Research, research research the agents you want to contact. Make sure these agents represent your genre, and make sure you follow the agents’ submission guidelines — every agent has a different set of submission requirements.
The fastest way to get a rejection is to query an agent who doesn’t represent your genre or to not follow submission guidelines. And those are such easy mistakes to avoid!
When I started writing YA was when I started building my list of agents to query. Literally, every time I heard of an agent who repped YA, I opened an excel spreadsheet and popped the name, submission guidelines, and links to relevant info in. The day I started querying, I had >150 names. (Yes, I will totally share this list with you if you want!)
Other people swear by Query Tracker or AgentQuery. One resource I swear by is Casey McCormick’s super helpful Agent Spotlight. She lists all the info she can find about an agent, and she adds a new agent once a week. This is an amazing tool and saved me hours of scouring the internet (Thanks, Casey!).
Before I sent my queries, I spent a few days going through all the agents on my list. I picked 10 agents to be my Dream List, 10 to be my B-list, and 10 to be my C-list. My decision was based on a number of things: interviews, other clients’ thoughts, sales listed on Publishers Marketplace, online presence, etc. Keep in mind, that these 30 agents were my top 30 (so the top 1/5th of my list), so everyone I queried was someone I really wanted to work with.
For every single agent I contacted, I gathered all interviews/articles/bios/etc. by or about the person that I could find. This was where Agent Spotlight came in handy! Armed with this information, I tailored each query’s opening line to the fit the agent I was querying.
For example, here is the opening paragraph in the letter I sent Joanna Volpe:
I read in an interview that you seek strong female leads as well as steampunk. As such, I thought you might enjoy my 90,000 word young adult novel, THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS.
I highly recommend starting your query with an explanation of why you’re querying this agent.*** Why?
- It shows you’ve done your research — instantly making you shine in the slush pile.
- It shows you are approaching this query in a professional manner.
- It shows that what you’ve written is actually something the agent is looking for! Right off the bat, the agent knows it’s something he/she’ll be interested in.
***Some agents prefer you to start with the hook, so be sure to read interviews/articles/blogs to find out! If an agent I contacted preferred a hook, then you betcha I started with a hook.
So with my polished letters and my three stacks (dream, B, C), I started sending off my queries! But I’ll talk more about that tomorrow in Query Submissions.