Advice for your Agent Search

4 Jan

My blog post on Organizing Your Agent search is a constant favorite, but I realized when speaking with someone about to start querying, it left a lot of the advice stuff out that friends have been asking about now. And so, here goes.


Not literally. Don’t hunt them down and shoot them or anything (especially if she’s my agent. I like her and we’re still getting to know one another.) There is one thing I learned in this process. There is no such thing as a dream agent.

Knowing an agent’s client list does not mean you know the agent. She may rep similar things, but that doesn’t mean you’re a good work match. There are agents who are a *perfect* match for you, your style, your career choices — but may not currently rep a TON of what you do. That’s great too. That means she doesn’t compete against her own list. That’s why finding someone who reps a lot of stuff “exactly” like yours probably isn’t your dream agent.

Also, you’re going to be surprised how many agents are out there that aren’t part of your “Social Knowledge Circle.”

Think of it like this: If you said “Who is the best professional baseball catcher?” I’m going to say Jason Veritek. Why? Well, because I don’t know a ton about baseball players, but I’m from Boston and so he’s my knowledge base… Is he the best catcher? Or do I need to do some more research?


Querying is like looking for a job: You wouldn’t send out one resume at a time, would you?

Not only that, but querying your list in big chunks gives you leverage. Ask a bunch of recently agented writers and you’ll hear all about sending the “I was just offered representation, are you interested in looking at my book and talking before my final decision” emails. The fewer queries you have out, the fewer chances of getting the first offer, the fewer fulls and partials you’ll have in play to send that email to. This is a business. Think opportunity.

I looked at my stats —> Let’s pretend you have grouped your agent list in 3’s. So you send 3 queries out at a time. My stats show that 1 agent will respond within 2 or 3 days. 1 agent will respond within 2.5 weeks. 1 agent is a wild card who could not respond at all or email you in four months to ask if it’s still available. That means, you only truly have 1 query in play at all times (the fast responder) the others are sitting in an email box collecting dust.

Change that number to a bundle of your top 20 agents (because you’ve learned about your Social Knowledge Circle) and you’ll constantly have 6 queries in play and turning over.


It’s time to put your super-spy glasses on and eavesdrop on agents. There are four major things you should do:

  1. Follow their blog and twitter – This will give you current information about what they’re doing and looking for, their attitude toward genres, writers and style, and any changes they may announce (I pounced when my now agent put on twitter that she was caving to the call of YA.) I will admit to striking 2 “Top Agent Choices” from my list completely because of their blogs. I know I’m not the only one who has done this.
  2. Google Alert or Search List – Google Alert the agents you’re interested in OR Google them every week. Pick a day as “research day” and keep up with who is say what, looking for what and discussing what. They may be doing interviews off their own blogs OR one of their clients might be sharing info OR they might have a new deal getting reported. This move slow and change fast sometimes.
  3. Conferences – These are so good for so many reasons:
    1. Face to Face meetings and pitches. This is your chance to (1) make an impression and (2) gain an impression. Don’t ignore the vibes no matter how much you like what she represents.
    2. Talks and Panels – I love these. The conferences I went to these were basically all I went to. Craft I could learn off a tape weeks/months later. What the agents were saying I needed to know because it was up to the minute info. Also, seeing them relax and chat with each other up there gives you personality ideas. The questions people think to ask are often things we might forget ourselves. Overall, really helpful
    3. The bar – I’m not a big drinker… I may have had a drink in 2009 LOL. But, let’s be honest. Just like any business, a lot goes on in the bar at conferences. People relax and chat. Information is shared. Deals are struck. I once heard a 7 figure deal being worked at the table next to mine. It was an Eavesdropping Experience to remember.
  4. Inner Circle – Your Inner Circle will tell you things people in general won’t. I heard the good, the bad, the ugly and the very very ugly from people I trusted who knew I’d lock that info in a vault and never repeated. Not only did some agents come off my list or move further down it, but several agents I wouldn’t have known about or may have overlooked were bumped up it. But, don’t forget. Keep the faith, lock the vault.


No, don’t boss them around. Put them in order. If you haven’t checked out Organizing Your Agent Search, do so. It will tell you the how and why of making your list clear. It will also give you away to shuffle things when you finish eavesdropping and to remind you of who is where why (that’s a lot of Ws).


You need to remind yourself that you are the boss of you. Act like every day is going to be the day you get the call as soon as you send that first query letter out. You need to know exactly what you want in and from this business partnership. What questions are you going to ask them…AND know the answers you most want to hear to line up with you. What’s YOUR business plan for your writing? Are they interested in that? Do they have an idea of what they want to do with your book(s) — Yes, that’s plural. One of the parts of my conversation was about what else I’d done, was doing, and had planned. The idea that some agents didn’t care was off putting. I’m an aggressive planner and wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one look at the now and the future… Know what you want and look for a match – OR someone who knows better and can tell you why?

Also, as the boss of you, don’t let your best employee (YOU!) slack off at work. Just because the query is out for book 1 doesn’t mean you should be getting ready to hand over book 2. Worst Case Scenario: No one wants book 1, but you’re ready to start querying book 2 when you get through your agent list. Best Case Scenario: Everyone wants book 1 and during your discussions you’re able to talk about what else you’ve written to see who is the best overall fit for you back list.

If you missed them, here are the Great Agent Hunt – Getting To Yes series:

Getting To Yes, Part 1
Getting To Yes, Part 2
After the Yes

9 Responses to “Advice for your Agent Search”

  1. uninvoked January 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Awesome post! I’m still fumbling along the whole “How to write a query letter” path since it is vastly different from short story queries.

  2. December January 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    great list of things to think on.
    I especially like your 3 person stat list – that makes a lot of sense to me!
    I actually paid for the Query Tracker Upgrade per your suggestion. I think it’ll keep things more organized for me when I’m ready to dive in.
    One thing I am keeping track of (not sure if this will help others) is who is on the contest judging or the conference circuit. I would ASSUME those agents are actively seeking new writers, so I’m researching and adding to my list as applicable.

  3. briaq January 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    December- Great point! Never assume. I was talking to an agent at a conference one time. We’d already figured out that I don’t write what she reps, so it was just a friendly chit chat (at the bar *grin*) and she told me straight out she wasn’t looking for anything right now. That it would have to blow her socks off to convince her to take on another writer.

    Don’t forget, they’re a business too. They need to network and keep moving forward for when they do have an opening. Ask outright during a pitch….politely 🙂

  4. Cambria Dillon January 4, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    This is a really insightful post. I’m not at the stage of querying agents…yet (it’s on my list of 2010 goals), but you better believe I bookmarked this series to reference in the future.
    In case it’s not said enough — Thank you for all your relevant and concise tips AND the time you spend helping others on this path! Your wealth of been-there-recently knowledge is priceless. 🙂

  5. briaq January 4, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    AWWWW….and not one mention of the pedometer… I feel so loved 🙂

  6. tamaradwalsh September 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    One more question…hope I’m not being a pain. I’ve been looking around on your blog for an article on what to ask an agent (you said in one of your posts that you had a list of questions) but I can’t find it. I’m kind of lost on what I’d do besides jump up and down if an agent actually wanted to sign me. haha…Do you have a post about this or any suggestions on where I could find the information? Thanks!

  7. Bria Quinlan September 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    I LOVE querying Tamara! It’s so proactive. No matter how many rejections, close calls, patials and fulls you get the power is in YOUR hands. People don’t realize that a lot, but it’s all about your attitude, your willingness to take feedback and go out on a limb and the drive to move forward!

    As for the blog, yes. I’d throw one together now. They’re easy and fast. I’d put on it a bio, your email and twitter, a page about what you write. You can always not use it as a blog and have the front page act as your “home page” – but, that way, if you’re googled they’ll find you.

    ALSO, get your domain name now. Even ifyou don’t use it. I got mine through dot.easy and keep it up for cheap.

    As for the questions, I’ll see if I can find that. I just realized how MANY blog posts I’ve done! If you get a call soon, hit me back again and I’ll see what I can do on my old computer 😉

  8. tamaradwalsh September 4, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks so much for the advice, it’s very appreciated. I’m not actually querying yet–I’m waiting for feedback from a couple beta readers, but I’m putting together my agent list and I want to be fully prepared. Thanks again for running such a great site–the info. I’ve found on here has been extremely useful! I’m going to go check out dot.easy. 🙂

  9. Bria Quinlan September 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    GOOD LUCK!!!!

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