How to Research Agents: What They’re Looking For

Last week we started researching agents by creating a spreadsheet with the agent’s name, agency, website, blog and Twitter account. Now, because you used your category as the search term in QueryTracker (i.e., Fiction – Middle Grade), you know all of the agents on your list represent the general category. But those categories are broad–particularly if they’re age categories–so you need to dig deeper to determine which agents are looking for what you’re writing in particular. You should never rely solely on any database for your agent research. I’m going to direct you to several resources, but first let’s add a few more columns to our spreadsheet:

Represents Looking for Books* to Read Books* I’ve read Notes

I recommend you sort your spreadsheet by agency as our first source for all of these agents will be the agency website, so you’ll be able to simultaneously knock out any agents at the same agency that way. Then, I recommend you log back into QueryTracker, as you can find links to several of the other sources we’ll be using from the agent pages there. It’s easier than cutting and pasting from the spreadsheet, so I always keep both open.

1. Determine what categories the agent represents.

While you could find this information by clicking on the Genres tab in QueryTracker or looking at another database, you should always go to a direct source for the most current information as agents’ tastes change. Direct sources include:

  • Agency websites
  • Agent websites/blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages (They maintain these pages themselves, and in some cases, these serve as the agency/agent websites.)

As I already mentioned, I always start with the agency website. Generally an agency website will have a section titled Our Agents, Who We Are, etc. Under the Represents column, I list all of the categories the agent covers. For example, if Agent A represents picture books through young adult plus some adult non-fiction, I would write “PB to YA, plus adult NF” in that column. You can create your own shorthand :). Personally, I think it’s important to know everything the agent represents, so I include all of the age categories in this column. I might decide to write in a different category at some point, so I want to know if that agent would be able to represent me in a different category. If they don’t, I may put a note in the Notes column to the effect of “May not be a good fit due to no PB” or whatever.

In most cases you should be able to track down the categories the agent represents from the agency website. If not, see if the agent has his/her own website or blog or a Publisher’s Marketplace page. If you can’t find either of those, only then should you rely on a database such as QueryTracker, AgentQuery, or the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

2. Figure out what the agent is really looking for.

This step requires some real time and effort, and if the agent isn’t active online, you may not be able to find the information at all. But there are plenty of agents who do have a significant online presence. You might think the Looking for column is where I would stick genres, and it sort of is. But really, this is where I put details related to what I’m writing–anything an agent says that clicks with what I’ve already written or am planning to write. That might be as simple as a genre, or it might be very specific. It’s more than a list. I cut and paste in whole phrases and sentences so I don’t forget exactly what the agent said, and then I put a date behind it so I know when they said it–because that’s important, too. If the reference is too old, they might not be looking for it anymore. For example, my notes in this column might say:

I’m looking more for contemporary at the moment and would love to build up my middle grade list. Novels that mix genres in a clever way are something I’d love to see more of.  (per 10/13 interview); I love unique retellings of classic myths, novels, and plays in YA and Adult. (per MSWL paragraph 09/14); I really want someone to query me a YA revenge story. Count of Monte Cristo style revenge. #agentwishlist (tweeted 03/14)

Here are some resources for tracking down these gems.

  • Agency websites – You might get lucky. There are a few very detailed agency websites that give agent wishlists.
  • Agent websites/blogs – You’re much more likely to find specifics on an agent’s personal blog or website. If it’s a blog, I recommend subscribing through a reader or via email so you can update your spreadsheet as new information is available.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – As mentioned above, these are maintained by the agents themselves. Sometimes they’re very basic, but often they will include wishlists.
  • Twitter – Many agents tweet ideas.
  • Literary Rambles – If you write for children (PB through YA), LiteraryRambles.com is a great resource. It compiles information on agents and links back to interviews with agents on everything from what they’re looking for to how to query them. Just be aware that sometimes the linked interviews are a few years old.
  • #MSWL - Agent Jessica Sinsheimer created this wonderful hashtag on Twitter that stands for manuscript wishlist. Agents tweet it off and on, and then there are scheduled events. Now there also is a website with longer MSWL paragraphs.
  • Google – I like to click on the Google link in QueryTracker because it does the search for me. Then I scan through the results for the most recent interviews. If you’re researching for the first time, you should probably read them all to get a feel for the agent. Just keep in mind that the older the interview is, there’s a chance the agent might not still be looking for that exact thing. I mean, if Agent B said in 2012 that he was looking for a YA ghost story set in futuristic Texas, and you have one of those, I’d still go for it. Just be prepared in case he already found one.
    • One of the links that will always come up on a Google search is Absolute Write Water Cooler. This is a forum where writers discuss agencies and experiences they’ve had with them. Some writers also use it to track queries or submissions they’ve sent to agents. I’ve found it most useful to spot questionable agents. You should definitely click on this link and read through the comments. It might send you to an older date and you’ll have to click through to a more recent post, but see what people are saying and make sure there aren’t any red flags about the agent or agency. If there are, that’s the kind of information I put in the Notes column. Something like “Sketchy comments on AW.” Most of the time it will just be comments about submissions.

3. Keep track of interesting notes as you go along.

If, as I’m going along, something in particular stands out about an agent, I’ll stick it in the Notes column. Like, Agent C mentioned she really loves opera and my character gets sucked into an opera (happened with one of my previous manuscripts!). Or, Agent D’s favorite movie is one that could be used as a comp title for my story. The Notes column is the place where I keep those interesting tidbits. I don’t have notes for every agent, so this column might remain blank for some.

Ok, I think that’s enough information for today. You’re probably wondering: Michelle! What about how to query the agents? Where are we supposed to put that information? Yes, there will definitely be columns for querying, and yes, it will mean going back to a few of these same resources. However, if you’re researching these agents for the first time, you’re not ready to send queries yet anyway. Believe me, I end up going back to the agents’ websites many times before I send a query to double-check everything. Besides, you might have already made a note that some of these agents aren’t a fit based on what they’re looking for, so you might not need their querying information anyway.

How are we doing so far? Any questions? Other resources I should add?

*I’ve already written a post on how to find books agents represent and why this is important. If you write middle grade or young adult, I also have a page dedicated to tracking books MG/YA agents represent. As for books you’ve already read, go look through the acknowledgments pages in your personal library. You may be surprised how many books you’ve already read by the agents on your list!

Other posts in this series:

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YA Review: DITCHED by Robin Mellom

So, last week I said I’d read an article by Kami Kinard on humor and promptly requested all of the books she mentioned. Well, DITCHED by Robin Mellom was one of those books, and it certainly delivered. Let me just give you the description and I think you’ll see why.

Ditched by Robin MellomJustina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing. So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her.

Ian, who always passed her the baseball bat handle first.

Ian, who knew exactly when she needed red licorice.

Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.

So when Justina is ditched, figuratively and literally, she must piece together–stain-by-stain on her thrift store dress–exactly how she ended up dateless…with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven. But to get to the whole story, Justina will have to face the boy who ditched her. Can losing out at her prom ultimately lead to finding true love?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The humor – There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in this story. I give you the opening paragraphs as an example:

“I don’t know how I ended up on the side of Hollister Road, lying in this ditch.

“This moment, last night, the details–all fuzzy. A reluctant glance down and I see I’m covered in scratches and bruises. The bruise on my shin appears to be in the shape of a french fry. French fries cause bruises? And I have at least five stains on my royal blue iridescent dress–two black, one greenish-bluish, and the remaining are various shades of yellow. What are these? Mustard? Curry?

“Wait. I don’t even want to know.”

Well, now the reader does!

2. The stain timeline – Since I just alluded to them, I’ll carry on with the stains. They were both a unique and humorous way to tell the story, like a map of Justina’s disastrous prom night. They provided a great way to go back and forth between her analysis with the 7-Eleven ladies and flashbacks to the actual events.

3. The cinematic element – In the acknowledgments, Robin Mellom gives a shout-out to John Hughes, and it’s so appropriate because this books plays out like a John Hughes movie. From the over-the-top characters to the ridiculous prom dress to Justina chasing Ian’s car down the highway when he doesn’t have a clue … yep, totally should be a movie.

4. The supporting characters – What a crazy cast of characters! I kept wondering what unexpected thing they’d do or say next. I especially loved the Mikes and their dates, who make some poor lifestyle choices (can’t support drugs in any form) but were there for Justina the whole time.

5. The romance –  The love story is really sweet, and it’s kind of amazing that it is. This story is told in first person through Justina’s eyes, and based on the circumstances, it looks pretty bad. And yet as a reader, I had hope through the whole story. I’m not quite sure how Ms. Mellom pulled that off. It was very well done.

Can someone get on that movie now? It’s ok–I could see it all as I was reading, anyway :). Definitely pick this one up if you want a laugh!

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

How to Research Agents: Starting A Spreadsheet

The other day I had something very surprising happen: a writer queried me. It was a decent query, and I sent the writer a nice reply with a couple of resources. I can only assume the writer found my email address from this blog, and it got me thinking. While I realize that most of my readers already know how to research agents, there may be some out there who are just starting out in this process and would benefit from learning some of the basics. And actually, with every new project, I refresh my list to make sure I’m not missing any new agents or agents who have expanded what they’re acquiring, so maybe my experienced writer friends will pick up a tip or two as well! Maybe not from this first post but a later one :). So here we go. First up:

1. Create a spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet has twenty-five columns, but let’s keep it simple for now with just five:

Agent Agency Website Blog Twitter

We’ll add more columns later, but this will give us a start.

2. Find the agents.

There are a number of resources available to research agents. The two most popular databases are QueryTracker.net and AgentQuery.com. I personally prefer QueryTracker, so for this series, I’m going to use it as my primary source, although as I lead you deeper into researching agents, we will definitely refer to other resources. You’ll need to sign up for a free account in order to follow some of the instructions. However, if you are planning to create an agent list, you’d want to do that anyway.

Let’s say you’re making a list of middle grade agents in QueryTracker.

  • Sign in.
  • Click on the Search for Literary Agents tab in the upper left-hand corner.
  • There are several options on the left-hand side. In the Genres option, select Fiction – Middle Grade from the pull-down menu.

A list of agents will appear to the right.

3. Populate your spreadsheet.

Click on the first agent and either copy/paste or type the information into your spreadsheet. If the information is available, it will be on that first page. Some agents might not have a website, blog or Twitter. If they don’t, I put N/A in that column.

You might wonder why I don’t include the agent’s email address in my spreadsheet. I keep a separate column further down my spreadsheet for submission guidelines, and sometimes agents don’t use their direct emails for submissions. As a result, I prefer not to keep those on my spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally use the wrong one in communications. However, if you want to add it to yours, that’s up to you.

When you’re finished with an agent, you can click “Next Agent” in the gray bar to the right of the current agent’s name at the top. Keep populating until you get to the end of the list.

I’m going to stop here for today because this step will take a while. And that search for middle grade agents? Well, today it turns up 263. And if you’re searching for young adult you’d get a much bigger return. In any case, making this initial list of names is just the very first step. There is a lot more work to do before you’re ready to decide who to query and how to query them. I’ll address those in future weeks. I haven’t yet determined how many weeks this series will be. We’ll see how it goes.

So, for any of my readers who are new to this process, please let me know if this is helpful, and also please let me know if you have any questions about these first steps.

Posted in Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying | Tagged , | 4 Comments

MMGM: THE BOY PROJECT by Kami Kinard

A couple of weeks ago I read a post on humor by author Kami Kinard and promptly requested three of the books referenced in her post. Ms. Kinard was actually promoting her second book, but as I hadn’t read the first in the series, I had to read it first and found it thoroughly delightful. Here’s the description for THE BOY PROJECT.

The Boy Project by Kami KinardWildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She’s going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara’s project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy’s bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara’s research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it…

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – It is so spot on! Now, I know not every twelve-year-old is a drama queen, but a lot of them are. I don’t remember this, but my mom loves to tell this story about me making her walk behind me in the mall. Sorry, Mom! Anyway, here’s a sample from the opening paragraph:

“I am starting this experiment because I have no choice. Well, I have no choice unless you consider being a lifelong boyfriendless social outcast destined to die alone a choice. Which it isn’t.”

Ah, to be twelve, when everything is the end of the world!

2. The scientific method – I loved the way Kara organized her boyfriend search as a science project, including modifying her hypothesis and her research methods when they didn’t return the results she expected. It was a sneaky way to slip in something educational in a way that would be interesting to a middle school girl. I especially loved Kara’s note cards. I wonder how many readers might try this now …

3. The romance – I pretty much knew from the beginning who Kara would end up with, but that was okay. It was still fun to watch her stumble through and figure out how to get to that point. And hey, this is middle school romance, where everything is awkward and confusing and hard to define.

4. The friendship – Kara may have stumbled in the romance area, but she really got the friendship part right. Yes, she had a few moments of grumbling when something in particular happened that I won’t reveal, but she understood what was most important, and I really liked that about her.

5. The adults – I really liked the way adults were handled in this book. They were definitely present, and yet they weren’t set into stereotypes. The parents were involved and cared what happened without being intrusive into the story. And the teachers ran the gamut from taking things personally and getting too involved to being an inspiration and showing genuine caring. I thought they were very true to life.

I didn’t mention the humor above–mainly because it was more of an overall thing and I couldn’t find a good snippet to include as an example–but it definitely is another point to recommend the book. As I mentioned in the intro, there’s a second book in this series that follows Kara’s best friend, Tabbi. I plan to pick that one up, too!

Did you have any crazy ideas to find a boyfriend or girlfriend in middle school? Or maybe you were one of those kids who always had one …

Posted in Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

YA Review: ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine

One day in the bookstore I needed a third book to get a deal and spotted ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine. I’d seen the movie and figured the book must be better because, of course, they always are. Plus, it’s a Cinderella story, and we all know how much I love Cinderella stories, right? Anyway, in case you aren’t already familiar with this classic, here’s the description.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson LevineHow can a fairy’s blessing be such a curse?

At her birth, Ella of Frell was the unfortunate recipient of a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it’s hopping on one foot for a day and a half, or chopping off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse—once and for all.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ella’s resourcefulness – As you can see from the description, Ella has a bit of a problem. She has to do whatever people tell her to do, but she’s very resourceful. From outsmarting ogres to protecting Char, Ella always has a plan. I admired her, and so I was always rooting for her to succeed. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how she was going to get out of whatever mess she was in, but I assumed she’d figure it out.

2. Char – This Prince Charming–or Charmant–is no nameless prince. He has a personality and faults, and he earns Ella. I really enjoyed the way he was a fleshed out character and not just her savior in this version of the Cinderella story.

3. The romance – I loved the way the romance between Ella and Char developed over time. They really get to know each other, so it’s not the typical fairy tale romance or even what you often see in YA, where the guy and girl have this instant physical attraction and everything else follows. Ella and Char start out as friends and the love grows from there.

4. The supporting characters – I could really picture each of the supporting characters in the story–vapid Olive, evil Hattie, grasping Mum Olga, greedy Father, clueless Lucinda, and on and on. They were so spot on!

5. The stakes – Oh, I felt for Ella! Just when her dreams were within her reach, she had to–wait, you might not have read this yet, so I probably shouldn’t say. It’s really well done!

Have you read ELLA ENCHANTED? Or one of Gail Carson Levine’s other books? I’m interested in reading another, so I’d love a recommendation!

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Romance in Kidlit and Other 2014 MOSCBWI Takeaways

Last Saturday I attended the Missouri SCBWI Conference. 2014 was my fourth year attending, and it’s interesting how my attitude toward this conference has changed. My first year, I soaked up everything. I was new to the world of writing for middle grade and young adult. I was just discovering all of the resources available on the internet, and so the information available at this regional conference was golden. These days I go less to learn something new than to catch up with writer friends, meet new writers, and hear something interesting. So for those purposes, it met my expectations.

The first speaker had interviewed seventeen editors and agents to gauge where the market is now and where it’s headed. She didn’t share anything I hadn’t already seen from the editors and agents I follow online, but I could tell that the information was extremely valuable to others in the room, so it was definitely a relevant topic.

The most interesting–and hilarious!–speaker of the day was author Cecily White, author of PROPHECY GIRL, who gave a keynote on “The Space Between Us: Layered Romantic Tension in Young Adult and Middle Grade.” She approached the topic from a psychologist’s perspective, giving background on how experts like Freud and Erikson defined these age groups and how they view the opposite sex. It was quite fascinating and gave a unique insight into why romance is different at these reading levels. Not your typical MG vs. YA presentation! Oh–you want to know what the difference is? Well, I don’t think I can just give her presentation away, but here’s a taste:

  • Middle grade love: Are we friends or what?
  • Young adult love: We’re dating! It’s forever love!

I also found author Steven Sheinkin’s keynote presentation, “Research or Detective Work,” fascinating. Mr. Sheinkin writes narrative non-fiction–which is something I never intend to write–but after listening to his process I’m now very interested in reading his books on Benedict Arnold, the guys who tried to rob Abraham Lincoln’s grave, and the men who staged a mutiny at Port Chicago. Honestly, I didn’t take a ton of notes during his presentation. I just enjoyed listening to him tell stories about how he’d tracked down all of the facts behind these untold histories. And it’s all because he worked for a history textbook company that wouldn’t let him put in the interesting bits! Now I must make sure our school library carries his books … But if you do write narrative non-fiction or even historical fiction and want to get your facts straight, a few tidbits I did catch that I might not have thought of are:

  • You can request FBI files, military files, etc., on people. They might blank things out, but the Freedom of Information Act gives you this right.
  • If possible, interview primary sources or people in the area who are experts on that topic, including authors of other books. He contacted one author who had done in-person interviews no one else knew existed.
  • Check old newspaper accounts.

I would highly recommend Ms. White and Mr. Sheinkin to any SCBWI chapters looking for speakers!

The day ended with a First Five Lines critique by two agents and an editor. It’s always interesting to hear industry professionals respond on-the-spot, especially to gauge their individual tastes. One of my writing friends received some very helpful feedback through the critiques, so yay!

Overall, I was glad I attended, although I’m excited to try something new next year. Some of my writer friends across the country have been urging me to branch out, so I may be headed toward the northeast …

Were any of you at MOSCBWI? What did you think?

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MMGM: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman

It’s only been two weeks and I have another MMGM. Can you believe it?

I’ve been waiting to read ALL FOUR STARS ever since October 2011, when it was entered in the same Secret Agent contest as my first middle grade manuscript. That first page is pretty similar to what I remember :). About six months after that–after Tara Dairman had signed with her agent and had a publishing deal–she offered critiques for all of the entries on Krista Van Dolzer’s Writer’s Voice team for my second manuscript, so I’ve had more than one encounter with her, although she might not realize it. In any case, I’m excited to review her book today. Here’s the blurb.

All Four Stars by Tara DairmanMeet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated, but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret. Easy as pie, right?

And here are the five things I loved most about ALL FOUR STARS:

1. The food - I’m not a foodie by any stretch of imagination. In fact, I’m a pretty picky eater (although nowhere near as picky as Gladys’s friend Parm), but I loved living vicariously through Gladys and her descriptions of exotic foods. Hey, if you can have adventures through books, you might as well experience new foods through a book!

2. The parents - Poor Mr. and Mrs. Gatsby. They have no idea what to do with their daughter’s hobby. Seeing them through Gladys’s eyes is comical, and yet by the end of the story, she comes to appreciate them more.

3. The friendships - At the beginning of the book, Gladys is so wrapped up in cooking she doesn’t care much about friends. The cooking ban forces her to branch out and make new friends, which she finds in surprising places. I really enjoyed what she learned about finding things in common with the most unexpected people.

4. The disasters – The book starts out with a disaster, and they keep piling up. Nothing seems to go right for Gladys–with the exception of the fluke that gets her the reviewing job–and this provides some excellent humor in the story. There were several laugh-out-loud moments.

5. The ending – All I can say about this is that the ending fit perfectly with everything else that happened in the book. Ahhh, Gladys!

Have you read ALL FOUR STARS yet? What did you think?

Posted in Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments