Thursday, June 02, 2011

Who to Query First

Q: Do I query my favourite agents first or second? Please help.
This has come up a lot lately and I don't get it.

I am told that authors don't want to "burn bridges" by sending out substandard queries to their A-List of agents - so they send them to the B-list of agents instead, figuring that that way, they'll have time to hone the query if it isn't working, and then send the stronger material to the A-listers.


First of all, it's extremely rude to ask someone who you don't really want as an agent, to read your work just because you want feedback. What if they love the book and say YES? Are you going to tell them, oh yeah, no, you aren't actually my first choice, I was just testing the waters? Are you going to let them sit there and twiddle their thumbs while you send out MORE queries?  What a waste of their time.

Then, are you going to query your "dream agent" but say, "Oh sorry, you have to rush, I know you're extremely busy but I already have another agent on the hook, so can you read this by the end of the week"? If they are really your "dream agent", why are you treating them with so little regard?

Your query is not an EXPERIMENT. It should be great. Send it when it is great. Here's how I would do it:

1) If you don't know how to write a great query, learn. Consider joining a message board like the VerlaKay Blue Board (for kids & YA) or AbsoluteWrite (for YA and adult), and soak up some wisdom there, or have your query critiqued in their forums. Visit the Query Shark for wise words and examples of what NOT to do.

2) Once your query is all polished and shiny and beautiful, make a list of agents. On the list: Agents that you have heard of - agents that rep books that you love - agents who rep your type of book, that you find via a service like AgentQuery or QueryTracker. This will probably be a long list.

3) Look up every single agent in at least three places: A) Look them up on Preditors and Editors. Cross their names OFF THE LIST if they are noted as a scam or bad agency.   B) Google them and look up their website. Most agencies do have some sort of web presence at this point. C) If you can afford a $20 month-long subscription to Publishers Marketplace, you can look them up and find out their sales. Note that not all agents list their sales - but lots do, and this should give you a good sense of what kind of books they do. C2.) If you CAN'T afford that subscription, try googling something like "Agent Name" Interview and see if you can't find more info about them that way. 

4) Weed the list: Now at this point your "LongList" should be free of all the awful scam artists, people who don't really rep what you write, people with no sales from shady agencies, etc. (NOTE: Newer agents, who might not have many sales, but are with great agencies, can be a good opportunity because they are often actively building their lists.) So everyone on the longlist is at this point reputable. And you know a bit more about all of them. Now think about this list. Really think about it. Divide it into "who I would swoon for" "who I would probably like a lot" and "who I actually wouldn't like, now that you mention it."

5) GET RID OF GROUP THREE.  If it isn't an agent you'd want to do business with, don't query them. Getting rid of any ones you feel negatively about means that now you ONLY have good agents that you'd like to work with on your list. Do NOT get hung up on the concept of a "dream agent" - you want a good, reputable, communicative agent who clicks with your work and will be a great rep for it, but you won't know who that is until they have actually read your work.

6) Create a batch: You can choose your own way of doing this. But if I were doing it, I would choose about 10 agents - a healthy mix of 'rock stars' and fairly new up-and-comer agents at established agencies. Make sure you know their submission guidelines, and follow them.  

7) Hit them with your awesome, supersonic query... and see what happens. You are prepared - you've done your research - you have the awesome. So if you get nothing but form rejects, there is something wrong with your query or sample pages and it isn't actually supersonic.  Then you recalibrate - check again for supersonicness - and make another batch, this time another healthy mix of agent types. Nobody on the list you've is bad, everyone is vetted for scamlessness and has the taste to rep the books you write, so it is just a matter of finding the one that clicks with your work. Yay!

Make sense? Or did I totally miss the point of the original question?