Thursday, March 19, 2015

Querying Advice: Researching Agents

You've got a finished manuscript. It's edited and polished to the best of your ability and read by a handful of critique partners and beta readers. You've gone through the same process with a query letter, giving it numerous revisions until it's enticing. You're ready to query.

Do you just fling those query letters out there to the universe?


You do a little research first. You go onto Query Tracker or Agent Query to develop lists of agents who represent your genre and your age category. You watch agents on twitter to see which ones are informative, smart, and fun. 

So is that enough?


Now you must take your butt to the website of each and every agent on your list before you send them a query letter. Why, you ask. You got the list from a reputable source. But information can change quickly. It might not have caught up with Query Tracker or Agent Query. What these agencies have can be outdated.

Checking the agent's website lets you make sure that agent is still open to queries. Agents will often close over the summer or over holidays. It also helps you double check that agent is taking your genre. Maybe on Query Tracker it says open to fantasy. But on their website, you find they are not interested in epic fantasy. Ah ha! You've saved yourself a wasted query. Kept yourself from an automatic no.

And you can double check their email address and their query guidelines. Do they want 10 sample pages or 5? Need a synopsis? Their website can tell you for sure. 

Also by checking on an agent's website, you can determine more about them. Have they worked in publishing for a while? Have they worked at other agencies? Do they seem to be legit and have sales to show for it?

Now you can query.

Then low and behold, what should appear in your inbox, but a request for pages. Or better yet, a request to talk!

When you come back down from the ceiling, what's the first thing you need to do--more research!

Now you want to know everything about that agent. You can't take for granted any agent is the best fit for you without research. So besides asking expert friends on twitter, where can you go for information?

Again you should revisit their website and get an idea of clients, sales, and that agent's past jobs and length of tenure. Then you can turn to Google and put in the agent's name and absolute write water cooler. That's the place to go to find out what other writers have to say about an agent or an agency. They really dish on any doubts or worries about an agent there. 

You can also head over to Victoria Strauss and her Writer Beware website. There is tons of great information on it. She has lists of places to avoid and agent warning signs.

And absolutely, positively you want to check into that agent's sales record. Their website may have some information, but is it recent? 

For that, you need to get into Publisher's Marketplace. Unfortunately, to see sales by agent, you'll need a costly subscription. (I recommend you phone a friend, if you don't want to shell out for a membership. See if you can locate someone on twitter with a membership who will do the research for you. The writer community is awesome. I'm sure someone can help.)

And if you do get an offer, you'll want to speak to clients of that agent. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for honest opinions on how that agent conducts business. Also speak with experienced writers who know about agents. BECAUSE writing is a business. There are contracts involved, and it is your future. You need to get serious and do your homework. Treat it like a job, because it is one. It's great to discover an agent is nice to talk to on the phone and loves your manuscript, but you need to know more.

Did I miss anything? What are your favorite research sites? How do you find out more about agents?


  1. If a children's writer belongs to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), then check out their list of agents. And remember that a bad agent is worse than no agent. Several writing friends have parted ways with an agent after a very frustrating year or more of wasted time.

  2. After having to leave an agent recently since it wasn't a good fit from a business working style, I am being much more particular this time and making sure the working style of the agent matches my needs. For the top agents on my list, I am using my network to query the prospective agent's clients with a short list of questions before I even query the agent. I don't feel like having to go through an ill-matched experience again.
    My advice to anyone looking is "know yourself". Here are some questions to think about.
    What type of response times do you need on questions/manuscripts before you get anxious?
    Do you want an editorial agent?
    Do you want full transparency on the submission process or do you want to focus more on your writing and let the agent just update you when relevant feedback comes in?
    Good Luck!

  3. I like to copy and paste stuff from their websites and interviews they've done into a word document, then go through and highlight the most important stuff (submission guidelines, things they've said that make me think my book is for them). Then I've got everything in one place.
    Last thing to check before hitting send is whether they are still open to queries at the moment.

  4. Thank you Michelle for doing posts like this. I had never heard of Writer Beware and Absolute Write. I'm always learning new things here, and I love it!

    1. So I went to Writer Beware. Then I clicked on a link to a blog post by Jessica Faust. There's a ton of good stuff there. Then I clicked on a link from that blog to Predators and Editors, and there's a lot of good stuff there, too. The amount of information available to writers is staggering.

    2. Yes, Pedators and Editors is one of the sites I've used in the past. It's a great site!

    3. And let's not forget good ol'

  5. We're often so focused on hooking an agent that we often neglect to hook the "right" agent. Each stepping stone in the path to publication is to be celebrated, but each stone also needs to have the correct fit. Thx for all the info above, Michelle!

  6. I like the agent interviews on the Writer's Digest website.