How to Target Agents For Querying

So you’ve finished a manuscript and polished it up. Your ready to submit but you have no idea who to submit to. Your at the gate like this lovely goat, trying to break through to the other side.

I’ve been here a while too. I’ve put together spreadsheets of agents for my YA and adult manuscripts. So here are my tips on how to build a nice list of agents to query.

  1. Start with Agent Query and/or Query Tracker. These are databases of agents that can be sorted by genre. I prefer Query Tracker because it creates a spreadsheet-style list that includes who is and isn’t taking submissions and if it’s via email or snail mail. These are very big picture so the research doesn’t stop here.
  2. If you’re writing YA, check out Literary Rambles blog for in-depth profiles on agents. These profiles include links to interviews and articles and give real insight into the agents. Some of the agents also take adult so it’s worth perusing their profiles if you have a list of agent names from Query Tracker.
  3. Subscribe to the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Chuck Sambuchino has alerts and overviews of new agents seeking new authors.
  4. If you’ve read a book similar to yours, look in the acknowledgements and see who the agent is. Target them for your query list.
  5. Conduct a  quick Google search on the agent’s name. Click on a few links and research the agent. If there is an Absolute Write thread about them, pop over and see what was said. Sometimes an agent changes agencies, retires, passes away, or does something shady–people come here to find answers and share info.
  6. Go to the Preditors and Editors website and verify that the agent/agency has no reported issues.
  7. This is most important: Make sure you visit the agency’s website and adhere to their submission guidelines. This is the most updated spot for an agency address and submission format. It supersedes what is written anywhere else.

Those are all absolutely free ways to find an agent. If you have some money to spend, I recommend adding a few more.

  • Attend a conference. There are usually several agents and editors at local conferences and then you can submit to them and rise to the top of their slush pile because you can reference the conference. To get you started, there are a few conferences in the column to the left of my blog post.
  • Pick up a copy of the Guide to Literary Agents book or subscribe to their online version (it’s a massive directory of agents compiled by Writer’s Digest).

I’d love to hear how you go about targeting agents. And please let me know if I left anything out. 🙂

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31 Responses to How to Target Agents For Querying

  1. Great tips, Kourtney! I especially love #3. New agents tend to be hungrier, which is great for new authors. And #7 is vital, and I’d bet, too often overlooked.

    I’m a big fan of pitching in person when possible, too. Based on my agent’s profile, I probably wouldn’t have targeted him—tends to rep and specialize in “guy” books and middle grade. Also, a couple of agents I pitched to, I’d queried. One thought he’d replied, another rejected me by email then asked for materials after we chatted.

    Thanks for this post! Off to share. 😉

    • Thanks August! #3 has definitely helped in my query wars. It’s a big pet peeve of agents when #7 is overlooked. At least according to their blogs and what they say at conferences.

      I’ve done that as well. It’s just more of a money outlay. But if cash is available, it’s a great option. I too have found the agents I think will love my book don’t and those I think will hate it ask for fulls. It’s really bizarre. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post, Kourtney! There is always the Writers Market, but I think conferences are a great way to hear agents speak, and get a better idea about whether you would be compatible.

    • That’s a good one too. I don’t subscribe to it, but I’ve heard it’s got tons of good info. And conference lift you above a cold query and into conference attendee which moves you up in the agent slushpile. 🙂

  3. 4amWriter says:

    Well, I’m headed back to the querying road too. I hit a major bump in the road this past summer when I thought I was ready…but I wasn’t. It’s a long, arduous tale best saved for a post where I can drink while I’m writing.

    Thank you for these tips. I’m sure I’ll be referring to this post often once I get my Q up and going again.

    • I’ve been on and off this road a few times. My first book, yeash. I thought it was done so many times. But I think I was learning to write, so it took me a while to understand why it wasn’t ready. LOL. I look forward to that post.

      I thought it might be useful to share some of them while it’s all fresh in my mind since I’m in the midst of querying. 😉

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Great post. I bookmarked it for future reference. The annual Writer’s Market book is a good resource as well.

  5. Coleen Patrick says:

    Great tips Kourtney–and I love that photo. Makes me smile, another must have while querying! 🙂

    • Thanks! I went to petting zoos last week to bolster my spirits. The goats were absolutely delightful creatures to feed and pet. 🙂 And I feel like one politely standing at the gate begging to be noticed. 😉

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    I think Writer’s Market also includes presses that accept direct submissions, too? If so, that becomes a good “Plan B” if the agent trail goes cold.

    I’m glad to say I’ve covered all your freebees plus the Guide to Literary Agents. I still haven’t done conferences, though.

    It’s unfortunate that it takes those conference or workshop appearances to get consideration from some agents, though. Some people simply cannot afford the time or cost of those events, and that puts them at a serious disadvantage.

    • I heard it does–that’s what’s swaying me toward purchasing it. 🙂 I’ve done several conferences including those with pitches and I’m still querying my novels.

      I still believe a terrific query will get your work noticed. Several of my full requests were from cold queries as was my revise and resubmit request. A conference just gives the agent a reason to read a query faster, it doesn’t get you an agent unless the query is amazing and the book is too and they think they can sell it. 😉

      Many conferences offer scholarships to a few individuals. Some even include cost of transportation. It’s worth looking into if an agent you love only takes submissions from conferences. 🙂

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  8. Elliot says:

    I don’t think I’m at this stage yet, but there are some good tips here for when I am – thanks 🙂

  9. Emmie Mears says:

    I love Query Tracker. It’s been such a great resource through this process. Not only can you track your submissions, but you can see query response times and a bunch of other reports (though admittedly, some of these are only available if you spend the $20 — for a year — to upgrade to Premium).

    Also, #3 is so invaluable. I discovered a new agent that way just a couple weeks ago and plan to submit to her soon, especially because I saw on Twitter today that she loves superheroes.

  10. Yatin says:

    Very comprehensive list of tips to get you across. I don’t intend to be at the fence but the generic approach in the shell can be followed anywhere to market yourself.

  11. Okay–whew. I hid from this post for a couple of days and just now dipped my toes and behold! The process you described was not so hard as to make my teeth chatter in utter terror!!

    I wish I could pay someone to do all of this for me. Wah. Okay, I’m done whining. Really. Well, in a few minutes I will be done whining lol.

    • LOL. It sounds so hard, but I usually work on the list for a few weeks a little at a time. I used to just do 25 agents, now I shoot for 100 on the list. It gets easier with each book too. I just put together my third list of agents to query and it was a cake walk. 🙂

      The research you do also helps you personalize the query to the agent so it’s all worth it, I promise. And once you have a list you can send out a batch of queries and see how the responses go. Some people hit it quick with agents. I er happen to be more like other people. 🙂

      • Another question if you don’t mind . . . I’ve heard varying things as far as query letter word count. I’ve written a 132,000 work of literary fiction, and while I could shrink the length, it seems . . . to leave a lot out, especially since my book hits on a few different genres.

        • There are a couple different ways to approach this. You could not mention the word count and just state your novel is complete. That might annoy some agents but if an agent is a word count rejector (someone who won’t look at anything over 100k words), they might read on. I’ve heard this mentioned as an option at conferences, but I’ve never done it myself.

          You can state the word count and see if they are willing to read more before making a judgment.

          Is there any way your book could be classified as fantasy? That genre has the largest wordcount range from 90-125k easily.

          BTW, my first book was 125k and YA. That was double the accepted YA wordcount. I swore it couldn’t be shortened. A few years later, it’s at 67k. Sometimes a book can be shortened but we don’t have the editing skills to do it yet.

          There are longer books that are published and yours could also be an exception. If you absolutely cannot cut without destroying the book, try to query it as is and see what happens. 🙂 Publishing is a weird weird business. You never know what will get picked up and what won’t. 🙂

          • Aw thank you so much Kourtney! I wasn’t so much asking about the word count of the novel– this is a complex work of literary fiction with several plot lines and serious character development with the three main characters . . . I should have said I’m confused about the query letter length. One of my main comps is Lovely Bones . . . as always, thank you so much for your incredibly helpful and supportive advice!

          • Ah, sorry, word count made me think manuscript. So the query letter should be one page. One to three paragraphs summarizing the main plot arc/hook. I usually start with a short intro paragraph explaining genre, wordcount and why I queried the agent. Then I put in my hook paragraphs. I close with a paragraph listing writing creds and thank them for reading my manuscript.

            Agents have preferences on the order the paragraphs. Some love the intro paragraph because it grounds them, some prefer you jump into the hook and merge the intro and closing paragraph together. Check out their websites, blogs and online interviews. Sometimes they will tell you what they love or hate in a query format. 🙂

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  14. Fabulous, very informative post, Kourtney! Have two friends I will be forwarding to – thanks!

    • Glad to share the nuggets from the conference. I feel like I’ve been querying for so long, but on the upside I think I may know just about everything that can happen during the process. 😉

  15. berry says:

    Thanks for the great info. You should charge for it. Not easy getting agent and harder for book deal. Economy!!!,,

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