Yes, I made a pact to query 100 agents before I would quit! In fact, I probably would have kept on going had I not gotten two offers of representation by the time I hit 83 queries. (see Query 100 Agents) How did I find all those agents? How did I keep track of my submissions and responses? Here’s how:
Extensive research first
As of this date, there may be other resources, but when I was looking, I used Agent Query. The site is kept up to date, and you can narrow your search too. For example, you can search agents by genre, or agents who accept email queries. Online searchable databases are the best because anything in print risks being outdated as soon as it’s published. Agent Query also provides links to agents’ websites.
Publishers Marketplace is another excellent source. For a $20 monthly fee, you can research dozens of agents’ sales records and what publishers they sell to—both important details—in one month.
I also googled agents’ names and read online interviews so I could tailor each query to their interests. I queried established agents as well as newer ones that worked for an agency with a good track record. I looked for agents who represented fiction similar to my novel.
Keep track of everything
Word Excel was a great tool to keep track of names and what agencies they worked for, addresses, emails, and exactly what information they wanted with queries. I made a list of forty, and then started sending letters out in small batches. I marked the date that I sent the query, and when I got a response. Whenever I had free time, I did more agent research and added to my list.
I also logged comments that came with rejections from the agents who’d read a few chapters or the mss, such as “I wasn’t grabbed by the characters,” or “It didn’t draw me in as I’d hoped,” so I could see if a pattern arose that might indicate I needed to do further editing. After about four months, I trimmed the mss, tinkered with the point of view, and quickened the pace.
Typically I mailed (or emailed) a batch of 8 and then waited to see what kind of response I would get. After each string of rejections, I reworked my query letter, making it a work in progress. This is the value in not sending your query to 50 top agents right from the get-go: you lose that chance to readjust your letter.
That said, it’s really hard to wait.
Sometimes it would take three months to hear back from an agent. Some agents didn’t respond at all, especially to email queries. There are agents who state on their website that if you haven’t heard back from them in three weeks, assume they aren’t interested, which really sucks because you can’t help wondering if they even received your query. With sending queries USPS with a SASE, you might think you at least have a guaranteed response, but some of them never bothered to send my SASE back.
Then again, one of the agents who offered to represent me took seven months to respond.
About the query letter itself: mine opened with a one sentence hook, followed by the genre and word count (which every agent wants up front), and then the pitch. In the pitch, I gave enough information about the main character to make the agent curious about her. It’s helpful to consider whether your story is plot or character driven.
Also, getting feedback on your query helps. A fellow writer told me I needed to add a line or two to make the agent care about the characters, which made a big difference. I also made the conflict in the story clear. I found a way to use colorful language to show what sets my writing apart. I constantly reevaluated my query it as I worked down my list, and as I did, I noticed got more requests for the manuscript.
The query letter is still the best way to get your work in front of an agent, unless you have a personal connection. I took my time writing it, and researching who to send it to.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, about one women’s need to tell her story without shame. Publisher: BuddhaPuss Ink LLC
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers Favorite Book Finalist
2016 USA Book News “Best Book” Finalist
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
“With tenderness, but without blinking, Linda K. Sienkiewicz turns her eye on the predator-prey savannah of the young and still somehow hopeful.” ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, Deep End of the Ocean