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).

The Slow Pitch

I did #PitMad a few weeks ago. If you don't know what that is, that's ok. I didn't either until very recently. Basically, #PitMad is your day to pitch a completed book to a captive audience of fellow authors, agents, and publishers who are actively looking for new work to share and publish. Pretty cool, huh?

Twitter pitching contests are becoming more and more popular. I opted not to participate in #SFF (science fiction / fantasy) on June 18th, but I did do #PitMad on June 4th. My cousin, Ashey Warren, participated in the event earlier in the year and she reflected on it as well on her blog.

The concept is simple (and wonderfully outlined on Brenda Drake's website here). You get to tweet up to a couple of times an hour for 12 hours. The contest starts at 8am EDT, which is super early on the west coast, so plan accordingly. I took the day off, although you can totally use something like Tweet Deck to schedule your tweets. I didn't do it this way, more on that in a bit.

You need to construct at least 12 (if not more) tweets that contain 140 character minus whatever hashtags you use to identify your work. So, for my novel, I had #PitMad, #A (for adult), and #SFF (for science fiction/fantasy). That left me roughly 125 characters to play with. Otherwise, your tweets can really be about anything that will hook someone's interest on your novel.

Agents / publishers who are interested favorite your tweets and invite you to query them. This is the good part.

Let's start by saying that I have minimal experience querying on a novel. I do however have several years of experience querying for short fiction. Doing a query is a necessary evil that is a slow, slow process. With a novel, that process can easily stretch for months for each person you query, and even then there is no guarantee that you will hear anything back at all, let alone useful (or positive) feedback.

With something like #PitMad, you DO have a captive audience. You DO have people who are reading the pitches on your book, and if they indicate interest, there's a reasonable chance they are already interested in what you have to say. Does that mean they will snap up your book? Not at all. Does that mean you have a reasonably good chance (if someone favorites a tweet) that you will get an agent to actually read your work? Absolutely.

Now, on to the part about why I took the day off of work and actually sat around manually sending tweets. I was fortunate enough to have some interest in my book. Assuming an agent favorites hundreds of tweets (and yes, many do), I didn't want to be at the bottom of that stack. I wanted to be ready. So, going into the day, not only did I have all of my tweets ready to go, I ALSO had a query letter ready, a couple of different length synopses, and several different cuts of my book (different agents want different sample lengths). This meant that when I did manage to land a favorite, I was able to put together a query in less than an hour of the time the tweet was favorited.

I have no idea if that made a difference. I really don't. But, it makes me feel professional, and I think it IS professional, so it's totally worth it if you can take the time. Plus, I was able to craft slightly different tweets based on what I saw on the hastag, and I think that improved my outlook some. I was also able to retweet or other authors that had pitches that sounded interesting to me.

Which, brings us to the last nice thing about #PitMad. Even though you can only tweet twice an hour, retweets help get the word out. You certainly don't want to ask your follows to spam the hashtag, but having some extra retweets of your tweets during the day will only get you more attention.

A big thank you goes out to everyone who helped me on the 4th with some retweets. I really do appreciate it.

I'm planning on doing #PitMad again in the future, and in fact will likely continue doing it until I have sold a book. I think it's a brilliant way of approaching the publication of a book, and major thanks to Brenda Drake for organizing it.