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How To Choose An Agent

You wrote a book. You revised it. Sent it to betas, bit your fingernails while they read it, fearing they would tell you it was the worst thing they’ve ever read in their lives. They didn’t. They gave you helpful feedback, and you used it to make your manuscript shine. You wrote the perfect query. And now, you just have to figure out who to send it to.

There’s no exact science to querying. Really, you can do it however you want (as long as you follow everyone’s guidelines, that is). But here are some things you may decide to consider when making that list.

Querying widely, or querying selectively? Both strategies have merit. Neither guarantees you an agent, neither guarantees you’ll avoid ending up with the wrong agent for you. Some people would rather pull from a smaller pool, others don’t feel like they’ve given it their all until they’ve queried everyone they can find. It’s all up to you.*

Communication. You can’t necessarily tell this from perusing the Internet. An agent’s relationship with each client is going to be different, so what you read about someone’s communication style may not end up being true for you. However, if someone is known for being All Business and you think you’ll need someone open to more constant communication, you may want to cull the All Business agent from your list. Or the reverse if you’d rather keep the contact to a minimum.

New or Established? It’s fine if you would rather not query someone who’s relatively unproven. Personally, I was more wary of new agencies than new agents at established agencies. Mainly because an agency is a business, and a business can’t stay open if it doesn’t make money. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a risk worth taking; it just wasn’t for me. Established agents (and agencies) have benefits in stability and contacts and probably resources. Newer agents are hungry for sales and likely have less clients which may mean more attention for you.**

Snail mail vs. Email queries. Some people are turned off by snail mail queries. I was, honestly. I had a small selection of agents who accepted snail mail queries only on my list, or who I knew would request partials or fulls by snail mail, but I put them at the bottom of the list. There’s nothing wrong with these agents, but for me, I really didn’t want to spend the postage. (Not such a concern with queries, but with fulls or partials there’s also ink and wow so much paper…) It isn’t going to matter to everyone. But if it matters to you, don’t put agents on your list if they request snail mail queries.

Internet presence. Don’t take an agent’s lack of presence on the Internet to mean they’re crotchety and irrelevant. Not all authors choose to blog or tweet, and not all agents choose to, either. However, if they do have an Internet presence, it’s not a bad idea to check them out. Which leads me to the last thing…

Personality. Okay, this is a little scary to add to this post. And maybe it won’t even be a factor for you. But there have been a couple of instances where I crossed an agent off my query list because I was so turned off by how they handled themselves online. I think everyone has probably tweeted or blogged something they wish they hadn’t, and we all complain sometimes, but there are certain things that cross lines for me. I think the agent/client relationship requires some amount of mutual respect to work and if I don’t feel it…you get the point.

So those are some of the things I considered when I put together a list of agents to query. Many of these issues will come up again if you get that blessed phone call*** but sometimes it’s good to have an idea of what you want, right from the start. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

*Don’t forget to check out any agent you query on the bewares, recommendations and background checks section of Absolute Write or on Querytracker, or the various other sites of a similar nature to make sure the agent is legit. 
**this is so not an in depth analysis of established vs. new agents 
***See Kate Hart’s super awesome post on her personal blog about questions to ask during “The Call.”
Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. Great post. I've been querying my first book, but only with agents that I'd like to work with. It's been fascinating to find out which ones have requested fulls. I'm hoping that one of them will take me on, but if not, I at least know who to approach first next time I sub.

  2. Ooooh, nice Kaitlin. This is on my mind right now and you make great points.
    I think the personality thing is really relevant. For me, it's not necessarily that the person does something icky online or in the tweetisphere (though that would definitely take them off the list).
    I think you get a sense of people from their blogs, and sometimes you get the sense you might not gel with a particular agent. Not that they're offensive in some way, but maybe just not your thing.

  3. I've been through the query/submission process mill before, and the majority of those submissions were snail mail, as the agents or editors preferred. Now, nearly a year later, I'm finding the opposite--out of 16 agents on my list, only 1 requires snail mail. Hallelujah! Especially in the full-request stage . . .

    I do pay attention to personality during the research stage, but it's based mostly how they come across on their blog or in interviews.

    There is only one agent that I crossed off the list based on his behavior at a conference, where he was screaming into a cellphone in the quiet corner I'd found for myself. I had no idea, of course, whether his attitude came from long frustration with the person on the other end of the call, but I wouldn't want to work with someone like that.

  4. Lots to think about here.

    Querying's a necessary pain ... but I think I'd put the "personality" thing at the top of the list.

    Hey, when you get an agent, you have to work with them to sell your work. If they make you sick to your stomach or make you snarl every time you think of him/her, you only add to the pain.

    This is one of the reason why pitching at a conference is so valuable.

  5. For me, the last point is the most important. I can't necessarily tell much about the agent from interviews and web sites, but if I see them routinely behaving badly (in my opinion) on blogs/twitter/whatever, then I know they may not be for me.

    The flipside is also true. A while back an agent opened up a post on their blog inviting debate about one of their policies, and I strapped on my brave boots and said what I thought: that the current policy was a big turn-off and made me think less of the agent as a professional. The debate ended up being amazing, and the agent was gracious toward both sides, and ended up changing said policy to reflect it. Now that agent is at the absolute top of my list, because wow, how amazing is that? To open yourself up for criticism and respond in such a professional way?

  6. Aw, thanks for the link to me! :)

  7. Great post, Kaitlin! And Meagan, that's a really interesting story. How cool that she opened it up like that and took those comments to heart!

  8. This was an extremely helpful article. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll have to remember to check this post out when I get around to querying.

  9. Thank you for the informative and interesting post! I'll definitely keep these tips in mind.


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Item Reviewed: How To Choose An Agent Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward