I had thought about compiling a database of agents that writers could dip into but there are plenty of databases in the market now. Agent Query and Query Tracker are two. I've found both of them useful and easy to navigate.
Instead, let's talk about what to put into an agent folder.
Query Tracker has a nice feature that lets you create your own personal database where you can key in info on where you sent queries and what kind of response you got. But you can do this on your own just as easily.
I divide agents by their specialty and their preferred method of query (many do only email now). Under each agent I will also list what they've sold and leave a note to myself when I find out they've sold something similar along the lines of what I have to offer. NOTE: I always have feelers out to find out what is catching editors' interest. This is the beauty of networking. My contacts keep me pretty current.
If I've queried an agent, I post a detailed description of his response, including the tone of the letter. There's been at least one agent I won't query again because she responded with information I knew to be erroneous. That's a red flag. If you know what the industry is bearing better than they do, move on to someone else. What you're looking for is an expert in the field.
Always note how long it takes them to answer you. Those that answer promptly get high marks. Those who respond with personal letters will be at the top of my list when I sub something new.
I wouldn't have listened, but if I could go back and talk to myself when I started subbing, I would have told myself not to be in a hurry to query. Fortunately, my loathing for post offices has kept me from making a total idiot of myself, so my mistakes have been few.
In the past couple of years I've taught myself to write a good query, but it takes time. If I could give any advice, I would tell people to target their (agent) audience first, then write a killer query that'll knock their socks off.
Test your queries before you mail. Don't ask your mom, your kids, your spouse or your best friend. For the most honest reaction, post it on a crit workshop and ask only those who haven't reviewed your past work for a critique. You might be surprised by the man-on-the-street response.
Basically, you want to know how your query will be received by a total stranger with the potential of becoming a business partner. First impressions are critical. Make it count.
Query with a target in mind. Shotgun queries are a waste of time and money. Neither of which I have to spare.
Start with a basic list of agents for the genre(s) you work in. Do your homework and research them with an eye for their business acumen. Know what they've sold, who they've sold to and if possible how big an advance they've snared.
The name of the game is to stay well-informed. That's the best weapon at your disposal.
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