One of the most frequently asked questions a published author hears is: “How did you get an agent?” Before you actually acquire one, agents can seem as elusive as the Looney Toons Road Runner and as intimidating as, well, agents.
But if you've written a good book then you have a fair chance of finding representation, and fortunately there are tools online to make the search easier.
Some of you may be in the process of finishing up your first book and aren’t sure what comes next. Or maybe you’re hesitant to start one, because the industry waters seem frightening and unnavigable. How exactly does one get an agent? Many of us started with a website called Querytracker. Mayhemer Chris Eboch mentioned the site on her list of valuable writer tools in a previous entry, but I think it deserves a little more time in the spotlight. After all, it’s where I started my search for an agent four years ago, a search that ended in representation. What is Querytracker? In my opinion, it’s the premier website for researching literary agents and familiarizing yourself with their personal tastes and quirks. It also makes for a wonderful base-camp during the query process. Let’s get started.
SETTING UP AN ACCOUNT
1). When you arrive at www.querytracker.net, the first thing you’ll want to do is set up a free account. It’s an easy process and shouldn't take more than a few minutes. The site does offer premium membership features if you want to spend the money, but you can certainly accomplish a lot with the free services.
Okay, we’re in. let’s take a look around.
1). On the top menu bar you’ll see the option labeled “Agents”. Click on that and a sub-menu will appear. Choose “Search for literary agents”. This will take you to a page containing a comprehensive directory of reputable agents.
2). The directory page offers a handy-dandy search engine you can use to narrow the list of agents. You'll want to query the ones who are currently representing work in your genre, and the engine lets you get pretty specific here. For example, if your book is about vampires, you can choose the “middle-grade fiction” and “horror” options. This way you can avoid sending “I Was a Middle-School Bloodsucker” to an agent who reps self-help books exclusively.
RESEARCHING THE AGENTS
Now that you've streamlined your list, you’re ready to research the remaining agents. The directory tells you a few things at a glance, such as which agents accept snail mail, email or both. Notice the orange word balloons? If you click on one you’ll find comments from other authors who have queried that particular agent. It’s a good way to gauge whether or not an agent has been diligent in responding to queries and if they’re regularly requesting additional material (partial or full manuscripts).
Clicking on an agent’s name will take you to their designated page which is chock-full of great information, such as:
1). The agent’s email address
2). The agent’s agency website url
3). The agent’s Twitter page url (Following agents on Twitter will help you gauge which ones may be a good fit for you personality-wise)
4). On the agent’s menu bar, you’ll find additional gems, like the genres they represent, a list of their clients, and a statistics report generator. On the right side of the page is a list of external links which may lead you to informative interviews. Again, it helps to familiarize yourself with an agent’s personality. After all, your agent will be an important person in your life, maybe for years to come.
READING SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
Once you’ve mentally laminated your list of agents to query, you’ll want to follow the external urls to their agency websites. It’s imperative that you read and follow their submission guidelines when querying. Agents can be sticklers, and you don’t want to give them any reason to reject you before they read your pages. Here are a few examples of mistakes to avoid: Writing your query in the voice of your main character, claiming your book is better than anything written by Insert Name of Bestselling Author Here, misspelling the agent’s name, submitting a full manuscript if the guidelines ask for a specific number of sample pages. It's best to avoid any unsolicited silliness. Get to the point, be professional, and—I’ll say it again for emphasis—follow the guidelines. If you’re not sure how to write a query letter, I recommend searching the internet for successful examples.
SETTING UP YOUR BASE-CAMP
1). Querytracker lets you set up a project page for each manuscript so you can toggle between them and keep track of your babies as they travel through the void.
2). You can use the provided icons to note when a book has received a response. For example, a frowny face = a rejection, an envelope with a lightning bolt means the agent has requested sample pages and you've sent them on. The one emoticon we all want to apply to our progress chart is the smiley face wearing a pair of sunglasses. That happy guy means an agent has offered representation. Querytracker provides a fun way to visually measure your progress.
The site also lets you set up alerts so you'll know when it’s time to give an agent a gentle nudge or close out a query. This feature is indispensable if your book is out with multiple agents. Agents are busy people; it may be months before they read and reply to your query. It’s easy for an author to lose track of time, but the alert feature simplifies things.
I've gone over many of Querytracker’s basic features, but play around with the site and see what works for you. It exists to maximize your chances of a smooth and successful query process. Take advantage of it. If you’re about to start your search for an agent or if you've been on the hunt for a while, I wish you the best of luck.