Finding an agent isn't just about finding "someone" to represent your work. The author-agent relationship works best when author and his or her agent match well on a personal and professional level.
Some people prefer to work via email; others like to talk by phone. Some authors want to know about every submission and every editor's comments, while others would rather hear only positive news.
Although, to a certain extent, authors must "wait" for an agent to offer representation, we can increase the odds of getting that offer by making smart--and informed decisions--about which agents to query in the first place.
Agents often advise authors to "do your homework before you query" but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment.
Three weeks from now, at Colorado Gold, I'll be presenting a joint workshop with my fantastic agent, Sandra Bond, on exactly what it means to "do your homework" and how to pick--and work with--the agent that's right for you.
In the meantime (or for those who might not make the conference) here are some tips to start you in the right direction.
1. Query only agents who represent works in the genre where your manuscript belongs--and your subsection (if any) within that genre.
Note: this requires knowing what genre you're writing.
Every book needs to be shelved (or "shelve-able") in a bookstore. Figure out where your book would be shelved BEFORE you query. Even if you're writing a speculative-historical-mystery-YA/MG-romance...one (2 at most) of those are primary. Know your genre.
Narrow your query list from "all agents in the known universe" to "agents who want to represent MY genre." No matter how well you write, you won't convert a romance specialist into a mystery lover--or vice versa. Do not try. The easiest way to rejection is querying agents who don't represent the type of book you're offering.
2. Check the agent's bio, website, or wish list (if any), and see whether the agent likes the type of book you've written.
Finding the right agent requires more than just a genre match. Huge diversity exists within genres. You need to find an agent who likes the type of book you've written (e.g., cozy mystery) rather than something on the other end of the genre spectrum.
Many agents also use the "Manuscript Wish List" (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter to let people know what they're looking for. Check this too.
3. If you can't tell what the agent is actively looking for at the moment, look at the his or her client list and see if your work fits into the "group."
An agent whose client list consists primarily of cozy mysteries and middle grade novels might not be the best candidate for your gritty, erotic police procedural. It's tempting to just send queries out to every agent in your genre, but don't. It wastes a lot of time and effort on both sides.
Determining whether your work fits into an agent's client or wish list requires honest self-reflection about yourself & your work. The question is not "do I want Agent A to love me?" but "do I genuinely believe Agent A will love this book I wrote?" These are not the same thing.
4. Google the agents you want to query; read their articles and interviews.
Before I pitched Sandra, I read an interview in which she mentioned liking character-driven mystery. That's what I write, so the interview helped me decide to pitch her (at the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference).
Researching agents individually does take more time than simply carpet bombing the Writers' Digest listings, but it also gives great insight into whether an agent would be a good fit for you as well as your work. The query process isn't just about sending a thousand missiles into the night and hoping one of them hits a target. "Aim" comes before "fire" (or "send") in queries as well as warfare.
Want to know more? I hope you'll join Sandra and me for the "Finding the Perfect Agent" workshop at Colorado Gold!
Susan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.