Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Agent Hunt!

Maven Darcy BurkeWhere to begin? Can you download a list of agents, how to query each one (they all want different things, which blew Mr. Burke away), as well as a complete dossier about them? Um, sadly, no. Absent the easy ticket, I sat down before RWA National this summer and started working on a spreadsheet to track my queries. I set it up with agency name, agent name (sometimes the agent and agency are the same thing, but often they are not and it's imperative to track which agent you are querying at a large agency), address (email and snail), type of query (email or snail, letter only, letter + synopsis, letter + first 10 pages, letter + first chapter, etc.), and the date I sent the query. I also created columns for whether I got a request, when I responded, and whether I followed up. Oh, and a column for any notes (for example, I noted "RWA Natl" for the agents I pitched in Dallas).

Armed with a nifty location for my data, I stared at the blank screen and thought, now what? After a couple of years of writing and hanging around other writers, I had some ideas about agents I was interested in querying and so I started with them. Then I went to where you can search agents by genre and find out almost everything you need to know to fill in your little spreadsheet. So, was I ready to send yet? No.

If the agent/agency had a website, I visited their website. If the agent/agency had a blog, I visited their blog. I did as much research as possible to determine which agents I wanted to query and how best to query them. I admit to being a little stymied when I got to large agencies. Who to choose? I'd been told by numerous people that, whenever possible, you should pick a particular agent and target them for your query. Makes sense, but how to choose? They all seem so nice in their 200-word bio!

Then I realized that this process really is a courtship. (See Maven Lacey's awesome post on how finding an agent is like dating.) We make the first move when we send the query. If they like what they see, they ask to see more. If we like what we see (how excited were they when they asked for more?), we send more. And so on. At any time along the courtship, one or both of us might decide the other is not "the one." I've never shied away from making the first move (ask Mr. Burke), so I did my best to choose agents that were appealing for whatever reason (books they liked, websites they liked, any neat-o personal information I clicked with, etc.).

Finally, I asked my RWA chapter loop if they had any suggestions for people looking for sexy historicals. Our chapter president came back to me with a fantastic list (she rocks!), which I inserted into my spreadsheet (some were agents I'd found, but some were not - double yay!). Now, I had a list of forty some agents. Wow! That's a lot of query letter writing!

You may ask, "Aren't you sending the same query letter to each?" Basically, yes, but I tweak each one for each agent. While I'm not looking for a new BFF, I would like to connect with an agent on some level and I'm probably not going to do that with a form letter. So, even if I had very little distinctive information on a particular agent, I changed something about the letter to make it unique.

How'd I do? The jury's still out, but I only sent my first round of letters about three weeks ago. I'll be sending another round this week. I'm doing them in batches because let me tell you, querying is time consuming! Lots of printing, stamping, addressing, individualizing (the letter). But so worth it. And I say that without having gotten a request (yet!) from a query. Even without a request, there is something about putting your work out into the big bad world. It's that next step on the road to publication and that, by itself, is a success.

Are you querying? If not, are you getting ready? How did you prepare? Dish your secrets!


Erica Ridley said...

Great post, D! Way to be organized and do research. (And you know I love me a nice spreadsheet. *g)

Best of luck with your queries!!!

Carrie said...

Awesome post! You and I took very similar approaches! I also kept a saved copy of each query letter I sent (even the emailed ones) so that I knew exactly what I'd said to each individual agent. That way, if they asked for more, I could always paste/enclose the exact query I'd sent them. I also added a column in my tracking chart to list their average response time (if they noted it somewhere) and at what time I should check in.

For me, all my queries were pretty much the same except for the opening paragraph where I would personalize ("I saw on agent query you're looking for X," or "After reading Y book your represent, I thought you might be interested in Y book I wrote," etc.) I also put in the last paragraph exactly what I was enclosing and why ("per your instructions on your website or on agent query, I'm enclosing yadda yadda) so that if I was enclosing something they didn't want they knew I wasn't not following directions, but that they had "bad" directions out there.

Also, when I was trying to figure out what agents I wanted to query, I made a list of books I thought were like mine and then I researched to find out who that author's agent was (via Pub. Marketplace or their website or the acknowledgments page). I think this is a pretty good way to find agents who might be interested in your work.

I was shocked at how time consuming the process was and so I made sure I was never in a rush because that's when I'd make mistakes.

And mistakes aren't a killer -- I said "pasted below are the first 3 chapters" in a snail mail query to a guy who eventually offered representation. So clearly he didn't care that I'd messed up (or didn't notice!)

Clearly I love this topic! I'm so excited this is what the Mavens are discussing this week!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Excellent post, Darcy! I'm with Erica. I love me a good spreadsheet. But for querying I actually went with a contact management program I had lying around the house. (Which is basically a customized database program specifically to track contacts.)

I'm not querying right now, but that's only because I decided to stop and re-re-re polish all my stuff. The only thing out right now is my second book, which is sitting in a publisher's slushpile. I'll be hitting the query trail again soon, though. Sounds like your approach and mine are very similar. Best of luck. =oD

lacey kaye said...

Darcy's approach and mine are very similar, too -- mostly because I copied a lot of her work ;-)

This post rocks, by the way. Just wanted to put that in somewhere.

Carrie said: I was shocked at how time consuming the process was

Uh, yeah, me, too. I mean, I knew we'd be making up a spreadsheet and doing what amounts to some pretty superficial research -- we haven't even gotten into talking about agent reputations, really -- but I had no idea it would take so long. Add printing and stamping and addressing to it, and keeping all the bundles together right, and you're having a hair-pulling good time!

Carrie said...

I really loved the process of researching agents but that might be because I'd quit my job and had nothing else to do during my two weeks notice period :)

But I'm with Lacey -- all the printing exactly what each agent wants, making sure every pile is for the right agent, has everything in it, is stamped, and addressed, etc. A few times I even ripped open the envelope because I was scared I'd messed up and I had to reprint the mailing labels!

Bill Clark said...

Being a person who relies on the Mavens for just about every important piece of information in my life, I am scratching my head and wondering if it's still Tuesday, as the header above Darcy's post seems to suggest.

Perhaps Maven Erica is already at work adding more hours to the day?

Kendra said...

I'm in the middle of The Great Agent Hunt. I write romantic suspense and started off with a list of 40 that I gleaned from blogs, Publisher's Market place, word of mouth, conference meets, googling agents of authors who I write like and researching "deals." I started off with my top ten agents and mail out more queries as I get those dreaded rejections. I must be doing something right. I've had three requests for fulls and a half dozen partials.

A lot of work.

I like to read the submission guidelines at the agents' websites. Several times this is been different from what I've read elsewhere. My Kiss of Death yahoo group posts interviews with two agents or editors a month. The RWA website has updated listings and requirements for RWA approved agents. There are a million places to look.

A good query letter is vital. Improper ettiquete will make an agent hit the delete button no matter how great you think your writing is. There are a million places to get info on letters, too. Consider taking a class. I took a query letter class just to get feedback on my letter. She twisted a few of my phrases and created a stronger letter.

I triple read my letters and triple check the addresses. I don't seal that envelope until I'm at the post office. I've caught errors while standing in line!

Jacqueline Barbour said...

When (or perhaps more accurately IF; I have to have something long enough and finished enough, LOL!) I am ever ready to query agents, I will definitely be referring to this post to remind me how to organize myself. Because frankly, if left to my own devices, I'd make a total mess of it!

Celeste said...

I don't tend to do large batches, although I see how this would get quicker results. Mainly though, I find the research exhausting by the time I've checked out every google hit on the agents I'm looking at on a particular day. I do like to have about five to eight queries/submissions out at a time.

And even after research, I still think it's easy to start sounding like a dolt in that first paragraph though (which is where I say why I've chosen to query them). I mean, you can only mention that you are a blog-fan, or a fan of their client, so many times before it starts feeling like sucking up ;) But wth, that's the game, right? If you don't play, you can't win!

Darcy Burke said...

Carrie, maybe you and I should teach a class!

B.E., great idea! I haven't used contact management software in ages. Brilliant.

Lacey and Carrie, Mr. Burke will tell you how many times I've had to reprint labels and/or the letter itself. I had a query returned just yesterday for the wrong zip, but I haven't verified it to my sources yet.

Kendra, awesome tips. Me, you, and Carrie for the Great Agent Hunt workshop!

LOL Jacq. And Celeste, you are absolutely right!

Bill, I usually don't know what day it is!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Heh. Darcy, I'm still using ACT 2.0 for DOS. LOL Good thing it was written stable enough to run even on newer versions of Windows.

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