So, your manuscript is all polished up, complete and ready to go. Your query letter and all the other miscellaneous writing samples you may need are finished and ready to send out at a moment’s notice. Wait a minute, aren’t you forgetting something? Yeah, that’s right. Who are you going query?
I’ve spent most of the last 20 years working in analytical positions, so it was only natural for me to apply those skills to the task of organizing my list of potential agents to query. Here are the four steps I went through to build and prioritize my agent list.
Step 1 – Select your information source(s)
You may already have a short list of agents you pulled together from reading author acknowledgements that you’ve seen in some of your favorite books. That’s a great way to start. Agent directories are also a great source of information. Although I also used Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, I found Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents to be the most helpful one for me. While I prefer the depth of information in Herman’s guide, I feel that I needed to use all three because none of the three guides includes all of the agents.
Step 2 – Build a genre-appropriate agent list
Go through the agent listings in the source(s) you chose in step 1. Identify agencies that handle the specific genre of your book. If you write fiction you don’t want to be querying an agent/agency that handles only non-fiction, and vice versa. Likewise, an agency that exclusively handles romance isn’t likely to consider your sci-fi query.
For agencies that handled my genre, I wrote down the following:
1. The name of the agency
2. The name of each agent at that agency who represents books in my genre
3. The URL for the agency website
4. Whether they take online submissions vs. snail mail
5. The source book you took the information from – these are all annual publications, and the age of the info matters
Next, I entered all of this information into a spreadsheet. I recommend separate columns for first and last name so they can be sorted independently. I also left the first column blank so I could enter ratings for each agent later. I set up three tabs in the sheet – one to sort by agency (so I can compare multiple agents from the same agency), one to sort by agent names and one to sort by rating.
Step 3 – Start assigning ratings.
Go back to your source books and start reading from the detailed information concerning each agent/agency. I ended up putting a lot of value on how the agents described the kinds of books they represent, and how they view authors. For each one, I tried to envision whether I would enjoy working with them, and whether I thought my book would fit in with the other books they represent. I also considered the number of books they sold to publishers and what I knew about the success of those books. Based mainly on those criteria, I assigned each agent a rating of 1 (lowest) to 10 and entered the ratings in my spreadsheet.
Step 4 – Revisions and incorporating other information sources
After I made my original list, I started visiting websites of some of the agents at the top of my rankings. I also began following several agents on Twitter, which led to visiting agent blogs as well. Several blogs and other websites have agent interviews that can provide great insights. Be prepared to revise your ratings based on what you learn about specific agents from these additional sources of information. I’ve upgraded ratings for some agents based on things I learned online about their work habits and dedication. You’ll probably also come across brand new agents who need to be added to your list.
I went into this process with three agencies at the top of my list because they represented bestselling series in my genre. An agency that I’d never heard of before passed them all by the time I was done – they started as a 7 and then moved up as I found more information about them. I have a list of about 130 potential agents to query, and it’s surprising deep with talent.
As I start querying my agent list, I’m planning to check each agent’s website for submission requirements and instructions as well as checking Preditors and Editors for any red flags before submitting.
The goal of your query process shouldn’t be just to get an agent, it should be to get the agent that is best fit for you – and for your book. I hope this article helps you on the way to finding your best fit.