Potluck Advice: The Search for an Agent

On a recent winter night—dark but not stormy—a dozen writers at various points in their novels gathered over chicken pot pie, roasted vegetables, spinach salad with grapefruit, and chocolate cookies to swap stories and advice about finding a good agent.


Here are some tips that emerged:


  • The book market is constantly shifting. Don’t lose sight of the fact that rejections related to the marketplace are not rejections of your writing.
  • Limit your agent research and querying to non-writing time!
  • Research, research, research. Find interviews with agents who seem promising; follow them on social media; listen to their podcasts; reread their websites, and pay close attention to all submission instructions.
  • Take advantage of crowd-sourced tools (like QueryTracker) to monitor agents’ reply habits, and consider subscribing to Publishers Marketplace to check up on agents’ recent sales, debut novels, marketplace trends… Twitter hashtags #querytip and #mswl offer useful information from industry professionals.
  • Keep a list—or an elaborate spreadsheet—of promising agents as you identify them, so you are always ready to send out the next round of queries.
  • Query a mix of experienced agents and more junior agents. Don’t nudge them for a response unless they have requested your full manuscript, and then only after two or three months.
  • Whenever possible, include a sentence that specifies why you are querying each individual agent. But don’t force this. Look for an authentic connection between your book and another title/author that agent represents.
  • Include comp books, ideally published in the last two years, and/or mention other writers your envisioned readers enjoy.
  • Test your query letter before approaching too many agents. If your first version does not result in any full-manuscript requests, overhaul your query letter.
  • Note (on that spreadsheet of yours) agents’ stated response times, so you know when to move on. If an agent doesn’t give a set response time, three months is a reasonable default.
  • Do not query more than one agent within a single agency at the same time. If an agent doesn’t reply, or sends a no, make sure her/his agency allows multiple queries before approaching anyone else there. (Pay close attention to the website and submission instructions!)
    Think about your work style as a writer, and which agenting style would help you the most. (Do you need deadlines, or shrivel under that pressure? Are you looking for an agent who will take a strongly editorial role?)
  • Don’t worry too much about accepted rules; there are always exceptions!

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