A Successful Agent Hunting Expedition

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to get over the shock and excitement of landing an agent, here’s the promised post about how I went about finding my agent, Andrea Somberg.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the “Dream Agent”, the one agent they hope beyond all hope they will land and everyone will live happily ever after with flower petals raining from the sky from that day forward. I never quite understood that idea, especially before you even start querying, but then maybe I’m just an eternal pessimist (I think it might have something to do with the armor I’ve developed from all my years in the short fiction trenches, seeing dream markets reject me time and again, and learning to not to get too emotionally invested in single submission. It’s easier to recover from rejection when you go into it expecting that to be the answer.). I did have an idea of what my dream agent would be though: someone who not only loved my work, but got what I was trying to do, and would be willing to work with me to help achieve my vision rather than taking a complete hands-off approach to agenting. I’m still green and learning the ins and outs of novel writing, and I wanted someone who would appreciate that and help me develop as a writer rather than just letting me tread water and see if I sink or swim. I like to be independent and turn in my very best work, but wanted an agent who would have time to spend helping me if I felt I needed it.

The task was to find that particular agent that fit the bill. This was the third time I’d set out to try to find an agent, so I was by no means unacquainted with the process. Though the previous two times, it was unheard of for agents to have websites let alone accept email submissions, and Writer’s Market was my source for agent information. The good news is that majority of agents these days do accept e-subs and there’s websites that track and update agent information daily. The two I used were Agent Query and Query Tracker.

This is going to be broken into several parts so settle in for a trek.

Part 1: Sharpen Your Tools

First things first: finish that novel. This is by far the most important part of this process, and I can’t stress enough: your novel manuscript must be finished, edited, and polished, and is ready to be send out to editors before you send your first query. Sending anything you’re unsure about is not only a waste of an agent’s time, it’s a waste of your own time. If you’re not sure if your novel is ready, it’s not, so take the time to do another draft and get it to the point where you feel it’s ready and could stand published on it’s own merits. I know I said all that stuff about wanting an agent who would work with me on rewriting, but it’s important that you to show them the best you’ve got at the moment (if they think you might be too much work to get into shape, that could lead to a pass whereas it might have been an enthusiastic yes if you’d put in the extra work). Work that sucker until you don’t want to look at it anymore, then you’re ready. But also be aware that you might be called upon to work on it still more later on.

So, with manuscript in hand, the next step is to write that killer query letter. I wish I had good tips to give about writing awesome queries, but personally I don’t think my query was very good. In fact, I went through three different queries over the process of finding my agent, and in the end I garnered only one request for material (there might have been a second, but time conspired against me ever finding out for sure). Queries are a beast I never quite understood, at least not in context to my own book which is epic in scope (the one thing that bothered me about all those successful queries the agents shared on their blogs was that none of them were for Epic Fantasy, which meant I had no idea how to pitch it, and looking at the back covers of published epic fantasies was little help. I felt like I was floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight.). About the only certainty I know about queries is that they shouldn’t be more an page, so be prepared to do some seriously tight writing. Some places to look that offer helpful information on how to write queries: Query Shark (Agent Janet Reid – go through the archives and start from the very first query. There are a lot, but the more you read, the quicker the lessons will sink in), Pub Rants (Agent Kristen Nelson – check sidebar for links to her entries on writing queries) and The Other Side of the Story (author Janice Hardy). If anyone knows any other helpful ones, feel free to leave them in the comments. I spent about a week working on my first query letter, running it through my crit group until I had something I felt good about. I felt less good about it after the first round of form rejections, and so rewrote, which got me still more form rejections and another round of rewriting the query from a completely different angle. Then I finally got a request for full manuscript. But more about that later.

With query in hand, you’re finally ready to jump into the agent waters, right? Well, I certainly tried, but quickly discovered that I’d missed one step: the synopsis. They’re almost as bad as writing queries. In the end, I didn’t need them, but there are a lot of agents that want one included with your query package, so just get it out of the way. Often agents won’t specify how long they want to the synopsis to be, but you’re pretty safe keeping it at 2 or fewer pages, single spaced. The one I sent out with my query packages was a page long, hitting the major characters, themes, and events. Don’t fall into doing blow-by-blow descriptions, just hit the major points and motivations. What I did: take my initial query and expand it out, dedicating a paragraph to my protagonist, another paragraph to my antagonist, then picked some choice events to highlight for their coolness and ooh-ahh factor, then revealed how it all ended. I have no idea if it was successful–my agent never asked to see my synopsis–but that’s what I did, and it felt like a good one to me. Some places to look for advice on writing synopses: here, here, and here. I wrote a one page synopsis and a three page one, so I could cover those that wanted a more detailed version.

So now, with finished, polished manuscript in hand, and a killer query and synopsis ready to go, you’re ready for the next step: researching agents.

Part 2: Learn About Your Prey So You Don’t Become Prey Yourself
Part 3: And Now You Wait
Part 4: Size Up Your Opportunities
Part 5: Don’t Pull the Trigger Too Early

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