Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tips for Creating an Agent Search List

I’ve spent the past three weeks, close to 40 hours each week, drawing up an agent search list. 

I started with a list I’d been updating over the past several years. It contained over 200 children’s/YA agents who post their deals to Publishers Marketplace. The biggest reason for keeping it was to be aware of what would be coming down the pike, which, as a children’s librarian, I would be sure to purchase for my library.

The past three weeks, I looked over the list and eliminated agents who seem to sell only picture books or a YA genre that is different from mine. If they like super high concept, fantasy or horror, they will certainly pass on my contemporary romance.

From there I got on QueryTracker, with a database of over 1200 agents. They listed more than 400 for YA, and so I suddenly had many, many more agents to choose from. Particularly newer agents who have yet to make their first deal, or agents who don’t post their deals to Publishers Marketplace.

I also needed to find agents who sub romance. That caused a ripple in my emerging list, as some of my favorite children’s/YA agents do not represent romance. I then looked for YA agents who might not specifically sub romance, but who do, at least, rep contemporary YA with a romantic element.

There was the problem of entire agencies that represent both childrens/YA AND romance. These are my key agencies/agents, in case I decide to opt out of YA entirely and focus on Inspirational Romance in future books. At those agencies, I needed to prioritize my list from first to fourth choices, which was often a tough call.

Then there are the agencies that state that a “No” from one agent means a “No” from all, which quickly eliminates further possibilities from that agency. Those were the especially tough calls.

At Andrea Brown, for example, I like Caryn Wiseman and Jennifer Rofe. Jennifer Rofe represents my friend Diana Greenwood. Jennifer sold Diana's book, Insight, to Zondervan, a Christian publisher. My book could be slanted toward the inspirational market.

But Jennifer Rofe reps far more picture books and MG than YA. Diana's book was, in fact, a MG. 
Caryn, on the other hand, looks at far more YA than Jennifer. So who do I choose? I decided to choose Caryn. 
Now after three weeks, I am at a new threshold. I have drawn up a list of 70 agents to query, seven rounds, 10 agents per round. There are first choices from a number of agencies, and if those agents pass, I have an additional list of 36 second and third choices from said agencies.

I am now ready to write up highly individualized query letters to each agent. I know the books they represent that are similar to mine, which I will name. I know which books, overall in the market, are most similar to mine, for comp titles. In many cases, I know specific details about an agent, that I can share as an ice breaker—they had grown up on a farm, and I live on one; they’re former children’s librarians, as I am. Or, I met them at a conference.

I know their response habits, and so I have a pretty good idea as to how frequently they look at full YA manuscripts. If they look at one each month, that’s a very good average. Two or three agents on my list look at more. Most look at fewer.

The staggering thing in all of this is that I’ve not even begun my journey. In essence, I’ve done nothing more than decided what needs to go into my suitcase and packed my bag, with a second bag for what I hope will be non-essentials (the second, third, and fourth choices from certain agencies).

I’ve read comments on QueryTracker to the effect that, on average, people query one hundred agents before finding one. So here’s to the beginning of a very long journey. I have my choices broken up into tiers of 10, for seven possible journeys.

Strategists suggest refraining from sending to your top choices until you’ve gotten feedback from some of those you want less, to see if your query is on target. If you get no requests to see more, you need to fix your query. And thank goodness you didn’t waste an ineffective query on your top choices.

If you get requests to see fulls, you’re on the right track.

If you get offers of representation, you can then query your top choices with “Offer of Representation” in the subject line.

One agent stated that agents are like sharks, and when they get that query, it’s a signal there’s blood in the water. Most agents will rush to look at your manuscript, if they are hungry and fear missing out on fresh meat, err--a possible new client.

My suggestion for others who are about to embark on the journey: instead of waiting until your manuscript is complete and then devoting three solid weeks to the search for a viable list, why not spend an hour or two each day at it while you are writing or revising?

Had I done it that way, my list could’ve been ready to go at the same time as I completed my (third) revision. Oh, well. There was only a one-month gap. 

Do you have ideas or strategies for creating an agent search list, or the agent search?

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