How to Research Agents before Querying
So you’ve written a book. Now what? If the answer is you would like to get traditionally published, the next step is querying. But who do you query?
Small publishers and presses accept unsolicited submissions, meaning you can send them a query on your own without an agent, but bigger ones often only work with agents. Plus, agents are experts, on selling your book and on getting the best deal for it. But you can’t just submit to anyone. So how do we find an agent to query?
First let me say not to get ahead of yourself. Unless you’re writing nonfiction, you need a finished project before you even query an agent. That means the book is finished—all the way finished—revised, edited, and polished until it’s the best you can possibly make it. Then send it to some beta readers and edit it some more. I even recommend hiring an editor to get it as close to perfect as you can. And not just a proofreader, but someone who is going to look at the content and each sentence to make it sing. Agents don’t accept okay books, they want great ones.
So back to finding an agent. You have to research to find the right matches for you. Are they accepting submission right now? Do they represent your genre and age group? Are they legitimate?
You can find agents several ways. One is to go through the acknowledgement section of your favorite books in your genre and see who their agents are. These might be a little lofty fir first time writers, but if they are accepting submissions, they shouldn’t be ruled out. You can also buy books like The Writer’s Market, which compiles agents and publishers each year. They also give tips on things like how to write a query letter. Manuscript Wish List online is another place to find agents. They specifically list what they want most in submissions.
Once you’ve got a list, research them to find out what they really like and when they accept submissions. Google them and read their websites. Follow them on Twitter. See what they have to say about their submission wants, pet peeves, and querying tips. See who they are representing. Are they comparable to your book? Scammers won’t have a list of published authors as reference, so you can make sure your prospective agent is legitimate. Don’t just Google “literary agents.” Also, find out what their submissions guidelines are. You’ll want to follow them exactly when it comes time to query.
Organize your list. Separate by dream agent to any. Give them a rating of 1 to 3, 3 being the dream agents. I would recommend starting with a few 2s. As you get rejections back, you may get feedback to use to revise and perfect your query further and that is when you’ll want to start sending to 3s. Send queries in groups, but keep track of each one. Mark when it was sent and how long they take to respond, so you don’t send multiple queries or ask for a response too soon.
Remember that agents don’t get paid until they sell your book. So never pay a reading fee or pay upfront for representation. Typically, agents get around 15% for domestic sales and 20-25% for foreign sales. Never pay a fee.
This rule of not paying anything before your book is sold applies to publishers as well. You should never pay to publish anything. Publishers pay you! Vanity publishers are a scam, so if they ask for money, run.
Do your research to find the right agents for you. Next week we’ll talk more about querying. How do you research agents? Share below and happy hunting!