Thanks, Jess, for inviting me to come and share my “how I got my agent” story, along with some advice for aspiring authors looking for literary representation.
It took me about three months of serious querying to land my literary agent. Compared to many as-yet-unknown authors, this is pretty quick. It’s not so fast that you immediately despise me, as we all must do for authors who query for about five days and suddenly have three agents wooing them. But it’s better than six months or a year. Although I made some mistakes in the querying process, there are a few things that I think I did right:
1. Researching Agents and the Query Process
There are many great resources out there now for querying authors. Anne Mini and Janet Reid, for example, have both made considerable efforts to educate authors on the proper way to query an agent. Online resources like QueryTracker, AgentQuery, and Absolute Write help authors find possible literary agents and hear from other authors who’ve queried them. I took advantage of many of these resources. I built a list of possible agents. I found their query guidelines. I took notes on their client lists and any interviews they gave. So when I approached them with a query, I knew a little about them already.
I’d also done the work to craft a decent query that follows one of the widely accepted formulas: A proper greeting, such as “Dear Ms. Megibow,” is the right way to start. Then a line like “I am seeking representation for NOVEL TITLE, an [age category] [genre] novel, complete at [word count].” Then a 1-2 paragraph synopsis of the book’s characters and plot. Then a very brief bio, a thank you, and your signature with contact information. You’d be surprised how often people don’t follow this very basic structure.
2. Planning, Tracking, and Organizing Queries
Look, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll have to send out lots of queries. Personally, I did batches of about 10 at once. I kept all agents-to-be-queried in a spreadsheet along with pertinent information, such as the e-mail address, the date I sent the query, the query format, the query response, etc. That’s how I know, for example, that I queried Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary on 12/15, she requested a partial on 1/28, then a full an hour later on the same day. A spreadsheet also lets you know how much time has passed since your query was sent, in case you need to follow up. Again, follow the agency’s guidelines on this.
3. Being Professional
Writing and publishing novels is a business. Literary agents are a part of that business. As talented as you might be as a writer, it also helps if you’re a rational, professional individual with whom they’d like to build a relationship. Knowing this, I took the age-old approach of “fake it till you make it.” I built an author website and Twitter profile, so that I could include them in my signature. In every communication with agents, I strove to be polite. I also followed their guidelines, and thanked them when they sent a personalized rejection. You’ll note that I didn’t go bashing agents on Twitter, or send angry responses. I knew it was a business decision, not a personal one, and I treated it as such.
Keep in mind that this might not be your first novel. You might write a second one, and approach some of the same agents with it. You’ll do well not to make a bad impression. Positive impressions count even when an agent says no. Case in point: No less than seven agents who have rejected a query or partial from me participated in #SFFpit, a Twitter pitching event I host for sci-fi/fantasy authors. I doubt they would have done so if I’d been a total nutjob.
Choosing an Agent
It is true that most of the struggle in finding literary representation is getting that first agent to say yes. However, many new authors find themselves in a situation where multiple agents may offer representation in a short period. It happened to me, and while it’s a wonderful problem to have, it’s often a nerve-racking ordeal for the author. How do you choose between literary agents? What if you make the wrong choice?
I think the best answer is that you should do your homework and ask questions. Find out what that agent has sold recently. Reach out to some existing clients for their impressions. Perhaps most importantly, try to get that agent on the phone so that you can talk things over. This is a personality test for both sides, and I think it’s often the most important one. For me, when I talked to Jennie on the phone, I could tell right away that she was self-assured and well-spoken. We had a wonderful conversation that lasted almost an hour. She asked me how I came to write the book, and that was a perfect ice-breaker. She wowed me with her answers to all of my questions. She also said my book reminded her of Michael Crichton which was about the highest compliment possible. Our personalities clicked, and that was the most important thing.
Well, that and Michael Crichton.
Little did she know that I had researched her on my own, extensively, before the phone call. I knew she had a book deal of her own that she’d just signed. I knew what some of her clients thought of her, and how she’d come to take them on. I knew her favorite brand of tea and which Star Trek was her favorite. What can I say? I’m a researcher; I like to know things. In the end, it was an easy decision for me and I was thrilled to join her client list.
Let’s hope that it’s the same for you.
About the Author:
Dan Koboldt is a working geneticist, avid bowhunter, and sci-fi/fantasy author represented by Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary Agency.