Querying for Your First Agent #amquerying

I realized something the other day. I've been "querying" for my first novel, Passages and Passengers, for over a year. I quoted the word, because I realized that in that period of time, I haven't treated querying like the job it is. I haven't given it the attention to detail I have with my editing and my writing. I haven't busted my ass making sure that I am sending out queries every week to play the game of large numbers.

So, over the 4th of July, I started in earnest. I decided it was time to do this, and to do it right. 

This post is aimed at anyone who, like me, is trying to get an agent for the first time. I am, obviously, no expert in this, as I don't yet have an agent. So instead of telling you "how" to do it, I'm going to share a variety of resources and tools I've been using. Hopefully it will be helpful. 

Before You Start

  1. Have a finished book. Finished meaning fully written. Edited (more than once). Ready to publish right this second. Note that your "fully finished" status will likely change periodically. I have gone across, then back, then forward across this line a few times based on feedback I've received over the last year.
  2. Have a couple of synopsis written for the book. Often I find agents looking for a "brief" (which I take to mean a few paragraphs) or a couple of page synopsis. I would suggest doing these ahead of time. Disclaimer: I am not great at writing these, so I don't have a great recommendation here other than "do this." 

Step 1

I would suggest doing a bit of research on the querying process. For me, this was listening to people I respect on podcasts (like Writing Excuses and I Should be Writing) talk about the process. This also lead to a new podcast for me, Shipping and Handling (which is hosted by two agents). 

A few selected episodes to look at are:

  1. http://www.shippingandhandlingpodcast.com/post/131173981747/episode-22-queries
  2. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2011/07/03/writing-excuses-6-5-query-letters/
  3. http://murverse.com/isbw-348-stop-kicking-your-own-ass-jen-udden-interview/
  4. http://murverse.com/isbw-276-rapid-fire-the-great-agent-query/
  5. http://murverse.com/isbw-275-rapid-fire-the-great-agent-hunt/

I'm sure there are others that are worth listening to, but these are a few that jumped out at me!

Step 2

Develop a strategy for locating agents you want to query to. For me this is a blend of three things:

  1. Make sure the agent is accepting queries AND that they are interested in the genres I am querying (Adult Fantasy and Young Adult Urban Fantasy)
  2. Do some background research on http://absolutewrite.com/ to make sure that the writing community at large doesn't have anything overly negative to say about the agent and their agency.
  3. Consider what would make you personally interested / disinterested in approaching the agent. For me, this always involves a web presence (meaning if the agent has a crappy website or no website at all, I probably won't query them) and also their background and the types of books they are personally interested in. This has been difficult for me to hit on the head but I am still trying to figure it out!

Step 3

Resources for finding agents are plentiful. Sites I have found to be particularly useful are:

  1. http://agentquery.com (totally free)
  2. https://querytracker.net (both free and premium not free)
  3. http://www.writersmarket.com (not free)

I would also look into social media "pitching" contests, as many of these give you more direct access to agents. Several I can personally recommend are:

1. #PitMad - Sponsored by Brenda Drake - http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/
2. #SFFPit - Sponsored by Dan Kobolt - http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

There are countless others. I've personally had better luck with #PitMad that #SFFPit, but both are reputable and well supported in the industry. Brenda Drake has a number of other contests throughout the year that are well worth looking at on her site well.

Final Thoughts

As you work through the agents, a few final things I try to keep in mind:

  1. Don't rush so much that you make mistakes. Every now and again I find a typo in a query letter, and I kick myself. It's embarrassing. 
  2. Keep track of the agencies that you are actively querying. MANY agencies have policies for simultaneous submission to their agents that doesn't favor you doing it. I do this via a spreadsheet in which I track which agency, the specific agent, the work, and the last date queried. I also track how I came across this agent, just in case I stumble across them again by accident.
  3. Pay close attention to ALL of the submission requirements. Many agencies do not allow attachments. Many of them ask for very specific writing sample lengths (three chapters vs. 5 pages vs. 50 pages).