Before seeking a literary agent it’s best to have written a riveting novel, an attention-getting query letter, and a stupendous synopsis. Oh! You’ve done all that? Then let’s go . . .
I think the most important tip is to find an agent who is a good match for you. If your neighbor recently found an agent to represent his book on 500 ways to store baseball bats, chances are his agent wouldn’t be the best choice for your book on decorating cupcakes while riding side-saddle. (Your horse, your horse!)
The best way to find an agent is through a personal referral—someone who knows you, who also knows the agent and who thinks the two of you will click. In an ideal world this agent/client pairing would be a lifelong relationship. Making a good decision at this stage of the game is almost as important as choosing a mate. Oh, come on. I said almost. Maybe the 500 bat agent wasn’t right for you, but perhaps someone in his office is a horse loving mama who wants cupcakes classified as a food group. Or maybe your sister’s tennis partner’s cousin’s mother-in-law is in a Bridge Club with your agent crush’s mom. If you don’t ask, the answer is no.
The second best way to find agents is to introduce one’s self to them at a conference or some other place where they might hang. This does not include public restrooms, their children’s birthday parties, or interrupting them if they are talking to someone else. (Manners!) It’s most important not to stalk them—even if that angel of a ticket agent reassigned your seat to be next to your dream agent on the four-hour flight you are sharing. (And yes, you do have to send the ticket agent the case of wine you promised!) Introduce yourself, smile, be pleasant, but let the agent take the lead in the conversation. It’s okay to tell her you’re a writer of science fiction, but don’t list all the funky character names you used in your novel. Not cool. Be yourself.
The way most of us go about meeting an agent is through the query process. Many agents are more particular about how they want their queries than how they want their morning coffee. For that reason, always, Always, ALWAYS check the agency website to determine how each agent wants hers formatted. On the sunny side the “guts” of your query doesn’t have to change from query to query.
Now make a list of qualities you want in an agent and prioritize. You want one who represents your genre, that’s a given. You might prefer a woman, but would sign with a man if the chemistry was right. You might want an agent who is over forty or under thirty, depending on the genre you write. It’s important to know what you want because soon you are going to have so much agent information it’ll make your head swim and it will be easy to become overwhelmed. (Been there, done that!)
There are a multitude of ways to get agents names and addresses. Most libraries would have books with agent information and, if you are lucky enough to still have a bookstore nearby, you can find books listing agents there. Just remember by the time the book is printed, it is out of date. If you use a book, be sure to check online to verify the information in the book is correct.
Some excellent online sites are Agent Query Connect, Query Tracker, and Publishers Marketplace (PM). There is a charge for PM, but it is oh, so worth it. These sites may not list all the agents in the universe, but unless your book’s subject matter is so obtuse I probably wouldn’t give it a second glance anyway, I guarantee you’ll have more than enough to keep you busy for a while.
Make a list of your favorite (pick a number) agents. Check each one on Predator’s and Editors and Writer Beware. Warning: It’s easy to get lost reading about scams, but these sites exist to keep others from making the same mistake.
Divide your top agents into three groups by answering the following questions: If you saw this agent’s name on your caller ID would you pee on yourself? (group 1); Jump up and down, maybe turn a cartwheel? (group 2); Smile so big you scare your cat? (group 3).
NOW you can start sending your queries. Send one or two from each category. If you get a quick rejection (and you followed the instructions on the agent’s website) ask someone else to read your query. Maybe there is something a little off with it. Make adjustments and send the next batch. Repeat as often as needed until you get the phone call that takes your breath away, then take a big sip of water and say, “Hello.”
Update from the farm: Ma Sue went home from the hospital over the weekend. Her two sisters are staying with them until she’s back on her feet again. Pa Herb gets at least a couple of home visits a week from Hospice, so that will also help.
We left Ma Sue recuperating on the sofa Saturday and Pa in his recliner. When returned yesterday, they were on the love seat holding hands. Sweet. K
© 2011 Kay Elam