I’ll take one agent with a side of fries…

Shopping for agents and editors is a bit like going out to eat.

There’s the fast food method where purchases are made at the drive-thru based on a picture menu and a price.  I would equate this to a random search on the internet or a bound writer’s market of some kind. 

These are impulse buys at a time when we are rushed and excited and don’t really consider the fine points of an agency or publishing house.  We see something appealing (instant gratification) and subsequently spend our money on heart, not nutrition. 

Sadly, there are too many unreputable individuals in the publishing industry for us to make informed choices at the window.  Often, we choose poorly and end up paying for it in loss of rights, poor representation, or worse yet, being swindled out of our hard-earned money on services that reputable agents and editors do not charge for.

Next we have the smorgasboard buffet purchase where we can physically see and smell the goods rather than relying on a facsimile at the window.  Is the lettuce as crisp as it looks?  Is the pizza topped with one pepperoni in real life or the twenty-seven it shows on the menu?  Does it smell appetizing or greasy? 

Another advantage of walking through the buffet is the ability to see who else is eating there.  If everyone in the room weighs 700 pounds and is dressed in thread-bare clothes, we may consider that the food isn’t healthy or cheap.

If, on the other hand, the customers range from the beautifully dressed and svelt to the Average Joe in a pair of working blue jeans, it may indicate a balance between health and the price tag.

The problem with buffet submissions is that we often waste oddles of time.  Ours and agents.  Not everyone on the buffet will be into our type of story.  However, the temptation to sample everyone is strong and we end up querying our picture books to hard-core sci-fi agencies.  This benefits no one and frustrates everyone. 

Buffet queries often get returned as form rejections.  Submitting in this fashion is a matter of quantity and the return is iffy.  Some writers mass mail up to fifty agents or editors at a time.  If it’s a number’s game, they figure, eventually it will pay off. 

I don’t roll that way.  Instead, I prefer quality over quantity.  This would be the equivalent of finding the right restaraunt to take your beloved to on your first wedding anniversary.  Classy, good reviews, excellent food, specialized. 

This is the kind of agent I want. 

I want to know who I’m submitting to and why.  I want a track record, stellar word-of-mouth, good connections and experience in my genre.  If an offer for representation comes in, I want to say yes without scrambling to see if there is a “better” agent available. 

 So how do we find the five star agents?  The same way we find the five star food joints.  We research.  We speak with others who have worked with them.  We check out books they have repped or published to determine how our manuscript fits their tastes or needs.  We become selective in our search and submission process.

Resources to aid your seach:

  1. A market guide such as Writer’s Market.  There are choices besides the Writer’s Digest based books and can be found in print and online.  These are great starting points in my search. 
  2. Preditors and Editors: a low down on who’s got the goods and who doesn’t in the publishing arena.  If your initial targets score poorly here, it may be time to cross them off your list.  Another resource is Writer Beware. 
  3. Websites geared toward helping authors and agents connect.  Agent Query is incredible.  Query Tracker is spoken highly of in my writing communities in regards to helping writers pinpoint potential markets for their manuscripts. 
  4. Writing organizations that provide a sense of community.  On or offline organizations can be found.  I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  They provide timely and accurate information as well as many opportunities for writers of juvenile literature.
  5. Other blogs or websites that cater to the emerging writer and provide well-rounded advice and recommendations.  They can be found everywhere.  Howevever, pay attention to the author of such blogs and sites.  What do they have to gain by providing their POV?  Writer Beware has a section on blogs.
  6. Agent or Publishing House websites.  Be specific in your research.  What do they want and how do they want it?  Their home site should always trump printed info.
  7. Conferences: track down your top choices and see if they’re speaking.  Meeting agents or editors personally can go a long way in understanding their visions and whether you’ll click with them or not.  Editors and agents also give far more specific insight into their tastes and wants than you can find elsewhere.

Consider all the time you spent writing and revising your manuscript.  Do you really want to order a side of fries and a milk shake?  Or do you want to wow your beloved with a prime-rib dinner in a quaint atmosphere?   My advice: 

Seek quality agents and editors to handle your baby.  Don’t just pass it off to the assistant at the drive-thru window.

What’s your advice on finding an agent or editor?  Have you shopped in the wrong place before?  If so, what tips can you provide to help others from making your mistakes?

20 responses to “I’ll take one agent with a side of fries…

  1. jmartinlibrarian

    Excellent, excellent advice, Cat.

    Good agent research = better results.

    • Jenny,

      I keep my fingers crossed quality submissions is the better way than mass mailings. If it is purely a number’s game, I have a long way to go in terms of quantity to reach the lucky number!

  2. Great post! You’re right on with your comparisons. That research is so important. Hope you are well and find that wonderful agent you’ve been searching for sometime soon.

  3. I think research is incredibly important. Nothing like the internet to sniff out a scam! I like reading agent blurbs and looking for a “double whammy.” As in, s/he likes fantasy AND strong female characters, instead of just one or the other. This helps when the novel being submitted is sort of a crossed-genre affair. An agent that reps urban fantasy and romance seems more likely to go for a romantic urban fantasy.

    • Good point, Barbara. It can be beneficial to find a multi-faceted agent who loves more than one genre you are pitching. It increases the odds of submitting a book they will love. Provided it’s well written.

  4. Thanks for that quality post. Very informative and I’ve been to a few of those sites before. There’s some good info out there on how to protect yourself as a new author.

    Very good info. Thanks!

    P.S. If you are going to metaphorically compare your examples with food, please wait until after I’m fed. 😛 j/k

    • What time do you eat? I’ll try to hold off until after your midmorning snack from now on!

      I hope new writers find these incredible resources before they fall victim to their publishing desired. It is an open market for scammers to take advantage of the excited and uninformed.

  5. This is pure brilliance! Thanks for the QT mention. 😉

  6. Great advice as always, Cat! Agent research is vital!!

  7. I think I’m gonna go look.

  8. Thank you for the resources, I’m bookmarking this for later use!

    • Thanks for commenting. These are some of my favorite resources. Another one is a book I will be reviewing at the end of the week by Lynn Price.

      I hope they help.

  9. That’s why they say you shouldn’t query an agent you wouldn’t be thrilled to say yes too. I’m finding the research/query part of this writing process to be a lot less fun than the writing part, but it feels like the key to the kingdom.

    Thanks for another informative post!

    • Yvonne,

      I totally agree with the fun part. It is half the reason it takes me so long to query. I am picky and I put a ton of research into each one.

      I hope some of this helps.

  10. This is a great post. Although I am years away from submitting anything to anyone, it is good to have this knowledge beforehand.

    • Rebecca,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I wish they would have had the internet communities when I first started out. I think it is so much easier to connect and learn than it has ever been. It makes the journey seem a little less lonesome and a whole lot easier when traveling with friends!

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