brown said sucking up to an agent is fine, if not suggested. On the forums, such as Querying Hell, any attempts to schmooze are met with an instant deathblow. Thoughts?

03-23-2011, 04:36 PM
I say query as broadly as your book will allow.

As for the personalization issue. My feeling is that anything you could look up in a few minutes isn't likely to impress the agent. My idea of good personalized stuff for a query includes:

"Your client, Blank, recommended I contact you." (Only when this is true. ;) )

"I met you at Blank Conference/Workshop/Fest, etc." (Especially if said meeting yielded an invitation to submit.)

"I previously queried you on Blank, and you suggested I query you on my next novel."

If your book fits a detailed wish list the agent published somewhere or mentioned in an interview, you might note that. Though if your book really does fit that wish list, the agent should be able to glean that from the query without being told.

"I write like your clients, Blank and Blink," or "I wrote a book just like one you just sold." I don't know. This opens you to the response, "Why do I need you when I have Blank and Blink?" and "But I've already SOLD that book." Also opens you to the challenge, "Oh, really? Bring it." (Saying you're a combo of Dan Brown/J. K. Rowling/Stephenie Meyer/Stieg Larsson/Jodi Picoult/James Patterson/Stephen King/Nora Roberts is begging for "Oh, really?")

Listing some of the agent's recent sales? I don't know. The agent knows her recent sales. PM knows her recent sales. Maybe this proves you have a subscription to PM? Wouldn't impress me if I was an agent, especially if it took up space that could have gone to making your pitch more exciting and comprehensible.

All my personal if-I-were-an-agent quirks. All I'd really want is an intriguing (and accurate) pitch and five kick-ass sample pages. I imagine if you have those (and the novel to back them up), you're good.

Rhoda Nightingale
03-23-2011, 06:24 PM
Depends on the book, depends on the agency. Not everyone keeps their info on sites like AgentQuery up to date, although I agree it's a good place to start.

As a horror writer, I find myself in similar situations. "Can I get away with calling this urban fantasy instead, and hook me an agent who does that?" It's a judgment call. So far, all I've got is a "maybe" to show for it, so I can't tell you whether it's a good idea to do this or not. You have my empathy though.

The best way to check is to find a specific agent's blog and see what they really represent, and what they're currently looking for, regardless of what it says on some other website.

03-23-2011, 09:02 PM
I think you need to stop looking at numbers, and concentrate on precision and quality. There are books out there like your. Find them, read them, and learn who represents them.

Impressing an agent is "easy". I do believe in personalization, but this does not mean you say nice things to the agent about her previous works. It means you query a particular agent for a reason, and that reason is because you know your book matches what she wants. You do this trough precision, not through broad generalities.

First you have to know where your book fits. Then you have to know which agents represents books like your. Then you let the agent know that you've done your homework.

But mainly, and this works every last time, you have to write a great query, include great sample pages, and follow this with a great novel. Quality, or at least marketability, wins out every time.

But you do have to know your own book, and where it fits. Broad gets you nowhere. It just tells an agent you have no idea what you've written. If you don't know, why should she ask to see it? Better to be precise and a little off target than broad and meaningless.

You only need one agent, not forty percent of the agents out there. Too many plan on receiving a hundred rejections before finding an agent, and this is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

M. Scott
03-24-2011, 08:00 AM
I imagine that adding any phrases that suck up to an agent would have to be carefully dwindled down to a few words (just enough to show that you've at least read their website/blog and are familiar with what they handle).

One area that still gives me pause is when I see agents ask for specific criteria that seems pointless (I saw one that even wanted to know education levels, but most ask for qualifications for writing the specific work, etc). My concern is that they may look at leaving out such information as not following their specifications. In most cases, the only specifications I really worry about is what they want (query letter only, query letter and synopsis, and length of the writing sample).

To jamesaritchie: I'd certainly agree with the idea of going for quality over quantity concept. Even on my end, I would much rather send out forty well-aimed queries than 400 random ones that used little more than a genre search on AgentQuery.