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Eight Best Prep Steps to Take Prior to Querying Agents

Because we get asked about the query process quite often. 

Here is our take on the smartest way to go about it. As a bonus, you learn a lot of insider knowledge about the business (like who is in "the club" and who is not--see below) along the way. You might also come to the realization that your ms is not yet ready. Such illumination is always a positive thing.


  1. Join Publisher's Marketplace for at least a month (yes it costs a few bucks, but so what?).
  2. Search out the deals made during the past two years in your specific genre (or specific sub-niche in your genre). Why? Because it will clearly define who is in the club. Every genre has a club composed of favored publishers and literary agencies. This data mining is going to take a few hours at least, but it's worth it.
  3. Make certain the "deals" you mine are with major publishers, imprints, or well regarded mid-sized presses. If your novel is more literary in nature, make certain the deals are at least with respected and traditional small presses. If you become desperate just to get your foot in the door, you might adjust expectations accordingly.
  4. With data in hand you'll know the top agencies making the most sales, and the top agents in the those agencies. Now, put the top agents on hold for the time being, but choose at least a dozen agencies working in your genre based on the criteria above. 
  5. Instead of the top agents, identify the "hungry agents" in these top agencies. Use other sources like MS Wish List if you must. Choose the agent minus a full belly, yes, but only those who have transcended their salad days. Why? Because they'll likely take more time with you, be more lenient, perhaps more open to your story idea, perhaps more willing to provide editorial notes? Perhaps? 
  6. As for transcending salad days, make certain your picks have at least four to five sales to major publishers under their belts, and in this way, you'll know they've made their mark and are evolving, as opposed to showing signs of dropping out as so many do. It's a very high turnover business. VERY HIGH.
  7. Once the above is done, especially if you have not already done so, check out your list on MS Wish List just to verify you've nailed the best people..
  8. When you query, note in the very beginning something like, "I saw you on Publisher's Marketplace..." because this will mark you as a professional.

________________

Once you've satisfied above, move on to writing the perfect query letter.

A few other slivers of advice, as follows.

  • Trying to query superpowered agencies like CAA with a cold query is utter futility.
  • Agents with clients on social media twittering around and making gushing comments about them is meaningless. 
  • Agents getting axed by grinders is equally meaningless. 
  • Personalities are such fragile creations subject to taste. Focus instead on the steps above. 

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