In the new publishing paradigm, some authors seek editors at small houses instead of an agent. If you want to walk the traditional path (like me), the best idea is still to find an agent to represent you.
Even though the number of agents is high, finding the perfect fit for you and your work takes research and time.
Lots of time. At least six months to a year.
The traditional path is traditionally – slow. Up to three years to see your book in print after you’ve hired an agent. No, I’m not kidding.
Again, this is why many authors cut out the middle man and go straight to editors. Which is fine if you don’t want to be published with one of the big houses. All of these don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, although most of them have imprints that might look at unagented work.
Fortunately, there are several databases of literary agent listings. Some are provided online which is very convenient. Others can be found in printed guides that are updated annually.
The most well-know listing of literary agents is from the Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest each year. They also have an online database, accessible with paid membership.
This Literary Agent Directory was also helpful. However, I didn’t enter my information. It says access is free, but I don’t know that for sure.
Make sure you don’t shoot in the dark. Read up on any agent before you query them. What do you need to know?
- Are they accepting new clients?
- Do they represent your genre?
- What authors do they represent? Similar to you or not?
- What are their specific guidelines for submissions?
This final one is important because if you narrow your list down with the other questions and then fail to follow these “rules,” your query will find its way into the trash – rather than the slush pile
Perfecting your Query
If you’re like most writers I know, writing query letters doesn’t top your list of favorite things. Seriously. I would rather go to the dentist.
Never fear! There is a formula for writing an excellent query letter. Do I guarantee it will get you noticed?
Query letters should be short and specific.
- First paragraph includes your logline, title, genre and word count.
- Second paragraph embellishes the major plot points of the main story line, naming your protagonist and possible the antagonist, but probably not any other characters
- Third paragraph might be why you chose this agency – or why you are qualified to write this story
- Final paragraph lists publishing credits or awards that relate to the genre/form you’re submitting
- Use a professional tone, but keeping it conversational appeals to many agents who want to know you would be someone they could work with
Send queries in batches. Many authors recommend sending to ten agencies at a time. No need to tell them you are querying others, but if you get a request for the full manuscript from more than one agent, you should divulge that to both parties.
All these submissions! How will I ever keep them straight?
I have a handy Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of what manuscripts I’ve submitted. There are also online databases that will help you organize this information.
I had access to the Writer’s Digest Agent Database when I took a class from them. However, that expires unless you become a VIP member by paying a fee.
These are the columns on my spreadsheet: Agent/Editor/Publisher, Contact email, contact Phone, manuscript title, date queried, and date returned.
There is also a “days” column that automatically keeps a running total of how long your submission has been circulating. It’s interesting to note that the agents on my list have taken much longer to respond than the publishers.
I recently added another column: “Results.” This way I can note whether they asked for more pages, rejected or accepted my work.
Here are some links to databases or information to build your own:
- Luminary Writer’s Database
- Sonar Submission Tracking Tool
- Duotrope (requires membership)
- Matt Bell’s Submission Tracker
- Neon Magazine Excel Submission Tracker
Once you send out that first batch of query letters, get to work on your next writing project.
This is what writer’s do. Chewing your fingernails and checking your email every hour won’t get the next story down on paper.
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