Originally this post was written much differently. It was more of an outline on the dos and don’ts to think about when researching an agent or publisher. I was all ready to publish this post, but after a few days at the RT Convention last week I knew it needed to change. Why? Because I had the opportunity to talk to dozens of writers about the querying experience and learned there are many ups and downs to the process everyone should consider. These include setting up meetings for “the call” that never happens. Or agents who sign you and then never return phone calls or emails. Even worse, relationships that fall apart after the first book doesn’t sell. Yes, these things all happened to writers I met and talked to, and it made me realize how critical it is to develop a thoughtful querying strategy. So below is a revised version of this post. I hope it will strike a chord with every writer who is either getting ready to query or just starting to wade into the trenches.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of querying. You’ve got this precious baby of a manuscript that you’re ready to let loose on the world, and it’s easy to get caught up in that fervor. You enter a contest and suddenly you’re getting requests. It’s tempting to want to send your manuscript to everyone. But with any major project, I’d suggest taking a step back and thinking the process through. As many people advise, approach this as if you were looking for a long-term partner, which is what your agent is going to be if you connect with the right one.
Now let’s be honest, only YOU know who is the right fit for your project. An agent may say they want Middle Grade Fantasy, but do they have any clients who they’ve successfully sold a manuscript for in this category and genre? This is easily determined by checking the agent’s sales via Publishers Marketplace. What if you’re interested in writing in different categories and genres? Maybe you’re querying a Young Adult Thriller, but are 10k into writing a New Adult Contemporary. Will the agent want to represent that manuscript as well? Think about your writing future. Who can you see wanting to support you even if you don’t sell that first manuscript? Or if you decide you want to be a hybrid author, being both traditionally and self-published? I’ve heard many people refer to the agent-writer relationship as a marriage and in many ways that is true. It is a life-long collaboration you want to be successful through good times and bad.
So where do you start determining what agent would be perfect for your project? As I’ve said before, check out AgentQuery and QueryTracker. Both sites will allow you to drill down by category and genre. There are also writing communities like AgentQuery Connect, Absolute Write and Preditors & Editors that have threads discussing writers’ experiences with agents and publishers.
Once you find agents interested in your type of manuscript, check out their website. Many times agents within one group work collaboratively, so make sure you read bios and credentials. A lot of major agencies have people who have been in the business for years. This is a good sign they have already established relationships with many editors in publishing.
Next, I recommend using social media to help form your opinion. If the agent is on Twitter, check out their feed. What are they saying about publishing, their clients and books? You might also what to investigate who your friends are represented by. If they write in the same category and genre as you, check out their comments on the process and experience within publishing.
All of this also applies to submitting to a small press. I know it can be easy to get excited when a publisher requests your manuscript, but pull back on that thrill for a minute and make sure they would be a good fit for you. How long have they been in business? If they took your manuscript what would the terms be? Would they help with marketing and promotion? Be interested in your next story? All important things to consider before you polish up that manuscript.
Before hitting “send” think about how long you’ve spent planning, plotting, and writing your manuscript. Hours upon hours have been put into creating the best story possible. Use that same plotting and planning to research agents and publishers. Determine what your long-term goals are and who will help you achieve them. In the end, you owe it to yourself, and your work, to do the research and connect with the best agent for you.
What type of strategy do you develop before querying? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.