Friday, April 22, 2011

Querying literary agents

In the past year I’ve blogged about character, setting, plot, how to find a critique partner and a few other subjects. Today I’d like to share my experience with another side of writing, the business side.

In 2010 I struck out after querying eleven agents. In the big picture that is a low number of queries. Writing websites and blogs state you only need one agent who loves your writing. Ah, but finding The One feels like the Crusade for The Holy Grail, a long and bloody trail of rejected e-queries littering your inbox.

This month I switched into full court press. I had completed my revised manuscript, a contemporary single title, and was rearing to go. I checked the list of RWA-approved literary agencies. There are other agencies too. In either case, I was ready to do my homework. No one else can perform the drill down research except you. I wasn’t going to appear unprofessional and do a mass email blast or submit a package to an agent who wasn’t interested in my subgenre.

I started with a lengthy agency list, a one-page query letter, brief synopsis and clean, well-edited opening pages. What to do next? This is where I scratched my head in frustration. Last year I went to each agency website and checked their submission guidelines. This time I decided to start at AgentQuery and use their website link to verify each agency in question was accepting submissions. You don’t want to get a package prepared only to discover that yesterday the agency temporarily stopped taking submissions. In my current search I found one.

I liked the clear instructions for finding agents representing my genre and steps for querying agents at http://www.agentquery.com/. Others reading this blog have their favorite websites for this task.

Some writers follow agent Twitters to learn what’s hot and what’s not for an agent. You can visit some agent’s blog sites too. I recently heard about one writer who Twittered with an agent and got a request. Now that’s using technology with great results!

Of course, I want an agent who is a member of AAR {Association of Author’s Representatives). I researched agents using QueryTracker, Preditors & Editors and AgentQuery. Preditors & Editors posts warnings in red, a nice touch.

From my earlier queries I knew one other challenging fact. Literary agents don’t want the same package. Some prefer the whole enchilada: query letter, brief synopsis and your first three chapters. Other agents accept a query letter only or a query letter and first chapter. And those are not the only variations! I spent considerable time tweaking my query letter and synopsis to fit the different packages. If someone has written a software subroutine which does this PLEASE I’d pay cash up front for the program.

Right now I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace to check the agency and agent for their recent deals. I prefer someone with a track record though new agents sometimes are a good bet. They need to build a client base and if your writing style clicks you may find a home. A few weeks ago a new agent appeared at Bookends. Word spread like wildfire among the RWA loops. The new agent already offered representation to one happy writer I know—and I’m sure more will follow.

In today’s technology-driven business world some agents still want printed queries submitted via snail mail. I have to admit reading print on a page is easier on the eyes. While I query I am finishing my next manuscript. A literary agent wants a long-term relationship, which is what I want too. I will finish book two before year end.

If an agent shows interest and requests your full manuscript the nail biting begins. Next, hopefully,comes the exciting part. You get an offer for representation from an agent. What are your questions? Personally, I like the list of questions to ask a potential agent provided by Jessica Faust at http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/. Look under Must Read Posts.

I wanted to share a few nuts and bolts of my querying system. I’d appreciate any suggestions on how to streamline the process because I’d like to spend less time online and more time writing the stories of my heart.

15 comments:

Ana Morgan said...

I'm about to embark on this process, Sheila, so I have no advice. I think your advice is great. I will also try to kleep in mind that when it is my turn to "win," nothing will stop it from happening. If I get discouraged before it is my turn, I will defeat myself.

Misty Dietz said...

Great post, Sheila. Since I'm about to begin this process as well, I don't have a lot to add other than I agree that it's a wonderful idea to follow agent blogs. Doing so can really give you a good feel for their personality and style to see if they'd be a good fit. Good luck! I hope this is your year! :)

Sheila Tenold said...

Thanks, Ana, for your encouraging words. I love your "win" attitude!

Sheila Tenold said...

Misty, I'll take your advice. I have several agent blogs listed under my favorites. I will search out more. For the next couple months I need to stay focused on agents!

Emma Leigh said...

Great advice, Sheila. I, too, will be shopping for agents in the near future.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi Emma! Thanks for stopping in. I wish you the best of luck in your agent search.

Carly Carson said...

I have a big file on Excel with agents listed and all the details about them. I add notes I pick up along the way and also who they rep to give an idea of what they like. Of course, I haven't queried yet but I hope this will be helpful. Good post.

Sheila Tenold said...

I like your note idea, Carly. I'm cool with spreadsheets but must admit I haven't invested the time adding the details you mention. I will start today.
Thanks!

Jill James said...

Sheila, great post for anyone doing the Query Dance. Great tips on things to look for and what you send.

Sheila Tenold said...

Thanks, Jill. Perhaps I spend too much time tweaking my query packages, but I you have only one first impression!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for your post, Sheila. I applaud your organized effort to find a good agent 'fit.' Rolynn

Sheila Tenold said...

I appreciate your kind words, Rolynn.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Great post, Sheila. Good luck with your quest! I'll be joining you soon.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Wow, Sheila. You really have some great leads here. I haven't used Agent Query, but I've heard agents recommend it. Good luck with your search.

Josie said...

Sheila,
Thanks for a very helpful post. I'm bookmarking your recommended websites and will begin the long query road soon.