Thursday, December 8, 2011

How did you pick which agents to send your ms to?

There are a lot of ways to research agents. In fact, you should click here to go to the excellent post Literary Rambles has on researching agents. Then check out part 2 and part 3. Casey McCormick shares a lot of really great information here, and she's really thorough. (Plus, Literary Rambles is incredibly helpful in researching agents. If you're researching, they'll likely become your bffs.)

Here’s the thing. It’s HUGELY IMPORTANT to research well. Don’t just plan on spending an afternoon coming up with a list. It takes more time than you’d think to do it right. I’m not sure I had the best system, so take this for what it’s worth– just something that worked for one person.

The thought of trying to come up with a list of agents that were really good felt completely daunting to me. Then a friend clued me into an easy way: Publisher’s Marketplace. ( I signed up. It’s $20 a month, which is pretty steep, but it seems like the first 5 days were free, and you could cancel before the five days were up. I don’t know if that’s an all the time thing, or if it was a special I just happened to get in on. I guess you can try it and see. (It's important to note, though, that after a couple of months I canceled my membership. When I signed up again around the time my deal was going to be listed, I did NOT get the five days free again. It must be a one time thing. So don't do it until you are ready. :))

In PM, you can select Deal Makers on the left-hand side, change the type to Agents, then select your genre, and it will show the top 100 deal makers for your category. Incredible, right? I thought so! I know that PM doesn’t list all deals made, but it shows most and seemed like a way to get a really great list. I copied the list and pasted it into a new document. Then I used Google to search for them. Most showed their agency’s site, and most had interviews somewhere. Literary Rambles had almost every agent I looked up, and their information is INVALUABLE. Those girls rock. If you don’t want to go the Publisher’s Marketplace route, you might be able to find everything you need there. (And remember those links from above. They tell you how to go the non-PM route.)

So, I read all I could about each agent, copying and pasting any info relevant to them that might help me personalize a query into the file with all their names. Then I gave them a ranking between 1 and 10, based on how well I thought their personalities matched up with mine, and on how much they seemed to like books like mine. Then I moved only their names and rankings into a new file, so I could see all of them at once. And just so you know, this step takes FOREVER. But it's also hugely important. Just because an agent is right there at the top of the dealmakers list doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be a good agent for YOU. There are a LOT of agents. The one who will represent you best might not even be on this list at all.

I've read a lot of great advice on how to choose who to send your query to first. Query a couple from your top tier, a couple from the middle, and a couple from the bottom. That way, you can see what kind of response you get from your query, and you can tell if it’s not doing the job. Test the waters. Adjust as necessary. Excellent advice!

But it’s also not what I did.

[Caution: take this with a grain of salt!] To start, I chose three agents that were great agents that represented my genre, but didn’t feel like a great fit for me, and queried them first. Why? Because it’s hard to figure out how to word the top personalization part! And it’s hard to click “send” on those first few! Those were my practice ones. Then, I went for the ones at the top of my list of researched agents. I figured, why not start with the ones that might be best for me? I did it, though, because I knew that my query was the absolute best I could make it. If querying from the top, middle, and bottom let me know that my query needed adjusting, there really was no where for it to go. If my query wasn’t good enough, then I wasn’t ready. So if it was the best I could make it, and I was SURE of that, there was no reason not to start at the top and move my way down. (This could be a dangerous method to use. Keep that in mind.)

So then, you just go to your handy list where you've copied all the pertinent info you've found (like stuff that says they are looking for books just like yours), and you can use it to personalize the query.  You know-- things like, "I read in an interview that you are looking for ____, so I think you may be interested in my _____."

So, there you go. ONE person's way they researched. I know there are a lot of other ways, and a lot of people swear by Query Tracker. If you have a great way you researched, please let us know in the comments! That way, anyone trying to figure it out can have more suggestions. 

(And have I mentioned lately that you guys rock my world? Because you totally do.)


Iain said...

Wow! You've just opened my eyes to a whole new world. Thank you!

Jaime Morrow said...

This is really helpful! Thanks =)

JeffO said...

Great stuff, Peggy.

It seems this agent thing is even harder than writing the book. Instead of just writing the best story you can, now you've got all these strategies for who and when to query. If you pick from the 'bottom' (yes, recognizing that the 'bottom' should still be a pretty darn good agent) you run the risk of getting an offer of rep without ever querying your #1 person. If you start at the very top, you might still have an imperfect query. Lots to agonize over.

If I may ask (and you may have answered this another time, but I'm too lazy to look right now): how many queries went out before you finally landed your agent?

Also, the first link for Literary Rambles (part I) is not working. It kicks up a 'page not found' error.


Tasha Seegmiller said...

This post is totally going in my Evernote for when I'm ready. LOVED it.

Angela Cothran said...

I LOVE Literary Rambles! I read the bio's of every agent on that site and picked the ones I thought worked best for me. Oh, and prayer...lots of prayer :)

Abby Fowers said...

Holy cow, Peggy - can I bookmark this? I love this post! Great information here. I think I will try along these lines once I'm ready. Thanks so much.
*To the bookmark tab I go!*

Bonnie R. Paulson said...

Hey Peggy, Great post.

I also like Query Tracker for the contact stats like do they respond? what are they requesting from the slush, that sort of thing. If you sign up (Free) then it makes a note on the people you have on your query list if there are new comments. I've never commented on any, but I've found many comments very informative.

Thanks for the post!

Ruth Josse said...

Wow, so much to think about! And scary. So scary. Thanks for sharing your process!

Cynthia said...

I did top of list and middle. Then tweaked from there. Not ready to send out again, I'm going over agent list again first.

Cassie Mae said...

Aw, you rock my world too Peggy!

And thanks for the advice! This week's posts have been great for me :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

Peggy-You are always SOO helpful. Thanks!

Jessie Humphries said...

You are like the methodical query ruler of the universe...mwahahaha! I have seriously learned so much from you. Do you need any estate planning done? because thats all I really have to offer you in return!

cherie said...

I may have to bookmark this for when I start querying. Thanks for the awesome post!

Btw, I have a blog award for you. ;)

Jay Noel said...

Fantastic stuff for sure!

I am doing it backwards (ok, that didn't sound good).

I was offered a contract from a publisher, and now I'm hunting for an agent. Your information is going to be more than handy!

Thanks so much.

Angie Paxton said...

Such a helpful post! Wish I would have had it before I started querying, but I'll definitely use this advice when I query my next project.

prerna pickett said...

I don't know if I'm organized enough to pull of your method! But it was very insightful, and I'll definitely reference it when I start querying.

Krista M said...

That's very helpful! Thanks for the info! :)

Lan said...

I keep wishing I lived in the States because you guys have so many agents. There are only a handful in Australia and even fewer who have open lists. With us, it's query to the only ones that are open and that's it. We have a similar site to Publisher's Marketplace as well. I might join that and see how I go. Thanks for the great advice!

Cristina said...

this is great, and I love that you've been sharing your process. I'm not anywhere near being ready to query, but I'm bookmarking your recent posts because they are full of good stuff. You're awesome!

Athena Franco said...

Such an informative and helpful post! I've bookmarked this one, as I'll definitely use it when the time comes to start querying.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Iain-- I hope it's a pretty world full of sunshine and lollipops. :)

Jaime-- Oh, good! Thank you.

JeffO-- I know. There's a lot of things other than writing a really great book that you have to do as a writer! I find it's easier to slowly accept one at a time, lest you run away screaming when faced with all of them at once. Kind of like putting a frog in a pot of hot water versus slowly turning up the heat. Oh, wait. That would imply that we are trying to boil ourselves alive... Maybe that's not the best metaphor. ;)

About the number of queries I sent out, I haven't answered it before on purpose. My numbers have neither the ability to encourage nor inspire, and to someone in the trenches, they have the ability to discourage. If you're the type that doesn't sleep well knowing there's unanswered questions out there, email me.

And thanks for letting me know about the broken link! I feel bad I couldn't get to a computer for so long after posting it with the broken one.

Tasha-- Awesome! I feel honored!

Angela-- Yes! They're the best! And now that you've mentioned the fact that you can just go through their list, I wish I would have put that in the post in the first place! It's a great list of the top agents. In fact, I think I'm going to go add it to the post. Excellent advice. And yes, prayer. Lots and lots and lots of prayer definitely helped me.

Abby-- Awww, thanks! It makes me a special kind of giddy when someone says they're going to bookmark a post.

Bonnie-- Thanks for the comment on Query Tracker! I'm more of a spreadsheet girl myself, but I know that Query Tracker is the best way to go for most people. So I really appreciate someone filling in the gaps of the suggestions I don't give!

Ruth-- When you're ready, it won't be scary anymore. Hopefully. :D

Cynthia-- I thoroughly believe that going from the top and the middle is the best way to go. Even if I didn't, I really believe in it.

Cassie-- Awww, thanks, Cassie! I'm glad they've been helpful!

Jenny-- Thank you! You're so sweet!

Jessie-- Methodical? Am I methodical? Hm. Maybe I am. I guess that's just what works for me. And suddenly I wonder how many methodical-averse people I've just made afraid of querying... PEOPLE! YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE METHODICAL! QUERY ALL WILLY NILLY! IT'LL ALL BE OKAY.

Cherie-- Awww, Cherie! Thank you! For your kind words and for the blog award!

Jay-- Ooo! Congratulations! That is so awesome to have a contract! I am so very happy for you! Best of luck with your queries!

Angie-- Thank you! Best of luck with your future queries!

Prerna-- Then definitely don't use my method. It's just one suggestion from an (apparently) methodical person. Query the way that works for you! I think it always works best when you hear a lot of different people's methods, and then take a little from all of them to come up with the way that works perfect for YOU.

Krista-- Thanks! I'm glad you've found it helpful!

Lan-- Darn! That stinks. I don't know how it works, but can you query agents from the states? Hm. I guess that would mean they would also sell your book in the states, probably. Might be an option, though. I wish you all the best!

Cristina-- You just made my day. ;') Thanks for your kind words!

Athena-- Thank you! I'm glad you've found them helpful.

JeffO said...

"My numbers have neither the ability to encourage nor inspire, and to someone in the trenches, they have the ability to discourage. If you're the type that doesn't sleep well knowing there's unanswered questions out there, email me."

You know, when I think about this, it's probably for the best. If you spent years exhausting the agent list, it's discouraging to those who haven't gotten started yet. If you bagged an agent with your first query, it's depressing to those who are on year 3, or 4. or 5. Never mind!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, your method sounds much more thorough than mine. I'm one of those who swears by QT, but I've never tried PM. Maybe with the next one.

Thanks for sharing what you did! Very awesome. :)

Laura Pauling said...

I definitely used LIterary Rambles, read their client books, followed them on Twitter, read their blogs...etc. The whole shebang. :)

Caryn Caldwell said...

Great suggestions! I loved Literary Rambles when I was looking for an agent. Mother. Write. (Repeat.) has some great interviews to reference in that intro paragraph. And, of course, Query Tracker was absolutely invaluable. I even splurged on a membership, which helped a lot.

E.D. said...

Thank you Peggy - this is great. Finding the right agent is almost as hard as writing the novel...

Carrie Butler said...

Information on researching agents and ninjas? This is why we <3 you, Pegasus. ;)

David P. King said...

There's a few things in there that I haven't thought of trying (Literary Rambles is where I started - they are amazing). I'll have to play around with it and see what results come of it, if any. :)

Thank you for sharing this with us, Peggy. It's extremely helpful

Sarah Pearson said...

I haven't even dare think about who I might query yet (or even in which country!) I'm still bookmarking this page though :-)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Very helpful and informative post! Thanks :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

JeffO-- Thanks for understanding, Jeff.

Janet-- If you swear by QT, I say use it!

Laura-- See, now my way was only the partial shebang, not the whole shebang. The whole shebang sounded daunting, so I opted for the lesser. I'm beyond impressed by your dedication!

Caryn-- Wow! YOURS are fabulous suggestions! Thank you so much!

E.D.-- Hahaha! I know, right?! And you're welcome. :)

Carrie-- I noticed that you snuck in to that agent ninja picture. :o)

David-- Literary Rambles is amazing! Those ladies should feel pretty darn good about how many writers they've helped.

Sarah-- Best of luck when you get to that point. And best of luck choosing which country! That actually sounds pretty exciting.

Susanna-- Thanks! And you're welcome. :)

Christa said...

Is it bad to say I knew exactly who I wanted my agent to be because of Twitter??? Because it's true. *ducks*

Peggy Eddleman said...

Christa-- Bad?! I think it's AWESOME!! That's the best kind of way. It helps you to know so much better if your personalities will get along well.

Nancy Thompson said...

I can't believe I missed this post! Thanks for the info. I do use PM but I've never used that dealmaker link. Now I have a whole new resource. I can't thank you enough!!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Nancy-- Yay! I'm glad I was able to share a tip that helps you!

Larsen said...

Oooh! I'm doing it kinda like you! But I haven't heard of this site you're recommending.... Off to do more research!

So grateful for the time you took to share all this.