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. (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/) 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.)
I write action / adventure books for middle grade readers, and I'm represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties. I have two books released-- SKY JUMPERS and THE FORBIDDEN FLATS (both action / adventure, for ages 8 and up, with Random House Children's Books). I love happy kids even more than I love cookies, I make lists as often as I eat lunch, and I love having every light in the house on almost as much as I love writing.