How I Found My Agent
By Jan Rydzon
Early on, I decided to go the traditional publishing route for my first novel. According to my research, mid-to-large publishers rarely accept unsolicited manuscripts, so I knew I had to find an agent. Searching the web, reading “how to” books, and attending writers workshops got me started. Along the way, I developed a step-by-step approach that worked for me.
Identify reputable agents. I wanted agents who represent mystery novels, and used QueryTracker.net, an invaluable and free online resource. Its database contains almost 1500 agents. After selecting “mystery” as my genre, the list narrowed to 314. QueryTracker provides links to research sites such as AgentQuery, Publisher’s Marketplace and Preditors & Editors. Because researching 314 agents would take a lot of time, I developed selection criteria. For example, I wanted agents who accept email queries and typically responds to them within a reasonable amount of time—information tracked by QueryTracker. Then I prioritized my list.
Research what each agent wants in her query package. I visited my top eight agents’ websites for their querying guidelines, where one or more of the following were specified: query letter, synopsis, manuscript pages. Some agents wanted only a query letter, others, the letter plus the first 10 pages, others, the query letter, a synopsis and the first 25 pages. All permutations of letter, number of pages, and synopsis were represented.
Write the query letter. I searched the web for information on how to write a good one. Writersdigest.com is a good place to start. Once I had the basics covered in a generic letter, I personalized it for each agent, using info from their social media accounts and websites.
Send queries and wait. Receiving a response from an agent can take two hours, two months, or never. Some agencies’ websites specify, “If you haven’t heard from us in thirty days, assume we’ve passed on your query.” An agent may request the entire manuscript or a slew of pages—the first 25, for example—send a form letter rejection, or send nothing at all. I like to keep eight active queries in the queue, so if I haven’t heard from an agent by a certain amount of time (I used two weeks), I’ll drop her off the list and query the next agent on my prioritized list.
Initially, receiving a request for an entire manuscript is scrape-me-off-the-ceiling thrilling, but it takes a month or more of pins and needles for an agent to respond—and most do. They either send a personal letter something like, “Dear Janice, Thank you for submitting The Gone Girl on the Train. Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with your main character (story, setting, etc.). Good luck finding an agent who’s perfect for you.” Or they send a form letter: “Dear Author, Thank you for submitting your manuscript. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit my list. Good luck.” Or silence. If a month passes and I haven’t heard anything, I drop the agent off my list and query to the next one.
Don’t Give Up! I was fairly discouraged when I’d sent fifty queries, without an offer of representation. But then I read somewhere a writer should keep querying until they’ve sent 100. So I kept going and finally got “the call” after nine months and eighty-two queries.
My agent has begun pitching my three-book mystery series proposal to publishers’ editors. The process is similar to writers querying agents, and will take as long or longer. But no worries, I’m in it for the long haul and have a new novel to finish.