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How to Gather a List of Agents to Query -- by Lynn Petroski

I've known all along that I wanted an agent. I know I have to expect to be passed on often enough to need a list of agents to query. And I've heard the old axiom, "Read in your genre, and find the agents of the books you like." I did. That gave me the names of three agents and two are dead.

But I never asked how to find that list until I needed one.

The quick answer is to join QueryTracker. (QT) and use their app. Learn how by scrolling down and watching the videos. They're short and easy.

That gave me a list of 239 agents that accept MG. (Middle Grade -- eight to twelve year old readers.) But this is a two-way street. Simply because they'll accept my query doesn't mean they're right for me. Part of this includes studying who the agent is, finding out what he/she wants specifically, and if that person suits me.

It's more work than I imagined, but I've been learning so much about the business side of publishing that I find myself looking forward to getting back to it.

But what is QueryTracker? This is how I'm using it.

1. I click on the agent's name. This leads me to a page with their name, address, nationality, and as many links as QT can find, including the agency website, everything Google, Yahoo and Bing has on their pages, AgentQuery, Publisher's Marketplace, Google Books, Assoc. of Authors' Representatives, Preditors & Editors, Literary Rambles, and Agent Interviews. It also has a spot for Query Guidelines and interviews from clients. Not every agent has all this, but it's worth investigating as far as you want when you find someone that piques your interest.

2. I start with Literary Rambles, if that's available. It's a blog by two women specifically for children's books writers. If there is a similar type of blog for your market, it will be included on that list. It does all the work for me sometimes. It includes any interview quotes related to what the agent is looking for and not looking for, a brief introduction to the agency, advice to writers, dislikes, if they are editors, if they market, how many sales in the last year, (although "last year" is relative, since the posts age), query methods and tips, response time, and more. All the info you can use -- except for one thing. Web presence.

3. So, I check out the agent's web presence, if he/she has one. (Sometimes there is none.) In my mind, a blog is better than a site, if the agents have their own. Sometimes the blog is simply what's happening with their clients' latest project. Better yet, give me a blog where the agent tells what she's thinking. Is that personality someone I can develop a good partnership with? (Added bonus: the ones willing to share their opinions give great insider information. I've spent hours on those kinds of blogs.) More often than not, agents don't have blogs, so I then go to the website. The landing page usually doesn't give much but branding, so I check out the authors' page. This tells me what kinds of books they represent. Sometimes they say they represent MG, but their authors' page only includes YA, storybooks, and/or picture books. That tells me they aren't opposed to MG, but they haven't embraced it either. (Either that, or they've just started.) Next, I look at the agent page to find out what agents have for their blurbs. I also check out their submission guidelines because sometimes that tells me things like if they like the title and genre at the beginning or the end of the query and if they do or don't want comparisons.

4. If, by this time, I know I like this agency, I next check Preditor and Editors. (P & E) QT seems to prefer legitimate agencies, but no harm in checking it out anyway. If P & E has nothing, take that as a good sign. If they have "$", take that as a better sign. If they have "Recommended," take that as the perfect sign! "AAA Recommend" is "Dream Agent Worthy." But the next step is to check out the full scoop on a particular agent from that agency.

5. AbsoluteWrite's Index List. What are other writer's saying? But, be cautious too. Notice how old the post is. Many started a decade ago. Businesses often start out shaky but then adapt a system until it works. And watch out for the occasional disgruntled responder. Absolute Write works at removing those, but that doesn't mean they find them all. If it stays, it is worth staying because it's things writers need to know. What do most say? I've seen some bizarre behavior in top agents. It's up to each of us to decide if we can accept that behavior.

6. This is optional, depending on your genre and storyline. I don't use it because my story is unique enough that I don't have to check if the agent already has a similar novel. They don't. But if you have a new spin on a tried-and-true storyline, you'll want to do this too. Check out Publisher's Marketplace for that agent. (It does cost a monthly fee to join, but it's still worth it.) If he/she has accepted a high fantasy set in a medieval kingdom in the last couple of years, and yours is the same concept, (even assuming it's not the same storyline), the agent won't want to represent it to compete. That's something like asking the agent to date twins. Identical or not, it's won't happen, so don't waste your time.

By now, you will know if you want to query that agent. That page includes that feature on the right. I also have a table in Word that has the agents I want to query, and have a column to remind me what I found out about them. When I started, I had one Dream Agent. I'm three-fifths the way through the list and I have 11 Dream Agents. I set them apart from the rest of the list by color-coding.

This seems tedious, but it's quite enjoyable. Have fun.

Posted by Lynn Petroski 21 Mar 2016 at 03:03
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