How To Find An Agent For Your Novel

I talk a lot about my querying process, but one thing I haven’t talked as much about is HOW to find the agent in the first place.

It takes a bit of research, but most of us writers are pretty comfortable with research, especially if it means we’re putting our manuscript in front of the ‘right’ person. It’s a little time consuming, but ultimately not usually challenging.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Step One: Pick a list of literary agents

Where can you find a list of literary agents? All over the place.

The main places I look for agents are:

  • Guide to Literary Agents [YEAR]  – found on Amazon, in bookstores, or at your local library, this is a print(or Kindle) edition of vetted agencies. It’s fine if it’s a couple years old.
  • The Manuscript Wish List – A website associated with the twitter hashtag #mswl. This list is lightly vetted and tends to be where you’ll find the more social media adept agents.
  • Query Tracker – A website to track your queries, response rates, and more. You can also FIND agents to query here, with a pretty handy search feature.
  • Your genre magazine! Yes, they print a magazine for most genres listing the books that recently sold, what agent sold them, and interviews with the writers, agents, and editors. I write fantasy, so I look at Locus Magazine (for SF/F)
  • Publisher’s Weekly – check out the book deals and look for agents selling books that sound like yours.
  • Your bookshelf! – Open a book you love with a comparable genre to your manuscript (preferably one published in the last 3-5 years) and see who they thank in the opening. Who the listed agent is!
  • Google! Just look for literary agents.

Step Two – Make Sure They Represent Your Genre

When you’re looking at this list of agents, make certain that your genre is listed as something they represent! Otherwise, you’re asking for a short trip to the rejection form letter queue.

Feel free to add all the agents you want to your query list, though! I suggest creating a large list and ranking them 1-3.

It can take up to 100 no’s before you get that ‘yes’.

For me, 1’s are the agents whose bios spoke to me, who listed some of my comps (comparison novels) as favorites, or request a theme I feel is strong in my book.

2’s are the agents who sounded up my alley but didn’t have any specific requests that my novel fulfilled.

3’s are the agents who represent my genre, didn’t give enough detail for me to know if we’d be a good fit but didn’t list any specific dislikes that fit my novel. They could be AMAZING and just didn’t use their bios to their full potential.

Because a lot of these lists are just that- lists of agents’ names and represented genres.

And worse? Sometimes these lists are out of date.

Scrabble pieces spelling out 'SEARCH'

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Step Three – Visit Their Agency’s Website

No matter where you get the name from:

  1. Go to their agency website
  2. Visit their profile
  3. READ it.

Often, this is where you’ll get a list of their preferences, their tastes, their favorite books. This is where you get a taste of their personality so you can evaluate if you think they’d be a good match for you. Use this information when ranking these agents for querying.

Plus, you can find out their experience. Are they young and hungry? Where did they work before? Do they talk about their editorial feedback or are they just going to start selling your book right away? Are they experienced and only take on the rarest of new writers? Do they want to sell a book, or start a partnership that will last throughout your writing career?

And most importantly, are they currently open to queries!?

Step Four – Vet Them

Once you’ve decided an agent sounds right for you, don’t stop there. Check out both the agency and the agent!

  • Writers Beware – A SF/F run site, but can have lots of information on vanity presses, scams, and more.
  • Query Tracker – Do they have a success rate (many agents don’t track here, but can be a clue. Check out what other writers have to say about working with them, their response times, etc)
  • Plain out google them. Check out their twitter or blog.

Some agencies are glamorized vanity presses. Remember, you should NEVER pay to be published traditionally.

Some agencies basically just help you self-publish. If you’re self-publishing or indie-publishing, you might end up paying out of pocket for your own editor, cover art, and print/e-formatting. Is it worth it to you to go through them?

Remember that a lack-luster sale on a self-published work or through a small publisher can be strikes against you in the future if you do try traditional publishing.

If you’re a blow-away success, you can find a publisher or agent easily. But the number of people who’ve gotten a book deal that way can be counted about on one hand.

A hand holding a deck of cards, fanned out, facing away from the camera.

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Step Five – Deciding Who To Query First

It’s recommended to send out queries in batches of 5-10. I usually do batches of 3-5, but I’m cautious and nervous.

For an untested query, I like to do a mix of 1’s and 2’s. I feel the 1’s are a better match, but I don’t want to use a query that performs poorly on all of them, because once they say no, you should NOT re-query, unless you’ve substantially revised your manuscript.

NOTE: If you’re getting a lot of form rejection letters, you should look at your query and opening pages and see if you can make improve them.

Requerying will typically just get you rejected faster, and possibly added to that agent’s blacklist.

A laptop, a map, a notebook, and a pen held over a spot on the map.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Step Six – Follow Their Submission Guidelines

I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel, edited it, revised it, and gotten feedback at LEAST twice before you even THOUGHT about submitting.

If it takes you even more rounds of beta readers and revisions, that’s fine! Especially for a first-time novelist. You only get one debut novel.

You should have written your query letter — keeping it under at least 300 words, and preferably under 250 words — concentrating on the emotional arch of the main character(s). CHARACTER wants SOMETHING, but SOMETHING ELSE stands in their way.

You should have created your synopsis.

However, no two agents or agencies have the same guidelines. So what do you do?

  1. Go to the agency website
  2. Click the ‘Submissions’ tab
  3. Read the directions
  4. Follow them

Really. It’s that easy.

Plus? Their guidelines are kinda a test. If you ignore their directions, they’re going to assume you’re a pain in the butt to work with. They get dozens of queries a day and you just made it really easy for them to say no.

Some are going to have you fill out a web form. Some only accept snail-mail submissions. Some want you to email a specific address.

99% of email submissions do NOT accept attachments. Adding one anyway will get your query deleted without being read. Often, you’re going to copy and paste pages or even chapters AFTER your query letter, directly into the email.

And make sure you spell the agent’s name right. Don’t ask me how I know this one.


sky ditch eye hole

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Now you know how to pick agents to query! Best of luck in the query trenches.

Thanks for tuning in! Feel free to subscribe and I’ll be back next Thursday for more Writing Tips and Writerly Musings.

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#18 Query Corner: ‘ART GIRL’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

ART GIRL is a YA contemporary novel.

Locally-acclaimed teen artist Lillie Kang must overcome her anxiety to create the painting that could win the scholarship to her dream university.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Pretty solid query, and a good story. There are a few things I’d tweak:
– It’s a smidge long, but not much
– There’s a lot of backstory
– The timetable is a bit confused/rushed in the query.
– The actual story may be a little short for the genre. Look at the story and see if there’s anything you can add.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear_____,

Seventeen-year-old Korean-American artist Lillie Kang has one more painting to do for the high school’s art contest. The winner gets a cash prize, and their work displayed in an art gallery. Everyone in school expects the ‘Art Girl’ to be the winner, and at home, her parents have even higher expectations. But there’s one problem: all the pressure has made her so anxious she’s lost all inspiration to paint anything good. [this entire paragraph is backstory]

Until she meets Zevi, the boy who saved his cousin in a fire, leaving him with vivid scars to prove it. Despite her crippling social anxiety, she opens herself up to Zevi as he tries to coax her out from her comfort zone. In a desperate attempt, she tries to paint him but fails because she doesn’t know what she wants to convey.

With an unemployed stepdad and a pregnant mom, Lillie is determined to win the cash prize but her overactive mind pushes away her friends. Then, she finds out that the gallery opened a scholarship opportunity for one of the participants to her dream university in the city. To achieve her goals, Lillie must learn to paint the scarred boy, and in the process discover who she is beyond her label as ‘Art Girl.’ With two days left to the deadline, Lillie must finish a painting, or she loses all chance for her future. [You have 2 different ‘must’ sentences’ in a row]

Art Girl is a young adult contemporary novel at 50,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Starfish and Since you asked. [BIO here].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q18


My Revision:

Dear [Agent],

With an unemployed stepdad and a pregnant mom, seventeen-year-old Korean-American artist, Lillie Kang, is determined to win the high school’s art contest, with its prize gallery showing–and its cash. Everyone at school thinks she’ll win. There‘s only one problem: all the pressure has made her so anxious she’s lost her inspiration.

When she meets Zevi, the boy who saved his cousin in a fire, leaving him with vivid scars to prove it, he tries to coax her out of her shell. Despite her crippling social anxiety, she lets down her walls and allows Zevi to talk her into painting him. The painting is a disaster. 

Frustrated, Lillie pushes away her friends. But, two days before the deadline, she finds out that the gallery opened a scholarship opportunity for one of the participants to her dream university in the city. Lillie must paint the scarred boy, or allow her anxieties to take her art from her. 

Art Girl is a young adult contemporary novel at 50,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Starfish and Since You Asked. [Bio] 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely, 

Q18

 

I think we’re going in the right direction. Best of luck to querest #18!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

When Querying A Novel: Hope Can Be The Scariest Thing

If you’re a regular reader, you saw my post two weeks ago about how I started to lose faith in my story. I believe in my story, but I was worried about its ability to stand out in an over-crowded market full of amazing stories.

I don’t know if it was karma, persistence, or simply comedic timing, but I got a FULL REQUEST on Monday.


Querying and Life

For those of you who haven’t queried a novel, I’ve been sending 1-page ‘query’ letters to agents, asking if they would like to represent my novel and me, and find me a publisher. Each agent and agency is different in what they ask for, some just want the query, some want anywhere from 5 pages to 50 pages, some want the synopsis as well.

As you might remember, I just finished a move that turned into a two-month ordeal. Well, I didn’t really get time to recover from that. The past 2 weeks, I’ve been helping coordinate my cousin’s wedding, which culminated in the official event this past Saturday. The beach was hot, the bride looked lovely, and we were surrounded by friends and family.

And? Let me tell you–if putting in that much time and effort to help a loved one earns me the karma for a full request on my manuscript? I’d do it twice a month. (I just don’t know where I’d find the time to work full time, write, and throw a wedding…)

A couple, kissing on a sandy beach at sunset (sunrise?)

Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com


Hearing Back On A Query

But, going back to the full request. I’d queried this particular agent with just the query 104 days ago. The agency website says they TRY to respond in under 8 weeks for queries and under 12 weeks for page requests, but it’s not guaranteed.

Personally? I like to be patient and am hesitant to nudge unless a timeline for that is explicitly noted. Otherwise, I’ll likely wait double the suggested time limit. I don’t want to irritate the agent, and as long as they aren’t a ‘no-reply-means-no-thank-you’ agency, I’ve yet to not hear back eventually. (And many are now sending “we got it” automated replies, so that worry is alleviated.)


My Reaction To Getting a Full Request From An Agent

Confession?

When I got the email, I had to read it twice. I’ve gotten fewer than a handful of non-form-letter rejections. My one other FULL request, from two revisions ago, turned into no-reply.

Reading this one, I started breathing hard and my hands flailed in the air.

Tears welled up in my eyes, as I covered my face with my hands, and tried not to let my entire cube farm know that something was up.

Hope is terrifying!

I’d given up. I’d emotionally stopped expecting to get any traction with this story I love so much, that I’ve worked so hard on. I’d even entered a writing contest last week to try and get feedback, to see if someone could help me try and add that SPARK to get the interest that my story deserves.

To be offered this chance, this opportunity to display my work to an agent I was super excited about was overwhelming.

I had hope. Which meant now I had something to lose.

I stared at the clock. I couldn’t wait to go home and work on my novel.

clock


Prepping My Manuscript For Submission

Wait! But Morgan, you’re only supposed to query novels that are already edited and ready to go? What work did you need to do?

Well, true. And my novel IS revised, edited, and ready to go.

But, I’ve been slowly working on a read-through of my novel, just for a final polish while waiting on rejections to try and make it shine. I’d slowed down after I passed the 50 page mark, thinking anyone who asked for more pages would start with a partial (i.e. Where they ask for more pages, but not the whole thing.)

And with the move and the wedding and all? I was sitting at about page 160 out of 340.

I could have just sent it and trusted my earlier edits, but honestly? I wanted to finish this read-through.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens.


The Odds That A Full Request Will Lead To An Offer

Now, I’ve been querying for a while and I know the odds. A request for more pages means that my query is working (and maybe my first pages if they’re included in the submission package.)

It does NOT in any way, shape, or form mean I’m about to have an offer on the table.

For one? Remember that 104 days I waited to hear back on my 1 query letter? A full manuscript takes a bit longer to read — assuming always that they don’t read the first chapter and decide it’s not for them.

In addition? This particular agent hasn’t read a single page of my manuscript, yet. The voice, the tone, or the pacing might not be right for her.

But then again? It could be just what they’re looking for.

Picture of a roulette wheel.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Responding To On A Full Request

Back to my manuscript polishing. I could have spread it out a little–as long as I replied in the next couple days I would be okay.

But, I didn’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t ready.

I didn’t want to give the impression that I was slow to work with or that I looked at standard guidelines as mere suggestions.

Plus, I’m the kinda girl who finishes her test and turns it in first, because every time I try to review my answers, I only change right answers to wrong ones. Overthinking things isn’t my forte, so I just send it off and make sure it’s out of my hands. I wasn’t about to start sitting on things now.

Also, I’m the sort of person who, once I have a decided course of action, moves forward. (Assuming it’s something I want. Not just the lesser of two weevils.)

WIN_20180517_00_16_07_Pro


Focused On Polishing

Thus, I got home at 6 pm and I polished until 1:30 a.m., prepped the submission package, and sent it off before I could work myself into a tizzy.

The first about 150 pages I polished had my complete focus.

Wait. That’s a lie.


Distractions From Writing – Gaining Traction

About 25 pages in, I got an email from my dad asking if I wanted to collaborate on a short story. And remember that writing contest I entered? They were asking for more pages.

❤ Traction. My little story is starting to get some traction. ❤

I had to take a few moments to fan myself and take it all in.

Meanwhile? A thunderstorm was blowing in, with strong winds and heavy rains. I watched the trees in my backyard sway and decided I’d be working a little further away from those great big windows.

Sitting on my couch, away from the windows, listening to the howling storm, I had to just sit back and laugh.

When it rains it pours. In this case? Literally.

A hand reaching out to feel the falling rain - in black and white/greyscale.

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com


Late Night Writing

So, there I was, burning the midnight oil to finish reading through my polished draft one last time before I sent it off.

Honestly? The last 50 pages? Well, my eyes were starting to blur from staring at the screen, but the ending’s been rewritten and reworked a lot, so likely needed less polish than the middle.

A bit rushed, but acceptable work. Plus, now I know I can polish nearly 25 pages an hour, so I have no excuse next time for working so slow.

Social media can take care of itself without me for a while.

Now all I can do is cross my fingers and hope that my manuscript touches a chord.


 Best of luck to all of you out there and don’t give up hope!

Let me know if there was a time YOU got feedback at just the right time to keep you going. It doesn’t have to be writing related.

#17 Query Corner: ‘I NEVER FORGOT YOU’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

I NEVER FORGOT YOU is family saga, set in Ireland.

When Una’s childhood best friend, Cullen, puts an appeal out on TV to find her, she learns her sister is dying–and dating him. Only, Una never told anyone that Cullen is the father of the babe she bore out of wedlock.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

This queryest sent me her synopsis and let me build a query from scratch, and then shared an old query–with agent feedback. We went a few rounds each with this one.
The problem with building a query from a synopsis is it can veer too easily into having a synopsis feel and it’s sometimes harder to capture the voice of the narrator.

My Original, After Reading Synopsis:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear_____,

In 1983 rural Ireland, a pregnant Una runs away from home, before her mother can force her to give her baby up for adoption. Determined not to ruin her best friend’s future, Una disappears without telling Collin why.

In Dublin, the local vicar finds Una a home with the couple that runs the local leather shop. Meanwhile, Collin falls in love with Una’s little sister, Ellie. The engaged couple’s happiness is broken when Ellie is diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer. Desperate to introduce his best friend to the love-of-his-life before it’s too late, Collin’s television plea reaches Una. Una and Ellie reconnect, but Una skips the funeral, unable to face her mother.

When the sister-in-law of Una’s adoptive parents sues to take the shop away, Una turns to Collin for help. With his close proximity, Una breaks down and admits the truth to Collin. Collin must decide whether he can forgive Una for her lies, and what sort of relationship to build with his son.

[Insert stats/bio here]

Sincerely,

Q17


Her First Attempt With Agent Feedback:

Dear [Agent],

In 1983 Una Gallaher’s family told her she must give her unborn child to the nuns for adoption, so she ran away without letting the boy’s father, Cullen, know about her pregnancy. She didn’t want to ruin his life, and at seventeen, that rationale made perfect sense. [REPHRASE THIS, sounds VERY AWKWARD]

Now, five years later, she’s found a new life for herself and her son up in Dublin, but the shop owners she found refuge with are facing eviction, and they might all be on the streets within weeks. [REWORK, to me, the stakes are zero, who cares?] And her son is asking about his dad.

Una must find a new place to live and give her son what he needs—his father—but to do so, she must become the one thing she fears the most. Vulnerable. And to top it off, Cullen, the man she’s never stopped loving, is dating her sister. [I am sure there is a great story here, but the stakes sound VERY LOW, and it reads generic…I get dozens of queries a day with these kind of stakes..dig more into the heart of the story!]

Sincerely,

Q17

 


I wasn’t happy with my first draft, and I slept on it. And the next day, I came back with this.

My Second Version

Dear [Agent],

When seventeen-year-old Una Gallaher’s mother demands she give her unborn shame to the nuns, Una refuses. Determined not to ruin two lives, she runs away to Dublin, without telling Cullen, the child’s father.

Now, five year’s later, the life Una’s built is at risk. The shop owners who took her in are being threatened with eviction. If she can’t find a way to stop the eviction, she’s going to lose her home, her job, and her new family.

Cullen was angry and confused when his best-friend left town without saying a word. Years later, he reconnects with Una’s little sister, Ellie, and they bond over more than just memories of Una. Their happiness is destroyed when Ellie is diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer. Cullen reaches out to the local television station, putting out a heart-felt plea so that his love can say goodbye to her sister, before it’s too late.

Beginning in 1983, rural Ireland, TITLE is complete at X,000 words. [Bio]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q17


And with a few tweaks of their own, the queryest made it their own:

Dear Agent,

In 1983 in rural Ireland, Una Gallaher’s mam demanded that she give her unborn child up to the nuns for adoption. So she ran away, without telling the boy’s father, Cullen, about her pregnancy, because she didn’t want to ruin his life.

Now, five years later, the new life Una’s built in Dublin is at risk. The shop owners who took her in are facing an eviction, and if she can’t find a way to stop it, she’ll lose her home, her job, and her new family.

Cullen was, and still is, angry and confused about his best friend leaving town without a word; but years later, he reconnected with Una’s younger sister, Ellie, and fell hopelessly in love. Their happiness and future plans, however, are almost destroyed when Ellie is diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer.

Cullen sends out a heartfelt plea on Ireland’s main TV station so that the girl he adores can say goodbye to her older sister before it’s too late. But Una has spent five years running from Cullen, and now that life is crashing down around her, she’s not sure she knows how to stop.

I NEVER FORGOT YOU is a family saga, complete at X words. The Almost Sisters meets The Secret Life of Bees in this family saga of sacrifice, courage, and the tragedy of pride that follows three people tied by blood but driven apart by secrets and a life-threatening illness.

[Bio]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q17

Well? What did you think of the revisions? Better or worse each time?


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Teacher Appreciation Week

I grew up blessed.

Blessed with a family full of readers.

Blessed with teachers who supported and encouraged me.

Blessed both my own personal what-to-read-next advisor and access to all the books I could want.

 


In honor of teacher appreciation week:

An empty classroom looks at a white board and podium.

Here’s to Ms. Quesinberry, my long-term substitute teacher in 2nd grade–who was there when I got moved to the accelerated reading group and helped foster my love of reading.

Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

Here’s to Ms. Firesheets, my elementary school librarian, who introduced me to so many books, taught me how to use a card catalog (the year before we went electronic), and made the library into a second home.

Coverless side of 7 thick books.

Here’s to Ms. Haney, my 4th-grade teacher, who, one day after she took away 2 books, and I pulled out a 3rd during class, had me empty both my desk and my locker and return some to the library. There were 7.

A hand balances 3 notebooks on the palm.

Here’s to Ms. Hardt, my 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th-grade social studies and English teacher who encouraged my writing, supported my genre preferences, and taught me that edits are suggestions that I should mold into my own image.

pexels-photo-339805.jpeg

Here’s to Ms. Hoppe, who scared a group of 8th graders–on their first day, during their first period, in the big, scary high school–with an amazing Gollum impression, and allowed us as both 8th and 12th graders to act out our Shakespeare. (Despite our initial discomfort, doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Michael wasn’t too embarrassing. )

Grape hyacinths, blooming at dusk.

And here’s to my mother. A retired high-school librarian and former children’s librarian who can read stories with the best of them, keeps her shelves full, and always knows what to suggest for me to read next.

P.S. Sorry I went through the Foundation series in two weeks. Thanks to Game of Thrones, I now know the pain you suffered between books.


Happy Teacher appreciation week to ALL the teachers out there.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

Your support and encouragement are remembered and appreciated.