Ideally you want to meet the agent you hope to work with (so next month we’ll focus on writers conferences) but if you simply can’t swing a conference, then the Internet is your next best option.
Go to Amazon.com and search for books that are similar to yours. Find out which publishing houses are selling these books, then start Googling and see what happens. Do you think you have an Idiot Guide in you? Alpha Books puts those out. A quick Google search on “Alpha Books AGENT” yields a top result from a Publishers Marketplace Literary Agency entry for Robert (Bob) Diforio, D4EO Literary Agency. Bob handles a bunch of authors who write Idiot Guides. Bob could be a good agent to contact.
That took less than a few minutes to figure out. Spend an afternoon on the Internet and before long you’ll have a nice long list of people to query. Now dig a little deeper. Read everything you can online about your targeted agents and, based on your findings, prioritize your list. Make sure to check them out on the Preditors and Editors website (hosted by anotherrealm and invirtuo). This site dedicates itself to protecting writers from scammer agents and editors. For example, I just searched for Bob Diforio and found that he is RECOMMENDED. Cool. Now I can move on.
The next step is to develop a database of your qualified agents that includes their contact info, along with submission requirements. Make sure to follow these requirements to the letter. If they only want snail-mail, don’t e-mail them, even if their e-mail address is published. If you do query via snail mail, be sure to include a SASE. Keep a log of the dates you send out your queries as well as the responses.
NOTE: If you have $30 to spare, Pay for a one-year subscription to http://www.WritersMarket.com You’ll gain access to their search engine to find qualified agents and editors. You can also use their ready-made Submission Tracker for your database.
If an agent requests a full proposal, send it and then wait at least three weeks before following up. If they want a full manuscript, wait at least six weeks. Remember, agents receive hundreds of queries per day, so what will seem like a long wait for you will be a quick reply for them.
If you receive a rejection, enter the rejection date in your database and quickly move on to the next name. Try to keep three queries out at a time so you always feel like you’re in the game. Just remember to let the others know when you’ve signed with an agency. Not only is it good manners, it’s a great feeling to tell an agent, “Thank you for your consideration, but I’ve just signed with XYZ agency.”
Mary Andonian is the agents and edtiors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference, one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. Contact Mary at maryandonianwwconference AT yahoo.com.