Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to find your very own Truly Fabulous Agent (because you can’t have mine)

I posted Monday about how truly fabulous my agent is, and I promised a post on finding your very own truly fabulous agent, so here it is.

Congratulations! You’ve written The Best Novel Ever. You’ve polished it to a high shine, and now you’re ready to query. There are some things that you need to know before you start. Or, really, one thing in particular. The thing that no one talks about. A big, dark secret when it comes to publishing professionals. Only those of us in the know will ever find our perfect agent.

Do you want to know what it is?

Are you sure you can handle it?

All right. Here it is:

Agents are actual people.

I know! Hard to believe! But true, nonetheless. And because they’re people, they have their own personal tastes. Think about yourself (assuming you’re also an actual person). If you watched 100 movie trailers, would you love them all? Probably not. Some would impress you and others would leave you flat. That’s why, when you go to an action movie, you’ll always see trailers for other action movies, not romances. It’s called target marketing, and you need to approach querying the same way.

In my post on my journey to publication, I mention that I had a fairly high percentage of requests for manuscripts on my query for Personal Demons. I believe this happened for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that I spent weeks researching agents.

It makes no sense to me that a person can put weeks, months, or sometimes even years, into writing their masterpiece, and then almost no time into trying to find it a good agent home. The most wonderful novel will wallow in an editor’s slush pile if it’s repped by an agent who’s not passionate about it. Your career is essentially in your agent’s hands. Make sure they’re the right ones. (Side note: My fabulous agent sister, Nikki Loftin, posted Monday about all the qualities of a truly fabulous agent. Some good things there to consider.)

To me, the query process is the most important step. In this electronic age, volumes of information are available for a keystroke. There’s no excuse for not doing your homework when it comes to agents. At bare minimum, most agents have a listing on their agency’s website. Sometimes these profiles include a wish list so you can see what they’re actively seeking. But your search should go beyond that. If you think you’ve found a match, dig deeper. Google them and see where else they have listings. What do they already rep? What have they sold? Maybe they have a blog, or they’ve done blog interviews. (That’s how I found Suzie.)

For the three weeks I was researching agents, I turned into SuperCyberStalker (electronically—I didn’t actually follow them around with heat sensing binoculars, because that would be creepy). I read everything they had ever put out into the ether. I pared a list of thousands down to the 19 agents who were looking for exactly what I’d written. When you query the right people, your request percentage will be higher. Common sense. (Another side note: Another of my fabulous agent sisters, Kristin Miller, just announced her promotion to associate agent at D4EO! She's repping MG and YA, so if you're looking for an agent, check her wish list out here. Congrats Kristin!)

Next, you need a kick-ass query letter. Honestly, this is the trickiest part for most people. Your query needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written. Think of it as a mini interview. Every word counts. It’s not just a summary of your book; it’s a reflection of you. You need to show agents what your book is, not just tell them what it’s about. After a quick introductory paragraph (title, genre, word count and if you were referred, by who) you need a killer hook--one sentence that makes the agent HAVE TO keep reading. Then, you need to boil the essence of what makes your book unique down to one or two short paragraphs, and the writing should be in the style of the book. If you’ve written a dark, edgy historical, your query shouldn’t be cute and funny. Close with something personal if you can, but don’t make something up. (ie: Don’t say you enjoyed one of their client’s books if you never actually read it.) That’s just stupid and you’ll always get caught in the lie. Would you want to do business with someone you know lied to you? I thought not...

Again, for me, research was the key. I read every successful query letter I could find. There are plenty available on the Net. Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson and Janet Reid at Query Shark all have examples. Read them and learn.

So now you’re seriously ready to go. You’ve researched and have your list; you have a killer query…

One last suggestion:

Don’t send the queries all at once. Choose four or five agents off your list (and not necessarily your top choices) and sent the query to gauge response. My reasoning was, if I got back five quick form rejections, maybe my query wasn’t as killer as I thought. If response is good, go ahead and send the rest of the queries. If not, you can tweak your query and still have agents on your “dream list” to send it to. In all my research, one thing I found as a common pet peeve among agents is requerying of the same project they’ve already rejected. Once they’ve rejected it, they’re generally not going to change their minds. Leave yourself some wiggle room.

The biggest thing is not rushing the process. Take the time to give your book a fighting chance. Remember that agents receive in the ballpark of 200 or more queries a week. If you haven’t taken the time to write the killer query, and to be sure you’re querying the right people, get used to rejection.

And, remember, it all stems on writing a really good story. Good luck!


  1. Great post, Lisa! Mind if I reference it for a talk I'm doing in May?
    I think your comment on not rushing the process is right on - time for the publishing world
    is NOT the same as time for the Neurotic Writer.
    Hooray for Kristin!! What great news.

  2. Nikki--Reference away! Great post btw! Hope you don't mind that I linked it! =)

  3. This is a great POST! I queried eleven agents with my current novel and got multiple offers. But that was the THIRD novel. The first two went the way of all bad mistakes. With the third one, I nailed the process and you nailed it here.

  4. Thanks, Lisa! Posts like this help a whole heckuva lot too!! :-)

  5. Wow, you've summed it up really well : )

  6. This post is just ... phenominal. Thank you so, so much. As someone just venturing into the book writing/publishing process, this is a valuable tool that I will definitely be using.