Capturing the Details

Yesterday my four-year-old daughter discovered my old digital camera sitting on my desk and asked if she could have it. Since we’ve replaced it with a newer camera and our son already has a camera, I said, “Sure.” She immediately went off and started snapping pictures.

What caught my attention wasn’t the fact that she wanted to take pictures. Both of my kids have had a fascination with taking pictures from an early age. It was what she took pictures of: my desk, my hand on the mouse next to the computer screen, Legos, the dog. Then, when we went to pick my son up from the bus stop, she took pictures of flowers, trees, the sewer cover, a red mark on the sidewalk, her boot as she was walking, a neighbor working in her yard, cars driving by, the bus arriving, her brother getting off the bus, and a lion statue at the end of a driveway. When we came home and she’d earned her iPad time, she took about fifteen (very blurry) pictures of the scenes on the iPad. There are now 82 pictures on the camera and only about three are pictures I would have taken. Since I won’t show you pictures of my kids, here are a few of the best ones:

DSCN6115 DSCN6101 DSCN6096

I clicked back through the pictures this morning, and what fascinated me is how close in she got for so many of them, like she really wanted to see the details. (And some things are completely unidentifiable.)

DSCN6158 DSCN6108 DSCN6117

Maybe that’s just the nature of a four-year-old, wanting to explore the world and understand how it’s put together. But as I was driving home this morning after dropping my kids off at daycare and looking around at the gorgeous fall morning, thinking about those pictures she’d taken, I started focusing on details, too. The way the rising sun glinted off the tops of orange and red-tipped leaves. The cloud of fog lifting away over the river in the distance. A single solid gold tree rising from a still-green lawn.

Can you tell I like fall? Well, there were these four years I spent in Texas (college, you know), where I missed fall completely. It happened in Missouri while I was there, and what passed for fall in Texas happened while I was home for winter break. The first year I was back in Missouri for fall, I remember spending an afternoon sitting on my parents’ porch (they live out in the woods) staring at the trees and writing about it in a notebook. I should probably pull that out … The point is, these are the details I notice because they have meaning for me.

DSCN6095And as writers, it’s important for us to capture that wonder in the details. The details are what set our writing apart and give voice to our characters. We probably don’t want to give it the voice of my four-year-old’s boot, but maybe the character would identify with the lion at the end of the neighbor’s driveway. Maybe they have an inner lion just waiting to roar at the world. Who knows? Looking through the character’s eyes is like carrying around a camera and taking snapshots of his/her life. So remember to take note of those details!

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How to Research Agents: Fun with Statistics

In case you’re just joining this series, I started it because a writer queried me and brought it to my attention that some newer writers may not know how to build an agent spreadsheet. We’re now on the fifth post in the series (sixth if you count the one I’d written last year on finding books agents represent). To find them all, click on the How to Research Agents category to the right.

So, now that you’ve put in the basic details, researched what the agents are looking for, figured out what you want from the agent relationship, and inputted the agents’ submission guidelines, it’s time to put in the front-end details that will help you determine how to organize the agents into querying rounds. For this purpose, I insert six columns to the left of the agent’s name. If you were working ahead in the last post, you may have already inserted one of these, so  adjust as needed.

Rank Round Note [Genre/Cat] requests? Sub note Responds?

I’m going to explain these out of order, starting with the one you may have already completed if you worked ahead. And I’ll warn you in advance–we won’t fill out all of these today.

Sub note

While I don’t include full submission guidelines in my spreadsheet because they often change, I do put a brief note at the front end of my spreadsheet. For example, this column might say: query only, 5 pages, synopsis + 3 chapters, online form, etc. However, I always go back to the link in the Submission Guidelines column when I’m ready to prepare my submission, and if you haven’t already completed this step, that’s where you should go now to find the information.

Here’s why I like to have it up front. When you’re ready to query, there are different pieces of your submission package: your query, your first pages, your synopsis. You will want to test out these different pieces, and depending on how confident you are in each piece, it may be beneficial to choose agents for your first round based on what they request with that initial submission. So you may want to include a few agents who want a query only, a few who want a query and the first five pages, a few who want a query, synopsis and pages, and so on. Having the information at the front of the spreadsheet may help you decide which agents to try first.

Responds?

You may be able to fill in this column from your research into submission guidelines. Check your Response Times column and see what the agency/agent resources said. I just put a simple yes/no in this column. But don’t give up if there wasn’t an answer. If you decide to purchase a premium QueryTracker membership, you can still answer this question. I’ll get to that below.

[Genre/Cat] Requests?

Ooh, I have so much fun with this! However, it does require a premium QueryTracker membership and some time. The premium membership is $25 but totally worth it for the statistics it gives you access to. While you can track some agent response times to queries through the comments section on each agent’s profile, you can see real-time responses within the Data Explorer with the premium membership. I use it as a tool to see how much of my genre/category the agent has requested in the past year. There are two easy ways to get to this report in QueryTracker. Since your spreadsheet is probably still sorted by agency, we’ll start this way:

  1. Click on Search for Literary Agents.
  2. On the left-hand side, click on the Agent or Agency Name option, then type in the agency name. It will pull up all of the agents at that agency.
  3. Click on the blue “Ex” in the agent’s row to pull up the report of all queries logged in the system.
  4. To narrow the report by your genre or category, click on the arrow to the right of the “All Genres” pull-down menu and select the desired category or genre. (QueryTracker calls Young Adult and Middle Grade genres, even though these really are age categories.)
  5. Go through and count the number of requests for your category or genre. I generally do the past year. Whatever you decide, use the same cut-off date for all of the agents so you have the same sample.
  6. In the [Genre/Cat] Requests? column, type in “[number] requests in last [time period]“.
  7. At the top of the page, click on Search for Literary Agents and it will return you to the page with the list of agents at the agency you searched for.

Alternatively, you can navigate to each individual agent’s profile, click on the Reports tab, click on the “Data Explorer” link, then follow steps 4-6 above.

You can use this same report to determine if an agent responds to queries for the Responds? column. Depending on how quickly they respond, you may need to click back through a few pages, but this report will show either requests, rejections or closed due to no response.

Note

You may be thinking, “Wait, Michelle, there’s already a Notes column!” Well, yeah, that’s why this one’s called Note without the “s”. Ok, I know that’s lame, and you can call it something else if it’s less confusing for you. This column is basically my catch-all for any information I don’t want to miss as I’m organizing agents into querying rounds. Here are a few things I note in this column:

  • If I’ve met/will meet the agent at a conference. In the latter case, I might want to hold off querying them until after.
  • If they are participating in an online contest that I plan to enter, I list the contest’s name. That way I also know to hold off querying until after.
  • If the agent has requested one of my previous manuscripts.
  • If the agent represents someone I know personally.
  • If the agent requests exclusives.
  • If an agent is closed to queries, I mark it along with the length of time if that’s mentioned.
  • Once I’ve started querying and receive requests, I use this column to track statistics from another fun report in QueryTracker: Agents with Similar Tastes. I’m not going to get into that today since presumably you haven’t queried yet–I didn’t use it for my first manuscript. However, I will address it in the final post when we add the querying fields.

Rank

After researching these agents and their tastes, you should have a pretty good idea of which agents you’re most interested in. I assign each agent a rank based on how likely I think they are to be a fit for my current manuscript. My rankings range from 1 to 4 with .5 increments, but you can use whatever system you want. But because this column is one of the ways I sort the spreadsheet when I’m ready to start separating the agents into querying rounds, it’s also necessary to mark agents I can’t query differently. So if an agent is closed to queries, I put N/A (not applicable) in that column.

I also use this column to make a selection for those agencies where I can only query one agent. By assessing all of the data–what they’re looking for, how many requests they’ve made, whether they respond, etc.–I choose which agent at that agency is the best fit, assign him/her a ranking, and put N/A for the others at that agency. You may even want to move those agents to a new sheet in your spreadsheet labeled N/A to de-clutter it. That’s totally up to you, though. I’d keep the ones who are closed to queries on your main sheet as they may re-open before you finish querying. If they do, you can assign them a rank and make them active.

Round

Querying strategy is too long to cover in a paragraph, and there isn’t one right answer, so it’s going to have to be a separate post. I’ll cover that next week with some ideas on how you might approach ordering the agents on your list. I’ve done it differently with every manuscript, so don’t expect a step-by-step process. What you can expect is to have a lot of information from which to develop your own strategy.

Other posts in this series:

 

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MG Series Recommendation: The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

I had another YA book ready to review today, but I bumped it because I finished reading the final book in Jacqueline West’s The Books of Elsewhere series last week and I just have to gush about it. THE SHADOWS, the first book in the series, was one of the first middle grade books I read back when I decided to write MG several years ago, and I’ve been following the series ever since. The fifth and final book, STILL LIFE (a title with multiple meanings!), was fantastic and a perfect conclusion. I did review the third book, THE SECOND SPY, back in 2012, but I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the series, so I’m going to keep this review fairly general, and some of my points from that earlier review may be repeated.

The Books of Elsewhere is a fantasy series for young readers written by Jacqueline West. Beginning with The Shadows, the series follows the adventures of eleven-year-old Olive Dunwoody as she travels to Elsewhere: the world inside the antique paintings on the walls of the old stone house on Linden Street. Danger and mystery are around every corner as Olive encounters evil magic, talking cats, and a small boy trapped inside the painted world.

And here are the five things I love most about this series.

1. The premise – I love how this series ties together art and magic. Who wouldn’t want to climb into their favorite painting and experience it firsthand? Well, I would! Of course, these paintings are a little more sinister and much more alive than the imitation Renoirs on my walls …

2. The voice – While the majority of these stories are told from Olive’s point of view, the novels are in third person omniscient, so there is a narrator closely overseeing the events as they unfold. I think that’s very hard to pull off well these days, with the preference for close third person or first person narratives, but Ms. West is a master. I love the introduction to the final book, and it doesn’t have any spoilers, so I’ll share a bit.

“Winter is a dangerous time.

“There is ice to slip on. There is snow to skid through. There are whiteouts and wind chill, frostbite and head colds. And there are all kinds of winter sports–like sledding and skating and downhill skiing–that will help you hurt yourself very efficiently.

“Simply stepping outdoors in the wintertime can be dangerous. If you’re the kind of person who tries to avoid danger and discomfort, you might step outdoors as rarely as possible. If you’re a gangly, distractible twelve-year-old girl who is prone to falling down even without snow and ice to help you do it, you might avoid the outdoors whenever you can.

“And if you are a gangly, distractible twelve-year-old girl with a huge stone house to nestle inside, and if you have far more chilling reasons than frostbite to avoid the outside world, you might hardly leave your house at all.”

3. The ability to surprise me – I could call these twists because there certainly are twists in these stories, but I’m more impressed by the fact that after reading five books in this series, I could still be surprised. There were constantly new developments I didn’t expect–not necessarily twists–that kept each novel original and unique within the series.

4. The series story arc – It’s rare to find a five-book series. I think that has something to do with my previous point. It’s hard to develop a unique story goal for each new book while still carrying through a continuing storyline. Ms. West did an excellent job keeping me engaged through five books, and I appreciated that while I wanted to keep reading, none of the endings were cliffhangers :).

5. The conclusion – The ending to the series was very satisfying. All of my questions about the story world were answered, and I was left wanting to recommend it to all of you, so that’s a success!

So, who’s already read this series? I know when I reviewed THE SECOND SPY a couple MMGM readers said they intended to …

Posted in Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Review: UNHARMONIOUS by Laine Boyd

Karen S. FaszoldToday I’m turning the blog over to my mom, Karen Faszold (that’s her to the right!), which is only appropriate since she inspired my love of reading. I’m excited because she’s going to review a debut book by a local St. Louis author. I’d love to do it myself, but with my towering to-be-read list, I haven’t yet gotten to it. BUT, it has music, mystery, and it’s set in St. Louis, so what’s not to love? Hopefully I’m not stealing my mom’s five things she loves best :). On to the description …

Julie Davenport, a cellist with the prestigious St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, is trying to put her life back together after her beloved husband dies in a terrible plane crash. After an extended leave of absence, she returns to the beautiful Powell Hall to resume her successful career, while continuing her struggle with grief. It isn’t long before her life is turned upside down again when she is followed on her drive home after her first rehearsal. She then begins to receive threatening phone calls. At first she is annoyed, but as the caller persists, annoyance turns to fear.

Unharmonious by Laine BoydWithin a few days a man claiming to be a detective shows up at her home and informs her that her late husband’s plane crash may not have been an accident. He asks her many questions, which, to her dismay, she is unable to answer. Questioning how well she actually knew her late husband, she embarks on her own quest for answers only to be under attack and fearing for her life. Who is after her? What do they want? Who can she trust?

Not everyone is convinced that Julie is innocent. Is she unwittingly involved as a pawn in someone’s dangerous game? Or, is she the mastermind behind a scheme of fraud and murder? How did the quiet and privileged life of an unassuming symphony cellist, dedicated to bringing beautiful music to others, become so Unharmonious?

Take it away, Mom!

Thanks, Michelle. I found I could not limit it to five, so here are the six things I loved most:

1.  Music - Julie Davenport, the main character, is a professional cellist and also a pianist. I loved the descriptions of early lessons, her love for her instrument, dedication to practice, and the whole life of a musician. Plus, she is a member of my favorite orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

2. St. Louis - Because the story occurs in my hometown, I particularly enjoyed the references to various St.Louis landmarks, highways, parks, and restaurants. These were seamlessly integrated with imaginary streets and places that make up the setting for the story.

3. Chocolate - Since I know how much the author LOVES chocolate, it was fun to see Julie love it in the same way. Her decadent descriptions made me hungry, too!

4. Friendship - Throughout the book there are friends who interact with Julie in positive and very different ways, as she is going through depression and later fear. And there was a twist here that completely caught me by surprise, always a good thing in a mystery.

5. Romance - The descriptions of romance in the book were well done, without being risqué. While this book was not written for the YA reader, there is nothing in the book that would be a concern if they read it.

6. Faith - Julie questions why a loving God would allow all the things that have happened in her life. Pastor Grady handles these masterfully, while gently leading Julie to a better understanding of the nature of God.

Ooh, I didn’t know about the chocolate! And I can see why my mom needed six instead of five. Thanks, Mom, for stopping by the blog, and everyone else, go check out UNHARMONIOUS!

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How to Research Agents: Submission Guidelines

It’s time to move on to submission guidelines, and this is a really long post, so let’s get to it. We’ll be adding a few more columns to the spreadsheet today. As a reminder, the columns we currently have are:

Agent, Agency, Website, Blog, Twitter, Represents, Looking for, Books to Read, Books I’ve Read, Notes

To the right of these columns, let’s add:

Query Tips Submission Guidelines Response Time Auto Response?

As with researching what agents are looking for, always go to a direct source for submissions guidelines. While databases do their best to keep submission information up to date, they still rely on agents and/or users to supply the information. To find submission information, go to the following sources:

  • Agency websites – Usually there’s a tab labeled Submission Guidelines or Submit to Us. If not, submission information may be located under Contact Us. Sometimes there are general guidelines for the agency as a whole, and other times the site will direct you to an agent-specific page.
  • Agent websites/blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages
  • If you are unable to locate any of these direct sources, refer to a database or interview.

Submission guidelines vary greatly. You could be submitting by pasting into an email, through an online form, or in rare cases sending attachments. The agency/agent may even be closed to submissions. You could paste all of the individual guidelines into your spreadsheet, but what if they change before you’re actually ready to query? You’re essentially creating your own database, and the information is only current the day you enter it. Instead, paste in the URL for the submission guidelines* so that you can review them carefully when you’re ready to query. Here are a couple of notes you should include in that field along with the URL:

  • If it’s an agency with multiple agents on your list, make a note of whether you are allowed to query multiple agents. Some agencies have a “no from one is a no from all” policy, meaning that if you query one agent, you cannot later query another agent. The idea is that if one agent feels a query is not a fit for him/her but might be for another agent at the agency, he/she will pass it on. Other agencies say not to query multiple agents simultaneously. This means that if one agent says no, you could later query another agent at the same agency because they do not pass queries along. But NEVER query two agents at the same agency at the same time.
  • Also make a note if the submission guidelines list any specific requirements the agency has once they request. For example, some agencies require an exclusive. They might waive this requirement if you already have requests out, but they might not, so you should keep it in mind if you plan to query them. I’ve also seen a few agencies that request something like a marketing plan.
  • If you find conflicting guidelines–for example, the agency website lists general guidelines, but the agent has a separate personal website–include both links, although you should ultimately follow the agent’s personal guidelines. I know of a few cases (ICM is one) where the agency website says it does not accept unsolicited submissions, but you can find guidelines for individual agents elsewhere.

You may be able to easily fill out the next two fields, Response Time and Auto Response?, from the agent’s submission page. Many agencies/agents list their expected response time and whether you may follow up after that time passes. Others have a no-response policy and may give you the amount of time within which they will respond if interested. Some agents even give updates on where they are with queries and submissions on Twitter or their blogs. Make a note in the Response Time field, along with where you found the information. Here’s how some of these options may look:

  • [number] weeks per agency website (resend after [number weeks/months])
  • [number] weeks per agent blog – Notice this one does not have a note about resending because the agent does not invite check-ins.
  • [number] weeks if interested per Publishers Marketplace – If I have not received a response from that agent after the specified number of weeks, I close it out.
  • Only if interested per agency website – My least favorite because the agency doesn’t give a response and also doesn’t give a time frame in which they respond if interested.
  • Response times updated on blog/Twitter

Or, the guidelines might not say anything at all about how long they take to respond or if they do at all, in which case you’ll leave that field blank. You do have one other resource, but before you leave that submission page, take a quick look to see if it says the agency/agent has an auto-responder and just put “Yes” or “No” in the Auto Responder? field. I don’t spend actual time researching this, but I like to make a note of it.

Now, back to that other resource: QueryTracker. I LOVE the statistics in QueryTracker. Here’s the deal. TONS of writers have logged their queries and responses in the system. QueryTracker uses this information to create a wide variety of reports, one of which is on query response times. I like to know this about every agent I might query, regardless of whether the agent states a response time or not. That way when I’m ready to query, I can base early querying on who I know will respond quickly in order to test my query. Here’s how to get the report:

  1. Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
  2. Click on the Reports tab.
  3. In the Select a Report pull-down menu, choose Query Response Times.

And, voila! You have your results. I add a semi-colon behind the agent’s suggested response time and plug in the average times from the QueryTracker report. And if there’s a significant difference between requests and rejections or some other trend I notice–such as very few rejections–I’ll note that, too. Possible completed entries might be:

  • 2 weeks per agency website; 15-20 days per QT
  • 8-10 weeks if interested per auto-reply; 24-60 days per QueryTracker (longer for requests, few rejections logged)
  • 6-8 weeks per agency website; 1-4 days per QT – Some agents reply very quickly!
  • Request status update after 4 weeks if no response per agency website; 47-64 days per QT - And sometimes QueryTracker shows that the agents take way longer than the stated times. That’s when you know to hold off on that follow-up.

We still have one empty column: Query Tips. I’m not getting into how to write a query here. What I put in this column are agent-specific tips–how they like queries tailored to them, such as:

  • State the book’s theme, or “hook,” in one concise sentence in the first paragraph. The author’s credentials should be included in one brief paragraph, along with his contact information. Thanking me for my time is always nice.
  • Likes personalization; word count/genre info at the end; don’t query around Christmas
  • Prefers word count/genre as first sentence.
  • Let [agent] know if you’re querying multiple agents. – Most agents assume this, but some want you to state it in the query.
  • There’s a sentence that sums up the plot, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.
  • The letter should be two short paragraphs: one that describes your book and one that describes you. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
  • No need to tell me how you came to query me, especially not as your query opener.
  • Being able to open your query letter with why you are approaching me and being aware of what my deals or book interests are can go a long way.
  • I like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

Notice how they don’t want the same thing? Tell me why you’re querying me! No, don’t! Word count at the beginning, the end … why not stick it in the middle? Just kidding :).  You may want to leave this column blank until you have a query and are ready to personalize it to each agent, then go searching for their individual tastes. If you decide to fill it in now, I suggest going back to the QueryTracker entry for each agent so you can easily click on the external links available there and also referring to the resources listed in step 2 of the post on what agents are looking for (except for #MSWL, which is entirely about their wishlists). Literary Rambles, in particular, has a section on query tips. If you find a whole post with tips, copy in the link. You won’t find this information for every agent–only the ones who are active online or grant interviews. But when you do, it’s golden.

Wow, this post was crazy long, but I couldn’t find a good place to divide it into two without making you have to redo your searches. You should now have fourteen columns in your spreadsheet (fifteen if you followed the asterisk and worked ahead). If you recall, I said mine has twenty-five. I bet you’re wondering what’s left. Well, until next week …

Other posts in this series:

*While I don’t include all of the submission guidelines on my spreadsheet, I do include what they expect you to submit–query only, 10 pages, 3 chapters + synopsis, etc.–in a separate column to the left of the Agent column. I plan to cover this in a later post about how I divide the agents into querying rounds as I partially base that on how I want to test my query and pages, but if you want to work ahead, you could add a Sub note column to the left of the Agent column and enter that basic information as you’re going through these other fields. If not, I will cover it again later.

Posted in Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying | Tagged , | 1 Comment

YA Review: ILLUSIONS OF FATE by Kiersten White

I was a huge a fan of Kiersten White’s PARANORMALCY trilogy, and while I’ve enjoyed her last few books, they haven’t quite lived up to that series for me. Hey, when you really love something, that’s hard to do. However, her latest, ILLUSIONS OF FATE, captured that magic again–in more than one way :).

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten WhiteThe people of Albion are different from anyone Jessamin has ever known: harsh, uptight, and obsessed with wealth and rank. Jessamin knew as much when she left her sun-drenched island home to attend school in their gray, dreary country.

But she had no idea how different they truly were.

She never thought she would discover a house with doors that open onto a hundred corners of the city or a book that spends its days as a bird. She certainly never expected to become a pawn in a political and magical power struggle between the sinister Lord Downpike and the handsome, charming Finn Ackerly. And she never so much as imagined she’d win Finn’s affections–or that one day his shadow would follow her every step.

Fortunately for Jessamin, fate has other ideas …

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The setting – Despite the description, I didn’t realize until I started reading that this book is historical fantasy. I loved the period, with the beautiful gowns and carriages and formalities. It does give a sense of the characters being older, as in any historical YA, but I enjoyed it.

2. Jessamin’s letters – It’s a rather small part of the story, and yet Jessamin’s letters to her mother are such a great demonstration of her personality. Here’s a sample from the opening of the book:

“Dear Mama,

“I am most certainly not dead. Thank you for your tender concern. I will try to write more often so you don’t have to worry so between letters. (Because a week’s silence surely means I have fallen prey to a wasting illness or been murdered in these boring, gray streets.)

“School is going well. I am excelling in all of my classes. (Apparently, some things never change, and girls are not challenged in Albion in the same way they weren’t on Melei.)

It goes on, obviously. But don’t you get such a great sense of how she thinks in what she doesn’t say to her mother?

3. The magic – It’s amazing that with all the stories out there about magic, Ms. White found a new way to introduce it in this story. At least, a way I haven’t seen it done before. I won’t give it away because you should just experience it yourself.

4. The romance – It’s both a love-at-first-sight and a slow-building romance at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, but it makes complete sense if you read the book, so do it!

5. The ending – Ooh, there was something I really didn’t see coming at the end. And yet, something I kept wondering about throughout the whole book so that it made total sense. That’s nice and vague, isn’t it? Very well done, Ms. White!

Have you read ILLUSIONS OF FATE yet? What did you think?

Posted in Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Research Agents: What Are You Looking For?

We’re going to step back from adding to the spreadsheet today. Because I realized that if you are new to this process of researching agents, I need to put on the Auntie Michelle hat and give you a bit of advice. It feels a little weird because I’m not an aunt at all, but whatever. The mom hat? I’m used to that one.

So, we could go on filling out your spreadsheet with information on how to query the hundreds of agents you’ve found, BUT you are not going to want to query all of these agents. Some of them you can’t–and I’ll address that when we get to the post on submission guidelines–and others won’t be a good fit for you. In the post on what agents are really looking for, you may have already made some notes about agents who aren’t the best fit based on their preferences. But there are some other reasons agents might not be the best fit, and that has to do with what you’re looking for in an agent.

I’m going to try not to editorialize this with my own preferences but just put the information out there so you can make your own judgments. If, as you answer these questions for the agents on your list, you see something that doesn’t fit with what you want in an agent, put a comment in the Notes section of your spreadsheet. You can find many of the answers through those same resources we used in the last post. And remember: if you have any doubts at all about an agent, you should not query him/her.

What do you want out of your publishing experience? A deal at a major publishing house? A deal with a small press? An e-book? Any of the above?

You might not think these questions are important at this stage, but they may be the most important questions. Because not everyone has the same goal, and not every agency has the same focus. Some agencies have contacts at a wide variety of publishing houses, from the major houses to small presses. Other agencies focus only on small presses or possibly even e-imprint only houses. Now, there’s no guarantee that if you sign with an agent who starts with the major houses you won’t still find a home with a small press. It’s about finding the right fit for your book. But, you should be aware of where the agents you choose to query will focus their attention. And that means knowing what you want out of the publishing process. What’s so great about this journey is that everyone can choose their own path–what’s perfect for one author may not be for another.

So, in order to figure out if an agent’s focus is in line with your goals, you need to look into what books the agent represents. How do you know what type of editor contacts they may have? Well, do you recognize the publisher names? Like HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penquin, Putnam, etc.? These major publishers also have a number of other imprints that go along with them, so it’s possible you might not recognize all of their variations, but if the agent/agency works with major houses, you should recognize at least some of the publishers. If you visit an agency website where you don’t recognize any of the publishers, chances are the agency focuses on smaller presses. Or maybe you’re really savvy and already know which small press you want to target and will recognize that name :). I’ve also seen a few agency websites where the published books are all e-imprints, so if that’s your goal, there are agents out there who focus specifically on e-publishers. Just be aware that if you come across an agency that has no books published with major houses, that agent may not have connections with those editors.

And hey, you may eventually decide you don’t want an agent at all, that you’d rather self-publish. That is a completely viable option. I know many writers who have successfully gone this route. It’s all about deciding what’s right for you.

Do you want an established agent? A new agent? No preference?

There are advantages to either. An established agent already has contacts in the industry, a publishing history, and books you can read to get a sense of his/her taste. However, he/she probably already has a fairly full client list as well and may be harder to attract. A new agent may be easier to snare (oh, they’ll love that word!) and more willing to take a chance on a manuscript that needs more work but may have fewer contacts–or not. It depends on what kind of internships he/she completed before progressing to full agent. It’s also important to consider what kind of agency he/she works for. Is it an established agency with a strong track record? If the new agent is working with established agents, he/she has the benefit of mentors to help make connections and guide him/her through the process.

My caution would be to carefully look at new agents who are on their own. Did he/she complete an internship at a reputable agency and complete publishing deals there? What contacts does he/she have? Is he/she a member or associate member of AAR? (See this link for membership requirements. Even some reputable agents choose not to join, so it’s not a deal-breaker.) Has he/she made any deals yet? Does he/she have some other publishing background? Perhaps you can’t answer these questions until the agent makes an offer and you talk to them. Just be aware and make a note if you are at all unsure about the agent’s experience.

How editorial do you want your agent to be?

Do you want an agent who will go through extensive revisions with you before he/she sends your work to editors? Do you need that extra layer of confidence that the manuscript is exactly where it needs to be before it goes to publishers? Or is your agent’s confidence in your work as it is enough for you? It’s something you should be thinking about. Agents run the gamut from having you do extensive rewrites to giving minimal revisions before sending to publishers. This question may be a little harder to answer through online research, but you may have come across the answer in interviews. Literary Rambles, in particular, generally addresses this question. If you have a strong opinion one way or the other and find the answer, I suggest making a note of it.

Is there anything in the agent’s online personality that clashes with yours?

Most agents stay professional online, but personalities still shine through. And while your relationship with your future agent will be a professional one, if you’re at all uncertain about how you might click, you shouldn’t waste an agent’s time. If there’s anything that raises a red flag for you–whether that’s an agent’s opinion or the way he/she reacts to a particular situation that crops up online–if it’s going to bother you and could affect a future working relationship, make a note of it. I generally keep personal and professional separate, but there’s been at least one case where the way an agent said something online just bugged me, and as a result, that agent moved way down my list. You will be working closely with your agent for a long time, so being able to respect them is very important.

Ok, this post has gotten quite long, so I think I need to stop there. However, I think there may be other points I should address before we move onto querying. Do any of my other writer friends have suggestions for other questions to ask about potential agents? If so, I will add a Part 2 before moving on to the submission post.

Other posts in this series:

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