Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doing Your Homework: Beyond the Obvious

I treasure epiphanies. They occur so rarely in adult life that one must cup the moment in trembling hand, cherish the feather-light strokes of wings, the fragile dust of magic, even the transitory nature of the creature.

This, however, was more like the smack in the middle of the forehead, roll of the eyes, and jaded, "DUH!" blurted out to all who would listen.

1. Do your homework. Yes, I know this. I'm actually holding the 2008 Guide to Literary Agents by Writer's Digest Books. Flipping to the back, under Literary Agents Specialties Index, I can even browse agents by topic, specifically Fantasy and Science Fiction. There are lots of other agent resources, but, then, you knew that.

2. Double check your sources. Just because someone is listed in the Guide, it's not carved in granite. If a website is provided, jump online and verify that the agent is still with the company listed. And yes, I've lived through this, having just received an email last week that stated, "Mollie X is no longer with Agency Y. Your email is being forwarded to Jenny Z at Boy, did I feel lame.

3. Don't just randomly query, even within your genre. Now some may disagree with me and recommend that you query anyone with a pulse, but I have discovered that some discretion may simply save time. Take me for an example. To my ever-living shame, I actually queried an agent who specifically stated on her website that she was looking for something other than high fantasy. Yes, she was looking for fantasy, just not what I was peddling. It was a bloody waste of both of our times, and I should have known better. (I'm still wondering if I'm a masochist.)

4. Improve your chances. This was the part I failed to figure out until just the other day. I don't know if I was being stupid or lazy, but here's the deal: create a list of the living authors who write in a similar fashion. Do a Google search for their agents. Then query their agents. So I've googled Kristin Britain and she has Anna Ghosh of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency listed as the contact for "licensing and rights inquiries." I am currently cooking up a query for Ms. Ghosh, though in checking a list of of her recent sells, I see that this is the only fantasy listed. Hmmmm....Decision to be made.

5. Phone a friend. When in doubt, seek out your beta readers, your spouse, or your mom's friends and ask: if you had to put me in a category, who would the other authors be? Use their ideas to track down the most appropriate agent for your work. Who knows? You might find an answer that you wouldn't have targeted on your own.

Any other tips or thoughts or random bits of genius for all of us agent-seekers? It's a simplistic process but oh so painful...and easier to endure when there are friendly fellow bloggers participating in the same trial by fire. What's your story of failure? joy? humiliation? success?


Anonymous said...

Oh....DO the homework. My non-fiction book query originally landed on the desk of a fiction agent, who was having a bad day several years ago. I sure heard about it. Still stings, lol.

B J Keltz

Kiersten said...

I'll let you know when I've hit success. Right now I'm in the query, query, query some more stage. I would recommend querying even if the agent only represents one thing similar to yours--you never know. Plus, you want to be able to query as widely as possible. Unless you get an agent on your first batch, in which case, I'm never talking to you again.

Anthony said...

Gah query letters. ~twitch~

I'm not at the query stage yet, but every other week I take the damn thing out and re-write it.

If it wasn't for Miss Snark, my nails would be in horrid shape.

Anonymous said...

I sent out 7 initial queries, and so far I've received 4 "no thank yous." Still waiting on the other 3. Probably time to send out another batch. I am trying to target and personalize as much as possible, but so far it hasn't helped me any.

Alex Moore said...

@BJ: yikes! ;)

@kiersten: yes, the flip side of the coin...the probability of success can sometimes be in direct proportion to the number of queries sent. point taken.

@anthony: one thing i noticed about my first query letter was that it actually didn't really match my just spewed the heroic journey line and sounded oh so yesteray.

@uppington: don't forget that if you don't get a query nibble, the fault lies w/in the query, not within your novel. Tweak your query before you send it back out.