Finding Your Fairy Godmother: Researching Agents
(Note: This is a repost, and this was originally written about a year ago — but it was never posted on WordPress. This advice is not set in stone. It’s just my personal thoughts, through trial and error.)
Agents are like fairy godmothers: they help you get where you want to go. They’re supportive and nurturing of your dreams, and they want you to land that ultimate dream: a weekend alone with Johnny Depp. Er, no. That’s the wrong dream. (A good one, though.) No, the ultimate dream is a book deal. *cue a rousing chorus of Angels*
Now, agents just don’t fall out of the sky. At least, I hope not. If it’s really raining men, something is greatly amiss. Sometimes, someone gets lucky enough to have a few connections, and you can secure an agent that way. Honestly, connections aren’t everything. Knowing someone gets your foot in the door (someone will read your novel, or part of it), but that doesn’t guarantee admittance. Ideally, you’d like to have all your limbs inside. It’s not an easy process. But what worthwhile thing is easy? That’s right: nothing.
The first step is easy: figure out what kind of book you’ve written. Is it a mystery novel? A non-fiction book? Fantasy? (It’s NEVER a fiction novel. EVER.) Once you’ve determined that, the work begins.
You have to find agents who handle your specific type of book. This is kind of a daunting task, and your first worry is going to be where to look. (Again, this stuff doesn’t fall out of the sky.) The Yellowpages just won’t cut it. So, here three things that are helpful:
• Agentquery.com This is an excellent database with a fairly large list of agents. One caveat: after you do a search, the system will time you out after a relatively short length of time. Then it’s do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly back to the search query page. Pay attention to the page number that you’re on, so that you can just click back to it. Also, sometimes, their information is a bit out of date. Bear that in mind.
• Publishersmarketplace.com This is also a good, and reliable, database. Click ‘search members’ if you are looking for information on a specific agent. Click ‘browse members’ to look through a list of agents.
• Agent’s blogs. These are very, very helpful. And often amusing. You can find some on the menu bar to the right.
Next up, it’s list time! Yes, it’s not just for groceries, anymore. You’re going to need to start a spreadsheet. Not only will this help you keep all your information safe (trust me, if you write it in a notebook, you will lose it or destroy it; it will just skip off into the Land of the Doldrums, never to be seen again), organized, and in one place. But best of all? It will be searchable, which is definitely helpful when it’s three in the morning and you can’t remember who you queried at what agency…and you’re starting to forget your own name. Not that I know anything about that…*whistles innocently* Include a column for the agent’s name and contact info (I also include their submission requirements in that column), the date sent, the type of response expected (email, snail mail), the waiting period given (if any; I loathe that option, but it happens), and a column for the resulting response. Here’s an example:
After you compile a list (usually, I do these ten at a time), you’re going to want to visit the website of the agency each agent works for. Why? Double-checking. In real estate, their mantra is usually location, location, location. Yours has now become preparation, preparation, preparation. Savvy?
When checking your info, make sure that the mailing information you have is accurate. Otherwise, the Universe will eat your query letter faster than Chunk will scarf down a Baby Ruth. Next up is to confirm their submission requirements. Some agencies have standard submissions guidelines, but there are many instances where each agent has different preferences. Make sure you’ve got your facts straight, and if there’s a discrepancy between the agent’s website and what you found at agentquery.com, go with the agent’s website. However, there’s an exception to this rule. (Isn’t there always?) Let’s say that an agency only gives standard guidelines for the entire organization (“To query one of our agents, please…” or “All queries should be…”). You might be able to find a specific agent’s preferences on Publishers Marketplace. If that happens, follow the instructions give there. (Are you dizzy yet? Because I learned this the hard way, people.)
If you can, jot down a blurb about the specific agent. Some agents say something like, “I’m looking for a novel that can make me laugh until milk comes out of my nose!” (Ew. I know.) When it comes time to write, or tinker with, your query letter, that will be helpful. You could then say something like, “Given your affinity for novels that make you laugh until milk comes out of your nose, I think you’d be a perfect fit for [insert title here].” This says several things to the agent: 1) you’ve done your homework (Good for you! Gold star!), 2) you aren’t sending out the same carbon copy of your query, and 3) you are willing to go that extra mile. [Note: I’ve read a few things, recently, that state some agents don’t like stuff like that. So, when in doubt – TALK ABOUT YOUR BOOK. Skip the fancy stuff.]
Never query, or sign with, an agent who wants money up front. Otherwise, he or she will eventually try to sell you Manhattan. That’s just not reputable, and whoever they are, they’re out to scam you.
Barring personal connections or recommendations, there’s another great way to find an agent: Google. Do you know the name of your favorite author’s agent? Google it. See what kind of books they handle. Check the introduction, forward, or author blurb in a book. There’s a good chance that a writer will thank his/her agent. Bingo! Score. You’ve got a name. Hopefully by now you know what to do with it. And if you said ‘shove it up your ass,’ you’re wrong. But snarky. I like snarky.
For the most part, the days of a writer working directly with a publisher are gone. And, really, it’s often to an author’s benefit. Agents know things that you do not know. They want you to succeed, so that they can succeed. They love what they do, and they love books just as much as you do. You want an agent who is just as excited about your book as you are. You want an agent who can spell your name right. You want an agent who will go to bat for you and because of you. And, yes, you want someone who can make things happen.
That agent—whoever he or she may be—is your fairy godmother/godfather. If you stick with it, you’ll find one who will make you an offer you can’t refuse. (Hopefully, one that doesn’t involve a severed horse head.)
As always, stay away from Mooby’s (I here Loki’s on kind of a rampage), remember that screws fall out all over the world, that is how they measure pants (in PRISON), and Empire Records is open until midnight.