Top 10 Lessons Learned in My Search for a Literary Agent
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Top 10 Lessons Learned in My Search for a Literary Agent

By Dawn Colclasure

Writing books is my career of choice. For years, I’ve been doing it solo. And making mistakes along the way. When I got a new middle-grade series going, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and try to find myself a literary agent. Truthfully, it’s been one giant headache doing ALL the work myself: Writing, searching for publishers, trying to figure out if my book has marketing potential, editing what I think needs fixing and not what an agent knows needs fixing, searching for the right publisher, locating email addresses, etc. Also, a lot of publishers just don’t want unagented submissions.

If I want what is best for my writing career, I know I need to get an agent. Agents just really know the book business better and they can save a writer a lot of time and headache.

I have learned quite a few things in my search for an agent:

It’s not so painful sending out simultaneous queries. In the past, I’d query and wait, query and wait, query and wait. (No wonder I haven’t gotten anywhere for so long, right??) This time around, I am querying every agent my books might be a good fit for. And not just one at a time. I had to be sure to let the agents know I was querying other agents. Don’t keep them in the dark!

Don’t short-change yourself. Up until now, I never knew there could be a lit agent out there who represents ALL of the stuff I write (children's, middle-grade, commercial, chick-lit, genre fiction). For a long time, I was so convinced of this, I didn’t even bother to look for one. But guess what? I was surprised and excited to find agents who DO cover a multitude of genres. Not JUST children's/MG, not JUST sci-fi/fantasy and romance, but all kinds. There's not a whole lot of them, but they are definitely out there.

With "simultaneous querying," the rejections don't hurt so much. So far, I've sent out about 21 queries to agents, and have received 3 rejections. I'm going to keep at it! Of course, there has been the agent who I thought this book was a perfect match for, but then she rejected my query and I realize that, no, not quite the match I thought it'd be. Besides, I have ALL of those other queries out there to all of those other agents, and I'm NOT going to feel discouraged until I get rejected by EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!

It's best to use different listings of agents to query, not just one. I'm not going to just use agentquery.com to find an agent. I'm also going to try finding agents on P&E, in Jeff Herman's book, and through other books similar to mine. There are just so many agents out there and it's impossible to list every single one of them in one place.

Be flexible with the query letter. Some agents specifiy exactly what kind of query letter they want to see. One agency even had a sample query letter for prospective clients to model their own query letters after. I do have an all-purpose query letter to send to the agents, but for all those agents who want a particular kind of query letter, I follow that request instead.

Double-check addresses and spelling. Agent offices move, so always check their address on the website. And having a long last name, sometimes I goof in the typing of it. (It's bound to happen!) Also, sometimes I can't even read my own handwriting, so I have to double-check spelling of names.

Likewise, double-check the guidelines. ALWAYS READ GUIDELINES ON THE COMPANY SITE! And read them carefully. You’d be surprised what some agencies ask to see. One agent wanted to know what my favorite line from the manuscript is.

If there's too much controversy and negativity surrounding an agent/agency, skip it. Seriously, if I’ve heard bad things about an agency or if there’s rumors about them being bad agents, I don't query them. It's best to be safe than sorry. I really don't want another bad agent experience. Places to find reports of bad agents/agencies are:

WritersWeekly.com’s Whispers and Warnings: http://www.writersweekly.com/whispers_and_warnings.php

Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Check: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

Writer Beware:                   http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/ 

Preditors and Editors:   http://www.invirtuo.cc/prededitors/ 

 

You don't query an agent, you query the agency. If one agent at a company rejects my query, I'm not going to try a different agent at that same company. "No" from an agent means "no" from the company. For this reason, I had to start listing the companies these agents were with and not just the agent names.

Finally, always check the company website. Guidelines can change. People can die or leave the company. There was one agent I was going to query who I learned wasn't exactly....alive anymore. Another agency said that they do represent middle grade, although their listing on Publishers Marketplace says they don't. (I think it's better to go with what a company website says over what some other site says.) And with another agent, it said on agentquery.com that she didn't accept E-queries. One look at her company's Web site showed me brand new submission guidelines (effective May 8, 2008) where she now accepts E-queries. In fact, she ONLY accepts E-queries.

The above pointers are good tips to keep in mind when searching for a literary agent. If it’s a successful career in writing books a writer is after, save time and get a literary agent. Just be sure to keep the top ten tips in mind during that search.

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Dawn Colclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon. Her Web site is at http://dmcwriter.tripod.com/.

This article is available as a free reprint. Please use this article EXACTLY as it appears and in its entirety, complete with bio. For original source of article, please link to http://dmcwriter.tripod.com Please email me at DMCWriter@gmail.com when you use this article. Thanks!