Query Tip: Do Your Research

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Most writers are well aware that writing successful query letters is no easy task. We gripe and groan about them nearly as often as we do about synopses writing (which is another bucket of glitter and sunshine). Pile the added pressure of knowing that the query letter is the first (and sometimes last) impression publishing professionals have of your book, and it's no wonder that query letter writing is every writers favorite (*cough*) task.

While I've already written about ways (not) to write the best query letter in existence, I'd like to talk about a hugely important part of the querying process that gets overlooked far more than it should; that is, the research.

I follow quite a few agents on Twitter and I'm always surprised by the amount of times I see them talking about query letters they receive for genres they don't represent, or queries that blatantly disregard their guidelines. It seems obvious, but those are mistakes that writers frequently make simply because they failed to do their research.

In a way I understand—for the new writer who has never traversed the parts of the internet that make agent and editor research easy, it can be a little daunting. So to help to amend that, I've put together a list of my top five favorite go-to places for agent research all nice and easy for you to find:

  1. Literary Rambles. Run by the fantastic Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre, Literary Rambles is the first place I check when researching agents. They have a huge database of spotlighted literary agents that is frequently updated, and every spotlight is chock full of information—a bio, likes, dislikes, quotes, links to interviews, clients, sales, submission guidelines and query tips. For an example of this fabulousness, check out agent Sarah LaPolla's spotlight

  2. AgentQuery. What I really like about AgentQuery is the ability to search their literary agent database by genre. If you use their full search feature (recommended), you can tailor your search by keywords, multiple genres (fiction and non-fiction) and filter it by whether or not the agent accepts e-mail queries, is a member of AAR, and is actively seeking clients. AgentQuery really takes the hard work out of finding agents for your genre. 

  3. Predators & Editors. This site is a must when researching. Predators & Editors has an enormous list of agents and editors, both legitimate and not. They'll let you know if the agency you're looking into has sales or if you should be wary of them. There are a lot of scammers out there, as well as well-intentioned but entirely inexperienced people out there. Be careful and make sure the agency or publishing house you're looking into is legitimate before you submit your query. 

  4. Absolute Write Water Cooler. What I really like about Absolute Write is that while the other sites provide a neutral, objective profile of the agents, Absolute Write has an agent forum where writers share their personal experiences. Everything from submission times, to responses, to happy news is discussed on the boards as well as not-so happy warnings and bewares. Absolute Write is yet another fantastic place to check before you hit send, and the agent and publishers index is a great place to start. 

  5. Twitter. I know Twitter doesn't sound like a helpful research stop, but you would be surprised what agents tweet about. I've seen a fair share about agent tastes, current wish lists, query tips and faux pas on Twitter alone. For those who are interested, I have a running Twitter list of agents (currently 128 members and growing) that makes it easy follow some fantastic publishing pros. 

Regardless of what you use, make sure you take the time to do your research before you start to write your query letters. Not only will it save you time, but you'll learn quite a bit about agent preferences and the pulse of the industry.

So those are my top five to-go research places, but now I want to hear from you. Where do you go to do your agent research?


Carissa Taylor said...

I love all of these.

QueryTracker is another of my faves. I love for its "Who Reps Whom" feature where I can find out who reps authors I love. I also appreciate it for the detailed statistical reports on individual agent response times, query response types (rejections rate, partial request rate, full request rate, no response), and submission response types (rejections, request additional material, offer of rep). Naturally it only generates these statistics for people who are using query tracker, but still, it's actually quite a lot of data!!

Literary Rambles is definitely one of my first go-to spots for agent research! I often do a google search for interviews with the agent I'm researching. Stacey O'Neale, Mother Write Repeat, and WOW - Women on Writing often have great interviews too.

Twitter is definitely a great place to get a feel for agent personalities and pet peeves. It always amazes me how many different (and sometimes strongly held) opinions there can be on query structure elements ... Loglines: yay or nay? Business-first/pitch second or pitch first/business at end? Comparisons to other authors on agent's list or no?

Ava Jae said...

QueryTracker! Yes, I've heard a lot about QueryTracker and while I've peeked at it occasionally, I never really looked much into it. The "Who Reps Whom" feature sounds really interesting (and much easier than trying to track down that information yourself).

Literary Rambles is fantastic. I also do google searches for agent interviews, but LR is my first stop because if the agent I'm looking for is spotlighted, then most of those interviews are linked right there in the post, which saves me a boatload of time. If not...then to Google!

And yes, Twitter certainly has opened my eyes to just how diverse opinions can be on submission information. It's no wonder we writers get confused and nervous about querying--every agent's preferences is entirely different and what's acceptable (or even preferable) to one agent might be entirely unacceptable to another.

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