Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Hi, Jessica here!
So, you’ve written the best book you can. You’ve edited it, had beta readers, incorporated their feedback, and edited fifty more times (kidding haha! Unless…) You’re ready to take that next step, and find that perfect literary agent for you. But…where do you start? I have a few quick tips that will help you find that perfect agent match for you!
1. Decide what you want. This is a big one that writers often skip, but it’s so important!
Before you query, sit down with yourself and ask: what do I want out of an agent relationship? Of course, everyone wants a book to sell to the Big 5 for seven figures, but think deeper.
Do you want a partnership that lasts for your entire career, or are you a one-book type of person? Do you want to write just YA historical fiction, or do you want to write across all age/genre categories? Do you care if your agent has a robust social media presence, or is it okay that they’re a ghost? Do you want an agent who is newer, and therefore may have more time for you, or do you want an experienced agent who has been doing this for 10+ years? It’s important to know what your deal breakers are upfront, because querying will test you. You want to be happy and satisfied with your choice, and these specific questions will help you tailor your list!
2. Do your research. This includes going to sites like Query Tracker to find agents, making sure they take your genre/age category, reading their wishlists to make sure your book is a good fit, etc. But it also includes looking at an agent’s social media, finding podcasts/interviews with them, and listening to word of mouth from peers.
You want a good idea of the agent’s personality so you can evaluate if they’ll be a good fit for you.
Word of mouth is particularly important (which is why Query Tracker is great, because of the comment feature). If you feel a weird vibe, ask your writing friends!
3. Make a list. This seems easy, but it’s actually one of the hardest parts.
Once you have a broad list of agents who represent your age category/genre, be ruthless when tailoring that list.
Lean on your deal breakers. You want an agent that is a career agent, but this one is book by book? Strike them off. You want an agent who has social media, but this one doesn’t? Goodbye. There was a mantra that was popular a few years ago that said, “don’t stop until you’ve queried 100 agents.” This is terrible advice to me, because I don’t believe there are 100 agents out there who are good fits for YOU. When I queried, my list only had 40 agents. But those 40 met my needs, and I would have been very happy to sign with any of therm. You want to prioritize quality, not quantity, so be fearless when slashing down and personalizing your list. Because when it’s offer time, you don’t ever want to feel disappointed.
4. Create a separate email for querying. This is to preserve your peace. When I queried my first book (that I eventually shelved), I was flinching every time I got an email notification. So when I queried again, I made a separate author email that I only use for publishing-related things. I checked that email once every three days, and only when my mental health was up for it. Even if you don’t have anxiety about querying, it’s much easier/neater to keep everything querying related in one place. Also! Don’t put this email on your phone. It reduces your urge to obsessively refresh your inbox, and it’ll let you be more productive on your other projects. Even now, I check my publishing email once a day and try not to let it worry me.
Can’t work on the next book if I’m staring at my inbox!
5. Start a new project. Querying is brutal. It’s a lot of waiting, and waiting, and more waiting…and then, everything happens at once haha! But you don’t know when that precious offer will come, so you have to stay busy. Take some time to rest, but work on something new as well!
The only thing you can control is your work.
...and having a robust library of books under your belt can’t do anything except help you.
So celebrate that you made it to the querying stage, and then get to work on the next thing!
I hope these tips were helpful!! If you’re wondering more about how to write a great query letter, I have a thread about that HERE.
Good luck in the trenches!! I’m rooting for you!!
Jessica Lewis (she/her)
Jessica Lewis is a Black author and receptionist. She has a degree in English Literature and Animal Science (the veterinarian plan did not work out). She lives with her way-funnier-than-her grandmother in Alabama. Her YA debut novel is Bad Witch Burning, but she also writes under the pen name Jazz Taylor, and has a MG coming out on January 5, 2021 called MEOW OR NEVER. To learn more about Lewis and her books, follow @JLew100 on Twitter.