Saturday, February 7, 2009

HELP!

I seek your advice, rabid devotees.

From what I can gather, most of you have some experience in the querying agents game. I have none, so I need your help. I'm good with the actual query (well, maybe not good, but I think it's at least found its way out of the Sucks Pit) and I have a firm grasp of the fundamentals. I know what things not to do. Here's what I'd like to know: How did y'all go about it?

The problem: I have agents that I want to represent me. I have no idea if my query/story/writing is going to appeal to those agents or, for that matter, any agent. Before I query those at the top of my list, I'd like to receive some feedback from those not at the top of my list. BUT, let's say one of the agents from the middle of my list requests the full, then what? Surely, I'd send the full, but now I'd be thinking, Well if agent X likes it enough to ask for a full, might not agent Y (the really cool agent who reps awesome writers and their awesome books)?

(I have no idea if any of this is making sense.)

So what I really want to know is what strategy did everyone use when you started querying agents? Please don't spare details you think are unimportant.

7 comments:

Anita said...

What I would do, if I were you:

STEP ONE: Pick your top 10 agents, chosen based on extensive research (they've worked with similar-style authors, have a proven track record, you've read interviews with them and/or their blogs). Query three of those top 10, plus another three agents who are not in your top 10 list, but who are good, respectable agents. Wait for feedback...work on your next book while you're waiting.

STEP TWO: Make changes as feedback comes in (if feedback sounds strong, reliable, specific to your book).

STEP THREE: Repeat Step One.

Don't query agents who you wouldn't want as agents just to see if you can get some good feedback...who cares about their feedback, if you wouldn't want them as agents anyway.

Ben Esch said...

Hey!

Okay, here's my agent hunting advice/stuff I messed up on early on that I learned from.

1. Think of getting an agent as like a marriage.

Okay, I've never been married so this is a little difficult, but I think the key thing that you should think about is that you want to find a person that you'll be comfortable working with in the long range. I know it's tempting to take the first agent that nibbles, but you have to ask yourself first: is this agent right for me? Divorce is always an option, but hopefully this relationship is the professional equivalent of "til death do we part."

But how do you know which agent is right for you?

2. Research.

I messed up on this when I first started out. I basically picked some agents out of a hat from agentquery.com. BIG mistake.

After the dust settled, I decided to really look into the books that I liked in my genre (YA) and tried to see who represented those books. You really want to put yourself in a position to be successful, and I think specifically hitting an agent who likes the kinds of books that you write is a huge step in that direction.



3. Really hone that query letter.

It sounds like you've been doing this a lot, so that's great. Those 300 words in your query letter are going to end up being just as important as the 70,000 in your manuscript, because if you don't nail the query letter, it's going to be really difficult to get anybody to look at the rest of the book.

4. Selective submissions.

This step is probably going to be the most difficult. Since I'm advocating doing a ton of research and really honing in on the specific agents that will be right for you, I think it's best that you don't cluster bomb them with queries all at the same time. From my experience, most agents prefer to work on a temporary exclusive basis on the manuscripts that they ask for, and personally, I was cool with them doing this.

This meant telling a few other agents that they couldn't have the manuscript until the first agent's temporary exclusivity ran up, but nobody was angry about it. Everyone said the same thing: I would appreciate a look when the first agent is done.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the agent stuff. I know it's really hard to have a lot of patience here, and personally I was going out of my mind during the agent search phase, but you just have to keep hope that everything will work out in the end.

The key thing to remember: agents and editors are always looking for the next great literary "voice" out there, and there's no reason that it can't be you.

Ben

www.benjaminesch.com

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I'm glad I asked.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I agree with Anita and Ben. I did use agentquery.com for research and found it very helpful. You can search by MG or YA fiction and it will bring up pages of agents. Then I did the dirty work by researching what books they like or had sold, the legitimacy of the agencies, etc. There are many links to the agencies and agents' pages.

One great thing to do if you find an agent that matches up with you is to GOOGLE them. If you're lucky, you'll stumble upon some interviews with said agent. This is very helpful.

Starting with 10 agents that seem right for you is a great strategy. I would send at least 5 queries to begin with. Remember, you could be waiting a while for responses so keep researching, writing, revising in the meantime. Since many agents take email queries now, the process has picked up a bit. I found the email process so advantageous and less laborious (and cheaper). Takes some time to personalize each email, but I still received many requests that way. In fact, more and more agencies are using strictly email now. It usually states preferences on the agency's website.

Research, reading online interviews, reading publishers marketplace pages, these are all key to, like Ben said, putting yourself in a position to most likely be successful. I started out green, but I've learned a lot by going through (and still going through) the process.

It does seem like a marriage and I've heard many people use that comparison.

Good luck!

Tracy

chris said...

i might be late to weigh in on this and my experience is the opposite of what everybody else says, including the great (and by great i mean funny and bearded) ben esch (and he and i have the same agent!)

but, when i queried i basically just blasted out queries to any and all agents as fast as i could, provided they represented my genre. (such as, i never sent a query for my novel to an agent who only repped non-fiction... but i guess that goes without saying.)

anyways, i figured there was no true way to know who is or isn't a good fit until they read your work, so if there was even a modicum of a chance that they might be the right fit, then i just sent the query.

and i didn't really query in small batches, because, like you said, what if you get 3 offers and you still haven't sent to that ONE agent who you think would be the best fit. then what? so i just queried everybody in large batches, like 30-40 at a time. (however, my first project was an adult book, so there were more agents to query; for YA and MG, slightly smaller batches would probably be safer as there are less agents in general who rep childrens.)

anyways, this was a rambling post without much structure or cohesiveness, or good advice for that matter...

actually, just ignore this.

i just wanted to say that i got my agent by mass querying, there really isn't a right or wrong way. the query i sent my agent wasn't even for a genre he represented anymore (that was an idiot move on may part but, thankfully, somehow it worked out!)

chris said...

oh, and here's a link to my query if you're interested:

http://millencake.livejournal.com/8146.html


(this is the same chris who posted just a few comments up from this)

Angela said...

My advice is a bit different from the others.

1. Don't send your ms out to agents with the idea of getting feedback. Use your critique group or writing buddies for this. Find someone who will read the entire ms and comment. (If you really don't have anyone consider a professional review)

2. If you have agents who have requested your work and they are agents you would like to work with and you think your mss is ready, send it their way. Becasue if you send the ms to others for feedback and receive and offer of representation it would be awkward to wait on a read at that point.

3. Don't stop sending out query letters!

GOOD LUCK!