The Great Agent Hunt

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver
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Hey, all!  I don’t know if you’ve been following along, but Amy Christine Parker and I have been vlogging for the YA Rebels every Tuesday for a few months now.  Since it’s NaNoWriMo time, our most recent posts have been geared toward that.  For example, you can check out our NaNoWriMo tips, our revision hints, and our wrong and right ways to find an agent.  On the latter, I handled the wrong ways, all of which (and more) I’ve seen personally except the sliding of a manuscript under the door of a bathroom stall.  I’d like to think this is an urban legend, but I know better.

Since I tackled some don’ts there, here are some important dos:

First, before you even consider sending your novel out, take some time away from it.  Two weeks at the least.  A month might be better.  Go back to it with a fresh perspective and all of the sudden things that worked when you were so close you could still hear the way they sounded in your head will jump at you as hitting an off note.  You’ll have highs — hey, I wrote that? I’m pretty good!— and lows —I suck.  Nobody loves me, everybody hates me; think I’ll go eat worms.  But in the end, the manuscript will be a lot better for the perspective you were able to gain.  And, of course, the most important thing about the query process is that you first write a book that people will love.

Second, do your research—not just about who represents what you write, but about who’s open to submissions and the right way to go about submitting.  Most agents make this very easy for you.  We have websites.  We have an “About Us” section there to help you make informed decisions.  We have submission guidelines that tell you how to send material so that it’s not caught in our spam filters or ignored because it’s gone to the wrong address.  The guidelines aren’t a test, except maybe in the sense that we need to know that you’re serious about your search and that you’re willing to do things right.  The guidelines help us manage the hundreds of submissions we get per month per agent and ensure to the best of our abilities that none get lost along the way.  I can’t tell you how many inquiries I get a month on Facebook, Twitter, through my author website, etc. asking whether I’m open to submissions and what I represent.  I’m not going to do a writer’s research for him or her.  If you can find me, you can find the guidelines that we’ve written up to answer these questions and more.  What this tells me is that the author is lazy and probably not ready for prime time.  You don’t want to ask someone to invest time in you before you’ve given them reason.  It’s like expecting a job interview before you’ve even sent in your resume and cover letter.  (Because the hunt for an agent or for publication should be treated just as professionally as a job search.)

Follow through.  If you’re a new writer, you shouldn’t be querying before you have a complete manuscript, so when an agent or editor asks for your work, you should be ready to send your polished material. 

Pay attention to their response times and don’t nag before that time is up.  Once it is, give it at least a few days more.  Then feel free to send a politely and professionally worded e-mail to nudge them along and to say how much you look forward to their response.  (Note: I’d leave out words like “speedy” or “swift” before response, as the fastest answer is always “no.”)

Another very important thing that seems obvious but apparently isn’t: be available.  Don’t give a response e-mail or send from an account that requires an approval process in order for you to receive a respondent’s message.  Changes are, we won’t go through the hoops.  Make it easy for us to answer and to reach you.

Remember, you want to hear “yes,” and ultimately, we want to say “yes.”  It doesn’t mean that we will, of course, but know that every time we take appointments at conferences or open a new submission, we’re hoping to find something unique and wonderful.  It’s what keeps us reading.

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11 comments to The Great Agent Hunt

  • quillet

    This is really helpful, and very encouraging too. Knowing what to do —and what not to do — takes some of the fear out of the agent-finding process. Also, your last paragraph lifts my spirit!

    PS: Your video segment on the wrong ways to find an agent was hilarious! I giggled the whole way through. :D

  • Thank you so much, Quillet. I have fun doing those vlogs, though it’s sometimes tough to find the balance between humorous and helpful.

  • Thanks for these tips, Lucienne! Perfect timing for me, and I agree, very encouraging. :) In the Vancouver NaNo community we make a point of telling participants (repeatedly) not to submit what they’ve written to agents or publishers the moment the month is done, because it’s a disservice to everyone when it happens.

    Reading submission guidelines and being aware of the etiquette is vital. Beyond that, I have a few questions. Do you ever change your mind about wanting to represent a client after viewing their Facebook or Twitter? How vital does that become to your decision? And regarding agencies with multiple agents, but one submission address: is it worth it to tailor our query to one specific agent, when likely the first person to read it is an intern or assistant who acts as a filter? If those folks are making the first decision, do they take that personalization into account?

  • Laura, I’ve never changed my mind about wanting to represent someone after viewing their Facebook or Twitter, though I can see it happening. I =did= almost change my mind about an author after speaking with her but didn’t in the end because I really loved her work…only to find out down the line that I should have followed my first instinct. I’m warier now. As far as addressing your submission to a specific agent, I can’t speak for the way all agencies work, but from my perspective it’s a good idea if you know who you’d like. (Or if you have two agents in mind, you might address it to, say, “Ms. Lucienne Diver or Ms. Nephele Tempest”. We get that sometimes. The way that works is that if the submissions reader likes the material, she’ll first pass it along to the targeted agent(s) to look at, and if we’re too busy or think it’s good but not for us, then it will be passed to others for their consideration, so you don’t lose out on the chance at the other agents.

  • Is there a point at which you would pull a work from an agent who was still sitting on it? I’ve got something out to an agent who has a solid reputation, but is two months past the six month deadline she set. I’ve already sent one gentle follow up and been told “two more weeks,” but that was four weeks ago. On the one hand, I would really, really like to work with this agent and I understand that the period in which I submitted overlapped with the Frankfurt book fair. On the other hand, I can’t send my manuscript out to other people while I’m waiting to hear back.

  • Sarah, did the agent request an exclusive? If not, you can send your manuscript elsewhere (though it’s a good idea to let people know it’s out with others). If she did, I’d say a month past her six month deadline is time enough. I’d give her notice, perhaps to let her know that you’d really love to hear from her but that you can’t give her an exclusive past the first week in December.

  • Ken

    Great advice, Lucienne! I’ll second Laura as to the timing :) Additionally, thanks for turning this post into a kind of Q-n-A session. Bonus knowledge = Yay!!!

  • Lucienne, I could almost cry. Because I remember how dang *hard* it was to find an agent in pre-internet days. Just *HARD!* Now writers can do research the easy way, the cheap way (no postage for just a query) and and and… Thank you for sharing this with our readers and writers!
    Hugs!

  • Thanks for this post–I know I’m not ready to send anything out yet, but it’s nice to be reminded that agents want to say yes. Also, I feel pretty good about myself now because I know I’d never do some of the don’ts :)

  • Awesome tips!You share so much to the writing community. I absolutely appreciate every minute of it!

  • Faith, you’re so right – it was MUCH harder in the pre-internet days, when you had to go to the library and sit down with your notebook and a huge Guide to Literary Agents and Photo Reps or some other encyclopedia-sized volume and go through the entries one by one for what every agency represented, etc., make notes of addresses and expectations, type up letters, print them out, sign them, address envelopes and return envelopes with proper postage, etc. And now that it’s so easy to search and there’s so much info consolidated in so many places, it’s an extra burn when a querier wants you to do their work for them!