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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How Many Agents do You Query?

   
Author Topic: How Many Agents do You Query?
cynicalpen
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I just spammed about 30 agents and felt that that was probably a little too shotgunesque, but someone told me I should query 100 agents. Are there even 100 respectable agencies?

How many agents do you mass query?


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Meredith
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Don't do that again.

About five agents a week is a good ratio. Try, if you can do it sincerely, to personalize each query--reference the agent's blog, a book or an author they represent, something you picked up from their profile.

Besides, querying a few agents at a time gives you a chance to tweak your query letter if it's not working.


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Meredith
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As to the question on agencies:

I expect there are that many, but not necessarily that many that are appropriate for any given work. Most specialize to some degree.


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cynicalpen
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Oops!

How do you know whom to send it to? I mean, I can find agent e-mails but how would you know to prefer to send to one agent over another?


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tchernabyelo
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Research. This here interweb has quite a lot of information on it and it's by no means impossible to find out who represents, for example, many of the authors that might appear on your shelves. If you write similar material to some well-known authors, trying their agents first may be worthwhile (for instance, if you write Swedish crime fiction, then find the agents for "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" etc).
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Meredith
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I'd recommend AgentQuery for a start. You can search for agents based on several criteria, including the genre of your work.

Then a little more research. Are they members of AAR (Association of Authors Representatives)? AAR has a code of ethics. Look for them on Preditors and Editors, for example.

Most, not all, agencies have websites now. Look over their website, client list, etc. Usually, there will be agent bios as part of the website to help you select an agent within the agency to target your query to.

It's time consuming, but it really is the only way.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It's part of "doing your homework" as a writer.
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cynicalpen
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I'm not against doing homework I just find it a little unclear how to go about it. For example, using that website I can find agents by genre but how would I know if one agent has been more successful at marketing/publishing books than another?
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redux
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AgentQuery lists past and present clients for agents under their profiles. There you can see the books they've sold and to which publishers. That should give you a general idea of an agent's exposure to publishers.
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Meredith
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There's also usually a link to a website or at least their page on publishers marketplace.

AAR is always a good sign.


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Tiergan
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QueryTracker.net is awesome, they list agencies, the agents within, their clients.

Another good one is agentquery.com. They list past sales as well, not sure if QueryTracker does or not.

If you use both of them you should be all set, then click on the agencies website, then the agent and submission process and you should have a good start.

To personalize check their websites, their blogs and their past sales. you may have to take time to pull up their past sales at Amazon or similar to find the actual type of stories they represent. A fantasy is not just a fantasy.

I agree with the 5 at a time approach. If you have done your homework and are approaching the right agents, then after 5-10 nothings, change your query and move onto the next 5. Rinse and repeat.


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JamieFord
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You can also join Publishers Marketplace for a month ($20) and look up the deal histories of agents to see if what they've been selling as of late is germane to what you write. Not all agents list their deals, but most do.
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cynicalpen
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Good ideas, thanks everyone.

Now what if a particular agent isn't on AgentQuery.com?


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cynicalpen
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The agent in question is Denise Little who seems completely legit, but I can't find any statistics about her. I heard she is unusually willing to look at manuscripts but I'd like to know who she represents before querying her if possible.
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MAP
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You could wait until an agent offers representation before you look into him/her. Then you could ask her for a list of her resent deals and clients and ask if it is okay for you to contact them.

You don't have to accept immediately when you get an offer. Agents expect you to ask questions and think about it before you sign the contracts.

There are some great posts in the archives of miss snark's blog about questions to ask once you get an offer from an agent.


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Meredith
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quote:
The agent in question is Denise Little who seems completely legit, but I can't find any statistics about her. I heard she is unusually willing to look at manuscripts but I'd like to know who she represents before querying her if possible.

Denise Little is listed on Preditors and Editors only as being an agent with Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. There is no further information about her there. No indication of sales, either. She may be a very new agent. Could be okay, as they're generally actively looking to build their client list.

If Ethan Ellenberg has a website, try there.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Denise Little used to be in publishing, at Tekno Books and at Kensington, where she had her own imprint, "Denise Little Presents." She has a lot of contacts among SF/F writers, and she has a blog at http://deniselittle.wordpress.com/ if you'd like to know more than that.
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cynicalpen
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Thank you all.
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izanobu
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For me? I query zero agents at a time.

I go straight to editors.


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cynicalpen
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Doesn't that land you flat in the slush pile?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Agents have slush piles, too. The "slush pile" is how editors and agents refer to unsolicited manuscripts, partials, and queries.
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cynicalpen
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So then what's the advantage of going to an agent at all?
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redux
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Agents can find the right editor for your manuscript as well as haggle a better deal. Also, some publishers will not accept un-agented manuscripts.
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izanobu
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The right agent probably knows and might be friendly with a few editors (4-9 or so) and might get your submission onto the top of the pile. The right agent also can finagle a better deal for you.

A bad agent is worse than none at all.

I've gotten full requests and personal rejections from editors at publishers whose submission policies state "no un-agented submissions". They always take a look because they don't know if your query might be exactly something they are interested in that could be a winner. If I ever get an offer, I intend to use a literary lawyer to negotiate the deal with me (like an agent, only works for a flat fee and is actually in a regulated profession). Not a method that works for everyone, but so far I've found it's easier just to send my queries directly to people who can buy the book. That's my way


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cynicalpen
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That's an interesting strategy. Have you had much success with it?
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MAP
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My plan is to first submit to agents. They really can open some doors for you, and many of them know editors' personal tastes, so they will get your manuscript to the editor that most likely will like it. But I do agree that you have to be careful not to sign with a bad agent.

If no agents bite, I plan to submit directly to editors.

Of course I need a finished novel to do any of this.


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izanobu
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cynicalpen- I assume that was directed at me? I'll answer anyway. I've had three full requests (all rejected since then) and a handful of personal responses (querying 3 novels, one fantasy, one sci/fi, one mystery). So I haven't sold anything, which is my definition of success, but I'm getting responses and requests for more, so I figure I'm doing just fine there and it is only a matter of time until I write the right novel and it ends up on the right editor's desk.

I use Publisher's Marketplace to research editors (I'm not sending out randomly). It's 20 bucks a month subscription, but fully worth it in my mind because I can keep track of what is selling and which editors are buying which kinds of books. Plus it gives me contact information for most of the editors I want to send to.

So yes. I'd say I'm happy with how things are going. I plan to send each novel to 20 editors (or there about) and then put anything that doesn't sell up on my own. My goal is to keep 4-7 novels out on submission at all times. I don't know if any agent I could get at this stage in my career would be interested in submitting 5+ novels a year in potentially four different genres. Often agents specialize and only know a few editors in a single genre. That isn't useful to me. It's easier just to do it myself


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cynicalpen
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It was, thank you.
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cynicalpen
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Earlier it was mentioned that mass-querying like I did, to over 30 agents simultaneously, was a "no, no". However I've been thinking about it and I don't understand why.

On the plus side: you get to hear back from more people more quickly.

On the cons side: What? It's considered rude? Would an agent who wanted to represent you really be put off by the fact that you have other queries out there? I mean, if you like that agent, couldn't you just accept their offer of representation and ignore (or reject, in a twist of irony) any further offers of representation that may materialize from your other queries?

Since it's maybe 1 in 25 chance of being asked for a manuscript and then another 1 in 25 chance of being offered representation (I'm only guessing on those odds) what is the probability something bad could happen from mass querying?

More likely you get it over with sooner, and can accept that no one will represent your writing a lot faster. Can move on with life.


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izanobu
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I think what is a no-no is writing up a generic mass query and sending it to a recipient list of 30 agents. I don't see anything wrong (other then the amount of admin work to keep up with) with querying that many as long as you take the time to send each query individually (make sure you have the right name, address, etc).
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Meredith
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There are hurdles to get over in getting published. Why make them any higher than they have to be.

  • Each query should be individually addressed to a single agent and use that agent's name in the salutation.
  • If possible, some personalization should be added to the query--a reference to the agent's blog, to another book they represented, etc.
  • Frankly, researching the appropriate agents does take a little time.
  • Querying a handful of agents at a time allows you to tweak and fine tune your query. If it doesn't work for the first ten or so agents, you can change it and try the next batch.
  • Agents do talk to each other. Most of them expect you to query other agents. They don't expect you to wallpaper the entire industry with the same query.

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cynicalpen
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Clarification: I didn't mean a mass e-mail, I just meant having a massive number of queries (sent individually) out at the same time.

Disclaimer: I hope my tone doesn't sound combative or confrontational or anything. I like to chase after ideas and that, for me, involves arguing and devil's advocating so I can explore an issue as deeply as possible. Meredith, you are obviously an intelligent and well-informed person on this subject, which is why I'm going to "argue" with you to gain greater insight. I suspect you are probably right in your recommendation to not query many, many agents simultaneously, what I'm testing for is to see what the risk is of doing so.

Sidenote: I found out about this ubb code and it's pretty cool

Continuation of Thread Topic: As for tweaking the query letter, how do you know how to change it if agents make no mention of what was off-putting? Maybe it didn't work on agents A-J but might have worked on K-Z. But my arbitrary changes to my query that may have made it a better fir for A-J might alienate K-Z. In other words, changes to a query that you thought was good enough to send out to A-J are pretty much arbitrary. How could one possibly know what to change?

[This message has been edited by cynicalpen (edited February 03, 2011).]


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izanobu
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My view on queries (again, I don't query agents, I query editors, so take as you will), is that if I've gotten no personal responses after about 10 queries, it might be the query letter that needs tweaking. Make sure it's succinct, has a hook, and is as professional as you can make it. Other than that, without personal responses, you have no way to know.
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MAP
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Cynicalpen,

From my understanding it is all a numbers game. If you don't get a request for a partial in like 1:5 agents, your query letter is not working.

As to know how to change it, read up on query letters on agent's blogs (like Nathan Bransford and pub rants), read over query letters at query shark. Change what needs to be changed, then post your query here or ask for volunteers to read it and send it through e-mail, whatever you are more comfortable with. IMO you really need feedback on query letters.

Of course I have no idea if you have already done this. If so, just ignore me.


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Meredith
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quote:
As for tweaking the query letter, how do you know how to change it if agents make no mention of what was off-putting? Maybe it didn't work on agents A-J but might have worked on K-Z. But my arbitrary changes to my query that may have made it a better fir for A-J might alienate K-Z. In other words, changes to a query that you thought was good enough to send out to A-J are pretty much arbitrary. How could one possibly know what to change?

You don't. It's all just shooting in the dark, whether you query agents or editors. Most of them will never tell you why they didn't warm up to your story. But if you've queryed say ten agents and none of them did, well, it could be the query.

IME, the query letter is going to be the single most revised, workshopped, revised, rewritten, anguished-over 250 words you'll ever write. More even than the beginning of your novel.

You can educate yourself on various websites. You can have as many other people as possible read it. You're still going to change it every month or two.

It's frustrating, but it does just seem to be the way things are.


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cynicalpen
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Hmm, that does give me something to think about. Another potential disconnect I see though, between agents and writers, is that my query letter is trying to say "I'm a good story" but the agent is probably more interested in a query letter that says "I'm a sellable story, people will buy me."
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Meredith
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They want both--a good story that's sellable. The only thing you can control is the good part. Fads, what's hot, what the editors are buying, all change and the time it takes to write a good novel is too long.
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LDWriter2
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quote:

Fads, what's hot, what the editors are buying, all change and the time it takes to write a good novel is too long.

Usually, but not always. There's one fad that started years ago that still seems to be building, it has changed a bit, seems like someday it will reach a saturation point but so far as I said it's still growing.

And of course some fads stay around even as they drop off some. They are no longer fads than but a stable market that some can get into. Like space opera or streampunk. Well, that last is a smaller sub-genre that might be growing into a fad. I do seem to be seeing more books, anthologies, and magazines in that area.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited February 03, 2011).]


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MartinV
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Try using Google.
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Meredith
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Try this post by agent Mary Kole if you're thinking about writing to a trend.
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Lissa
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Meredith: your links, as usual,are invaluable! Thanks~

Lis


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pdblake
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I'm subbing to UK agents at the moment. There aren't many so I'm doing a couple at a time. So far I've done three by email and three by post. There are only another seven that I've found who represent fantasy. I'll give it a month before I try the next lot.

Once I start on the US agents I'll do maybe five at a time


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