You have written a manuscript! Wahooo! You have edited the crap out of it, literally! Double Wahooo! Now you think you are ready to start querying. So you find every agent under the sun and send them a uniform query letter with every one of them CC’ed. NOOOOOO! Wrong! Stop!
I made a few rookie mistakes (never CC’ed all the agents though) and I am no expert considering I am still looking for my perfect agent. But here are a few things I have learned along the way that may help the novices out there.
1. Research For A Very Long Time: Unfortunately this is not a “look them up on their agencies website and then send them a query letter” kind of thing. Finding an agent is a lot like finding a boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/wife. It has to be a perfect fit. You are entering into a partnership with someone you will be working with for, ideally, a very long time. Don’t rush it. Start with a site like www.querytracker.org and find some people who rep your genre. Then use the agency website. Then use their website. Then stalk them on Twitter (politely of course). I have learned so much about agents from their Twitter feeds. They give tons of information away about what they are looking for and even things about them personally that you may connect with. They may even interact with you and you can see how they interact with others. What is their professional style? Do they have cats? Ugh, I hate cats! *Crosses agent off list*. Many will also post where they are as far as their slush piles and will give you hints on queries with #tenqueries. Soak it all up. THIS TAKES TIME! Don’t rush it!
2. Create an “Ideal Agent List”: After researching, I found a handful who I think I would marry if I could. These are people who I totally mesh with, have similar styles personally, and they rep my genre! These are the agents who you would be friends with if you met them on the street. Consider this list your perfect storm! The cosmos aligning! Query these amazing people!
3. Personalize Your Query: Agents receive hundreds to thousands of queries a year, some even in a month. If you CC them on a generic e-mail that starts with “Dear Agent” and pitches your book like a penis enlargement spam e-mail, you have wasted your time and theirs. There is no way you are getting noticed. Take that “Ideal Agent List” and personalize your query. Tell them in two sentences max why you think the two of you are soul mates of the writing world. This shows them all the hard work you have done and can help them connect to you. It hooks them and shows them you care BECAUSE YOU DO AND YOU SHOULD!
!!!!!Caution!!!! I will warn you that when you get rejected from these agents, it does hurt, a lot more than if you queried just anyone. BUT IT IS WORTH IT! You value your art and your agent should too. Like I said before, you are entering an artistic partnership and you want someone who cares as much about your work as you do.
4. Send the Queries in Batches: I typically query no more than ten agents at a time now. First, it takes time to do all that research, tweak query letters, reexamine my manuscript and then send it out. These are the ideal agents not just any agent. I don’t want everyone under the sun to have my manuscript because it deserves better than that. Make sure the people who are looking at it are who you really want repping you. It is your name on the line too. It is also a lot easier to keep track of who is who if you query fewer at a time. That way if someone actually requests material (YESSSSSS!!!), you know exactly who they are and what they want.
5. Hope, Pray and Do Other Things: If your stuff is good, it is only a matter of time. Your agent is looking for you and your manuscript just like you are looking for them. Be patient. If you are like me though, (ADHD) patience isn’t exactly easy to come by. So what do I do in the meantime? I enter contests and lots of them. There are pitch contests, query contests and even critique contests. I got my entire query letter tweaked by an editor because I Tweeted the name of my favorite character to her and she chose me! Her feedback was phenomenal. Thanks Mandy Schoen (www.mandyschoenedits.com). Or, you could do something crazy, like start a new manuscript. This is a process. It will take a while. UGH!
6. Get Rejected and Smile: You will get rejected by some really great people, especially if you are querying the right way. It’s okay. That agent was not the right one for you. If you are going to be a writer, you need to learn perseverance. Start the process all over again.
One last note. When I query agents, I consider it a compliment. Not because I think that highly of myself or my work, but because I have confidence in my work and abilities. I want someone who believes in me the way I believe in them. I want someone who is going to work just as hard for me as I will for them. I hand selected agents who I admire and respect to submit to. I worked hard and value their opinions. That is why I consider it a compliment. Find your perfect writing partner. Respect yourself and your work enough to do the same.