Friday, October 20, 2006

Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Admin note: I know that there are a lot of new readers to the blog, so here's how it works: have a question about the publishing industry (mags or books)? Send it to me via email at or post it in the comments section, and I'll answer it here. It's that easy! And don't be shy. Unlike some other bloggers, I won't bite! Promise.

Question of the day: When you were searching for an agent, how many queries did you send out at a time? Some writers I know send out 50+, while another friend has just targeted her top three.

When I began my agent hunt (back on book number one, which did get representation, but didn't sell), I think I started out by contacting about 10-15 agents from the get-go. I felt like this was a safe enough number to assess whether or not my query letter would work (it did - I got a lot of responses), but not too many that I closed off a lot of my top choices should these 10-15 not pan out. And the strategy worked for me. As I quickly discovered, there were dozens of other agents to submit to - beyond my initial 10-15 - and with every rejection that came in, I fired off another query to another agent. I tried to always have about ten queries, partials or fulls in play, so that there wasn't any downtime when I didn't have anyone reading. However, agent hunt number one wasn't perfect, by any means, if only because, as I alluded to above, I could have perhaps better targeted my initial pitches to agents I was truly wild about, rather than firing off emails to agents who fit my general criteria but might not have been great matches for me in the end.

I was better educated the second time I went on my quest - not in terms of quantity, I still stuck to my "ten balls in the air" theory, rather in terms of quantity. This time out, I really focused solely on agents who I knew would be great fits for me. How did I know? A lot of research: seriously, there's very little that you can't find out about an agent online, and if you look long enough and hard enough, you'll be able to pinpoint who you think would work well for you. I was also much more confident in this ms (TDLF), so I aimed the bar high, primarily targeting agents whom I might have been intimidated to contact from the get-go the first time out. Which, when I think about it, is sort of silly. The intimidation part, not the targeting part. It seems to me that you want the best possible agent for your work. Aiming the bar slightly lower because you're concerned that a fabulous agent will reject you is non-sensical. (Even though I did it!) I mean, if he's going to reject you, he's going to reject you! Why not give it a try? Which is what I did this time around, and I was shocked that some super big-time agents not only took the time to respond, but to also read the full and provide lovely feedback.

Though this does bring me to another tangent altogether: just because someone is a super big-time agent doesn't mean that he or she is the right agent for you. In fact, in the end, I intentionally chose an agent who was up-and-coming but not too huge yet because I wanted someone who still had time for me. So when you're making your top 10 or 20 list, don't just go for the big guns; go for the agent who can pull out the big guns for you. This is critical. There is no "perfect" agent; only the perfect agent for you.

But back to your question: I don't think I'd have 50+ queries in play. What if your query letter sucks or what if you decide to revise your ms and you've already burned through most of your choices? I like the 10-15 number because it ensures that someone is always reading the ms (or query), but isn't so expansive that you limit your options in the future.

How have you guys gone about your agent hunt?

PS - SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Jim and Pam 4evah! :) (You regular readers know what I'm talking about, and you non-regulars, get thyselves to a TV to watch The Office asap!)


Bernita said...

How have I gone about my agent hunt?
The word "timidly" fits best.

Amie Stuart said...

Bernita...there are worst rejections in the world LOL

I think all total I queried about 75 agents (some more than once) with different manuscripts. Keeping five or ten queries out at a time is a good idea, I did similiar. This last time I targeted seven, five were top picks, one was the agent of a friend who had sold a lot in my genre and one was a personal rec to a huge agent from another friend. I ended up turning down the huge agent for one I felt more comfortable with (I wanted an agent who didn't make me feel intimidated and who was more hands on than HA).

My advice? Have an idea of what you want, or don't want in an agent.

Sara Hantz said...

First I identified all those who repped my sort of work and then excluded ones that I didn't think would be a good match for me (based on what I'd heard on loops etc).

Then I sent to all those who accepted email queries - being in NZ it makes querying much easier. Also, many who requested partials/fulls said I could email them because I was so far away. I've never snailed anything to the agent I ended up signing with. We email and occasionally talk on the phone.

I tended to send the emails out in batches. Once I started getting requests I knew the query was ok. So, I guess I had up to 20 queries out there at any one time. Maybe a few less.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Jim and Pam...hehe!