How to look for an agent—Or rather what I’m doing.

I have writer friends who are beginning the process of looking for an agent and have asked me what I do, how I go about finding agents to query. So I thought I’d blog about my process.

It’s taken me soooo long to get to this point. To say, “I’m ready to send my baby out.” Sniff. How she’s grown and changed, it’s hard to believe the time has come to let her go out into the world. After two complete re-writes, numerous revisions, after writer buds have critiqued my full manuscript and its then gone through another set of revisions, I can say with confidence that my MG fantasy, SYDNEY PARKS AND THE BAYAB is done-done enough for agent’s eyes to review.

And I say, “done-done enough,” because we all know—if I’m lucky and I find an agent and then an editor, it will go through more revisions still. This prospect is one I welcome; we all want our work to be the best it can possibly be, right? This brings me to the first item on my agent wish list.

1. I wish for an editorial agent.

Now, an editorial agent is not a critique buddy, of course, but a set of professional eyes that can make suggestions (some give more than others) before sending a manuscript out to editors. Editors that will hopefully see promise in the manuscript and see new ways still to make the story even better. This is the process I’m hoping for, dreaming of, working towards.

So back to looking for agents and my wish list:

2. I wish for a business partner who can help me build a career in writing for children, and not just interested in selling the one manuscript. In other words, I’m looking for a long-time business relationship.

3. I wish for an agent who has interest in the genres I want or am writing: YA paranormal romance, MG historical fiction, possibly YA verse, and obviously MG fantasy.

4. I wish for an agent I feel comfortable with, one that I don’t feel intimidated by. This is hard to know without meeting them, but there’s enough online now that you can get a general idea of personality.

5. And it would be wonderful if they handled foreign rights, too, but hey.

So make your list. What is most important to you. This helps to narrow the sub list. Because there is everything from husband-wife agent teams, to the more corporate atmosphere, to everything in between.

I bet you’re thinking: Who the heck does she think she is, making a list? Seriously. Shouldn’t she be happy with any agent that would want to represent her? Yes, I’d sure be tempted, definitely, which is why I only send queries to agents I’d really like to work with.

What I’m saying is: make a list and research before submitting.

Is researching time consuming? Yes.

When I get a rejection does it sting a bit more because I’ve spent two hours reading blog archives and interviews, and in the process learn said agent's favorite color and what kind of pet(s) they have as well as the kind of queries they prefer? Absolutely.

My mantra: It only takes one yes.

Here’s how I research:

On occasion I’ll look on Amazon or visit my favorite local bookseller, RJ Julia's to check out the acknowledgement page inside books that fit into the genre of the one I’m querying. A thanks to the agent is usually posted there. But that’s not always the most constructive way to spend time, though it’s a great and fun way to add to the towering pile of books-to-read.

The best way (for me) has been to peruse Publishers Marketplace, Agent Query, and sometimes Query Tracker. And, I absolutely LOVE Casey McCormick’s blog, Literary Rambles. Casey spotlights different agents and has links to interviews and so on. A real plethora of information (thanks Casey!!) And last, the Verla Kay boards is an awesome source of information, but can be a time suck because it’s easy to get off track with so many interesting threads going on over there. Though worth the time, definitely.

Once I find five agents that I think might be interested in my manuscript I Google them. Most have been interviewed or have blogs. I read their archives and such. If I still think we could be a good match then I’ll make sure to find out what kind of query they prefer and get their most up-to-date sub guidelines. Some want short queries (two to three lines about the manuscript), others want voice and may tolerate a slightly longer (though still one page) query. I have a few query versions and choose the one that I think best suits the agent. And I always open my query with something personal so that the agent knows I’ve done my research and that I’ve chosen them for good reason.

I also check out the author’s they represent, read some of their books, their blogs. If it’s an agent I haven’t queried yet, but plan to, I might post a review of one of their author’s books on my blog.

Afterwards, when all that is done, I hold my breath and click send. EEK! Then try desperately to forget about how much I SO want this next step to happen that I might just DIE from the waiting and do my best to stop my fingers from checking email for the millionth time because--just maybe.

But mostly I bury myself in my current wip, UNTIL DEATH, a paranormal romance that has a different twist to it that I’m hoping will make it stand out.

And if you want some more tips, hop on over to a great blog I just discovered (and clicked on back here to add in her info), Janice Hardy's blog, author of The Shifter called, The Other Side of The Story.

So tell me, what do you do? I’m sure there are other ways to go about it. I would love to hear your stories. And if you have an agent, how did you two connect?


  1. Well, I have done none of this, I got published by another rather circuitous route, so I never went through the agent search. I always wanted to go through a small press that took unagented submissions. That felt right to me, and it's what happened. Sort of. Anyway. I think a list is wonderful as you've done, because it puts you in the driver's seat and makes you feel less jerked around. I read another blog by a writer who is doing it just like this, with a list. Best to you in your search!

  2. Tbanks KarenG, and best of luck to you too.

  3. This is great, Paula. I'm searching in a similar manner, and having a list of "requirements" really helps maintain focus. Heck, I had a list of requirements for my future husband when I was like, 13 (I stuck to it, too...:), so I definitely don't think making a list for an agent is weird. ;)
    I know you're going to find the perfect agent soon!

  4. Thanks Faith, I sure hope so.

    I wish you the best, too. I know it will happen for you soon.

  5. It's great you're doing so much research--that's so important. It's also really smart of you to ask yourself what you want and need ahead of time. And yes, only send queries to agents you really want to work with. I think you're smart!

    I'm unagented, but I'm always researching agents or making note of agents I want to research.

    Great post! I wish you the very best luck with your queries! :)

  6. Thanks, Dawn.

    Good idea to keep a running list as you're writing, too.


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