I've started my research with Agent Query, and have quickly realized there are some things an agent can list on their short bios that immediately make me scratch them off the list.
- "Does not accept email queries"--This is like agents in the 1960s saying they'll only accept telegrams. The only reason I see to do this is to turn querying writers away, and if you're doing that, then I doubt you'll have much time for me anyway.
- "Special interest in multi-cultural stories"---Ack! Look, I have nothing against characters of color, but a great story is a great story. If you're going to turn down the next Harry Potter because the kids are all white, then I have to question your judgment. Also, this kind of statement says a lot about an agent. To me, it says they're more interested in being an agent for social change than they are an agent who wants to sell a lot of books. But you can't really do the former without first doing the latter.
- The agent who represents every genre under the sun---I think I read a lot. And I haven't come close to reading enough in a whole lot of genres to think I could ably guide someone in one of those genres. I want a little more specialization in my agent.
- "Does not accept unsolicited submissions"--In other words, "I got more than enough on my plate already." In that case, I would assume you're somewhat successful and can afford an intern.
- Overly picky agents--Yeah, I'm contradicting myself slightly, but while agents shouldn't represent EVERYTHING, they also shouldn't be so narrow-minded that they shut out what might be a great opportunity. One agent said, "No stories about talking animals." I don't blame her in a way, because a lot of people just starting out writing kids' books probably write what they think are cute stories about animals learning a lesson. On the other hand, this agent would have missed out on The Tale of Despereaux and Charlotte's Web.
- And lastly, dear agents, it really isn't necessary to say you're attracted to "beautiful writing and compelling characters." You don't need to say you want stories that "keep you up all night turning pages." Most writers do not need to be told that agents want "memorable characters" and "a strong voice." We're reading your bios to find out whether you'd be a good match, so tell us something helpful, not something obvious. And in the tradition of social networking agents everywhere let me just say that this last one isn't an automatic no.