Part 2: Learn About Your Prey So You Don’t Become Prey Yourself
It’s always wise to research potential agents before investing time in querying them. Just like with publishers, agents represent a variety of subjects, but not all of them will be interested in your genre. By conducting research and narrowing down which agents represent your genre of work beforehand, you can eliminate those that would be a waste of your time to query. You don’t want to send your epic fantasy to an agent who only represents non-fiction, no matter how how successful they are. Don’t be one of those idiot writers the agents grouse about and ridicule on their blogs. From step one make it look like you know what you’re doing even though you might be new at this whole business.
Here’s how I went about putting together my list: I went to Agent Query and searched by the fantasy genre. That brought up a large list of agents to investigate. To further narrow down the best ones to query, I checked each agent’s website, to confirm that they are indeed still representing fantasy, and if so, what sub genres they were interested in. This particular part was important for me because there were quite a few agents that represent only urban fantasy and not the historical/epic variety I had. Some agents were very specific in what they were looking for while others were very general, and this gave me a good idea of which agents would be most and least receptive to what I was trying to sell. Once I had a nice list of thirty some odd agents, I took my list over to Preditors and Editors.
Preditors and Editors is an online database that keeps track of positive and negative information about agents and publishers, to help authors navigate the sometimes shark-infested literary waters and make informed decisions about who to query and who to avoid. There are scam agents out there looking to make a quick buck off starry-eyed new authors who don’t know how legitimate agents operate, so reading the opening page about what agents are supposed to do is informative and can save you a great deal of heartache and money. “Money flows to the author, not away” is a moniker to live by. I checked every agent on my list against the listings at P&E and found only one with an advisory. After some more research, I decided the advisory wasn’t too bad to drive me off the agent, but they also weren’t at the top of my list to query right away (in the end, I never got around to querying that agent).
Another good place to find out information about agents is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. There are entire threads dedicated to practically every agency with authors sharing their experiences with querying or working with particular agents. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware also hangs out there offering extra information. I didn’t discover this place until after I’d started searching, but it’s a wonderful resource well worth checking out early in the process.
I arranged my list of agents according to their P&E rating and started at the top. But because I hadn’t written my synopsis yet and some of those top-level agents wanted those, I queried only those that wanted query alone or query with sample pages. I could have just gone down my list if I’d been ready ahead of time.