A great query doesn’t mean anything if it’s being sent to the wrong agents or through the wrong channels.
Always, always, always look at updated submission guidelines before you query. If you find submission guidelines on a blog post, check the agency’s website before querying. It’s possible that their guidelines have changed since the blog post.
What else should you be researching before you query?
To find agencies in general:
- Check out the Literary Marketplace and/or The Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market (or Writer’s Market depending on your genre).
- Search sites like QueryTracker, watch for new agent alerts from Writer’s Digest and check out the Bewares, Recommendations and Background Check forums on AbsoluteWrite. (Preditors and Editors was also a great place to go, but they are currently undergoing a transition.)
- Check out the resources of writer’s organizations that are specific to your genre.
To refine what agents might be a good fit for you:
- Look at an agent’s client list and published books. This can be found with a fairly simple Google or Amazon search, as well as searching their agency website, if they have a page on PublishersMarketplace and/or manuscriptwishlist.com, their blog and/or public social media accounts, etc.
- Read the acknowledgments of your favorite books and look for the names of their agents.
- Talk to your writer friends and see how they feel about working with their agent.
- Again, before you query, check out their updated submission guidelines to make sure they’re still open to your particular genre.
If you see any of these red flags, it’s probably best to avoid querying that agency:
- Any “agency” that charges reading fees. Reputable agents only get paid when their authors get paid.
- An agent that has no sales or only sales to small presses (caveat: If they’re a new agent at an established agency that has sales in your genre to major publishers, a lack of sales for that particular agent might just mean that they’re new.)
- Any new one-person agency whose founding member has never worked in a professional capacity at a reputable agency or publisher.
It’s true though that having no agent is better than having a bad agent, and in subsequent posts I’ll talk about how you can tell if the agent relationship is working.
How many queries should I send out at a time?
I would make your submission list and start with your A-list agents: agents and/or agencies that you would love to work with and that you feel like might connect most strongly with your work.
Once you’ve heard from a good chunk of those, I would start sending to your B-list. (Or you can do a one response in, one query out method.) Then keep moving down the list.
This doesn’t quite answer your question in terms of a number, but I think consistently having ten to fifteen queries out is a good goal.
But if I send out all the queries at once, then I’ve got a better chance at a ‘yes’, right?
But if you send out all the queries at once, and then you get feedback that you want to use to revise with, you either have to pull a ton of queries (which doesn’t look great) or you’ve now burned a bunch of places that already said no when – perhaps – with the revision they might have said yes.
Should I ever send exclusives?
Never send exclusive queries – we assume that a query letter is always being seen by multiple agents. Very rarely would you do an exclusive on a manuscript submission, and I would reserve these for cases where you have done a revise and resubmit with a particular agent and know you want to work with them. The exclusive time period should be short though. Two weeks is an acceptable time frame on those rare cases. It’s not in your best interest to give agents long exclusives on a manuscript.
In most cases though, you can inform someone that requests your manuscript that other agents are reading the manuscript and that is perfectly fine and/or expected.
Posts in this series:
Working with An Agent: What does an agent do?
Working with An Agent: Step 1 - Writing your query letter
Working with An Agent: Step 2 - Researching agents and submitting
Working with An Agent: Step 3 - Getting the call
Working with An Agent: Step 4 - Responding to an offer
Working with An Agent: Step 5 - Your author-agency agreement
Working with An Agent: Step 6 - After your sign
Working with An Agent: Step 7 - If you decide it's time to part ways...