Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Dating, er, Agent-Search Game

By Lisa Lowe Stauffer, @LisaLStauffer

Part of The Writer's Life Series 

JH: Finding an agent is almost as challenging (if not more so) than finding a publisher for your manuscript. Lisa Lowe Stauffer visits the lecture hall today with tips on how to make the most of your agent search.

Lisa Lowe Stauffer, author of Two By Two (Zonderkidz, 2018). She stays busy writing books for children and teens, volunteering with SCBWI as the Assistant Regional Adviser to Southern Breeze region, and traveling with her own red-headed husband.

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Take it away Lisa…

Lisa Lowe Stauffer
Many writers just want someone, anyone to take an interest in their work. It’s how I felt as a high school freshman when a boy I hardly knew asked me to prom. . . I learned the hard way that committing to the first person who showed interest entangled me in a dysfunctional relationship for years.

So put yourself and your preferences first. Daydream. Go with your gut feelings. You can always change your mind when you survey the field.

First, decide what YOU want

Would your ideal agent . . . be a hands-on editor?

Some agents edit manuscripts before sending them to publishers—a few will even go multiple rounds on editing. Others submit your manuscript with little to no tweaking.

Would your ideal agent . . . rep solely your type of books or a wider range?

Some agencies/agents rep a range, while others are laser-focused. For instance, if you write for children, would you prefer an agent (or an agency) that reps only kid lit? Or one that reps works for adults as well?

Would your ideal agent . . . rep the project or rep you?

Some agents contract with the writer on a project by project basis. Others prefer to rep an author’s entire career. And still others may rep certain types of your writing, but not all (for instance, an agent may rep romance but not sci fi).

There are other considerations that you may care about, such as whether the agent is in a large agency, a smaller agency, or works independently. Or you may care about how active this agent is within your genre—Does he speak at conferences? Is she a member of a writers’ organization like Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, or the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?

So with YOUR preferences sketched out, how do you find your perfect mate, er, agent?

Second, survey the field

Create your own database of possible agents (the Big List) who meet some or all of the criteria you’ve decided matter to you.

If you write for children, join SCBWI and download their resource The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children. You’ll be well ahead in creating your big list of agents. The Book includes an agents’ directory, an “agented by” list, and info on best practices.

For all types of writing, and have information on hundreds of agents across all genres. Many agencies use Query Tracker for manuscript submissions. But before you start submitting, know that information on these sites isn’t always up to date. It’s important to consult the agent’s actual website to double-check before submitting.

Another online resource is Publisher’s Weekly. Its book deals newsletter highlights agencies/agents. Not all deals and not all agencies send in this information, though.

If you have author friends or authors whose work is similar in style to yours, add their agents/agencies to your Big List, too.

Websites that hold pitch parties and manuscript competitions can also reveal agents/agencies who are active in various genres. For instance, lists agents who are participating in its showcase. (See the section below on Twitter for how to find these websites.)

Before you move on to the dating portion of this journey, check and Writer Beware for website links with resources for writers, including sites that alert you to predators and scammers in the agenting field. Another good resource about agents and “schmagents” (shady agents and how to spot them) is Alexa Donne’s short YouTube video.

Third, One-sided “speed dating” to sort your Big List

Hit the internet to stalk, er, research agents and agencies online. Your goal is to match your preferences with the agents’ publicly-stated preferences, so your Big List gets sorted into your own A and B lists. For me, my A list meets all my preferences while my B list meets some of them.

Your best resource is the agent’s website. Do they rep the type of writing you do? Are they open to submissions? Are there other agents with that agency that might be a better fit for you and your writing? Make notes on your Big List.

(Tip: It’s often better to submit your work to one of the newer agents in an agency, since they are less likely to have a full docket of authors.)

Twitter is another great resource. Read the agent’s profile page. Scan through some of their recent posts. Often agents talk about manuscripts they’d like to see, plans they have to close or open for submissions, and other aspects of agenting that may be helpful to you.

Set up your own Twitter account, fill out your profile, and start following writers, illustrators, agents, and editors in your genre. This is how I learned about the Pitch Wars website as well as other competitions, and Twitter pitch parties. (Put these terms in the Twitter search box for pitch party examples: #pitmad, #pbpitch, #faithpitch, #pitdark, and #kisspitch)

(Here's more on Three Things to Know Before You Pitch in an Online Pitch Event)

Visit and These interviews and posts can tell you more about an agent’s tastes and preferences.

Google an agent’s name. Search results will include interviews they’ve given.

Use your newfound knowledge to sort your Big List of Agents into your own personal A and B lists.

Fourth, Start “dating”

Now that you’ve crafted your A and B lists of agents, don’t start sending your manuscript to everyone willy-nilly.

(Tip: Only submit a manuscript when it’s complete and polished, with several rounds of critiques by people who aren’t your mother.)

Every agent has his or her own submission policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines. You’ll need to tweak your cover letter or query for each, and send along the exact synopsis and pages they request.

Yes, this takes time. Remember, “dating” is a two-way street.

Just like you want the right agent for your work, the agent has a stake in making sure you’re the right fit for them. Are you a professional who understands and follows the guidelines of the writing biz? It’s their first step in evaluating how you would be to work with long-term. Politeness counts, too. So follow their rules.

At last, you’re ready to query.

Pick a handful of agents, from both your A and B lists. As you craft your submission package, go back to each agent’s website to make sure nothing’s changed since you last looked at it. Tweak your submission package (query, synopsis, cover letter, first pages, etc.) per the guidelines and send it off.

(Tip: Many writers wait for results at this point. If no agents request to see more, take a look at your submission package. Could it be stronger? If so, revise before sending out to the next batch of agents.)

(Here's more on The Hunt is On! How to Find an Agent)

Fifth, Keep “dating” till it clicks

Rarely, do you find your perfect life partner on the first date. It may take submitting not only this manuscript, but the next, and the next to many, many agents before you connect with the one who’s right for you.

(Tip: It’s fine to submit a second manuscript to an agent who said no thanks to your first one. It’s not okay to submit several manuscripts at once.)

Like with dating, don’t sit home waiting for the proverbial phone to ring. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep hoping . . .

And keep the conversation going! What resources have you found helpful in identifying and researching literary agents? Post a comment below and share your knowledge and tips!

About Two By Two

Join in as the animals rock the boat on Noah’s Ark in Two by Two! This playful, rhyming story is sure to have little ones laughing and dancing along as two mischievous monkeys let loose the zoo aboard the ship. From anaconda limbo to penguin tap dances, the monkeys revel their way through the rain, making Two by Two a lyrical treat for the whole family to enjoy. With a rollicking rhyme from author Lisa Lowe Stauffer and engaging illustrations by Angelika Scudamore, this padded board book will soon become a favorite for bedtime and anytime.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for such very helpful advice. I'll make sure to pass this along to my writer's group.