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Lynn Petroski’s excellent post (http://www.critiquecircle.com/blog.asp?blogID=233) on developing a list of agents to query made me realize there were a few things a writer should consider before starting the process.
Although you may know your work’s genre (literary, romance, mystery, fantasy, women’s lit, science fiction), you might need to define its sub-genre. This can get a bit complicated. Sometimes sub-genre (horror, paranormal, crime, police procedural) can become a mixed bag when audience becomes a factor (e.g., is your romance YA, women’s lit, LGBT, or New Adult?).
Reviewing my own writing brought a new awareness: each writer must determine what makes his/her own work unique. After all, you wrote it and therefore the story is distinctive. Plus, that is what you intend to promote. Perhaps your novel is a blend of sub-genres that has never been done before or belongs to a newly designated conceptual category like modern fairy tales or Steampunk.
Do you write character-, plot- or theme-driven fiction? If you are not sure, go back to when you first started developing the idea. What sparked your interest? What made you decide this was the story you just had to write? Develop a blurb off the top of your head and see how you instinctively describe the major conflict.
I discovered my character-driven novels center on how individuals handle diversity, whether cultural, ethnic, religious and/or social. Knowing this will help in developing the query. Searching for agents who show openness to my style of fiction is going to be at the top of my list.
Lots of agents welcome mysteries, but what would your particular sub-genre (perhaps a romantic crime with a touch of fantasy?) mean in determining which agent is best for you? It may be time to think about who your audience is. Would the crime element put off romance readers? Could the fantasy component turn off crime aficionados?
What type of reader is going to be attracted to your story? More than half of all purchasers of Young Adult novels are adults. Does your YA novel have that appeal? Will mothers flock to pick up your Middle Grade novel? One way to think about your potential audience is to imagine what you want for your work. Are you aiming for the top five of the New York Times Bestseller List? Do you envision being interviewed on National Public Radio about your memoir? Of course, winning a Hugo or Nebula would be awesome. Maybe your story has strong cinematic qualities. The question might be relevant to whether you want an agent with a proven track record or one who is seeking to make a name in the business.
A major factor in today’s markets concerns stand-alones, sequels, series, and thematic-specific books (for example, a series of novels set in the same town or with a central cast of characters). It is not unknown for authors to change agents for any number of reasons, but if you are aiming to sell more than one novel, this may be important in deciding the type of representation you desire.
One last thought was more down to earth. Keeping track of your agent query list can take many forms and you need to find the best way for you. Are your letters going to be personalized? Where will you file them and how? Everyone wants to avoid the horror of sending a query letter with the wrong name or an incorrect reference in it.
This all seems to boil down to determining what you want and understanding what makes your writing unique. Examine your story. Seek feedback. Edit. Revise. Make it the best it can be. Dream big.
Then, search for someone who can help you make your dream come true. Oh, and don’t forget to keep writing!