I won’t list them all here, but my first session at SFWC this year was a panel in which the fiction agents at the conference introduced themselves and answered questions about what agents look for. I’m posting the questions and answers below.
What is the #1 query mistake?
Of course they couldn’t keep it to just one. But here are a few:
1. The authors query before they’re ready to publish (that is, before the manuscript is the best it can be)
2. The authors don’t research the agent and so query something (a genre) the agent doesn’t rep
4. Gimmicks—better to be straightforward and brief
5. Querying multiple agents at one agency
And here’s what you want to do: put your hook—whatever makes your book unique—out front in the query.
What does an agent do for an author?
The general answer is that an agent can take care of the business side of things, giving the author the time and opportunity to be creative and actually write. An agent will fight for you, and gets rejected with you, so that as an author you’re not taking it alone. Agents act as middle men and can get you in the door at publishing houses. They can help you keep up with publishing trends, and can advise you and help manage your career. So that you’re not having to do it all on your own.
What do agents look for?
1. A killer story they can sell
2. Good grammar
3. An author who is willing to listen to advice and opinions, and to the agent’s experience
4. Someone with more than one book in them
5. A writer willing to collaborate
6. Someone with an established platform or proven track record
7. Someone with initiative who is willing to help market the book
8. Someone who is committed and takes their writing seriously
And what they don’t want are narcissists or crazy people, writers who think their work is perfect just as it is.
Where do agents look online when “researching” a potential client?
They’ll often Google first, or look for you on Twitter. Then all the usual hot spots: Facebook author page, blog, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Goodreads . . .
Do agents read their own queries?
Most have assistants or interns that weed queries out based on a set of criteria the agent has given him/her.
And this reminder when researching a potential literary agent: look at the dates from any interviews or articles. Something from a couple years ago may no longer be relevant. (If, in 2009, the agent said she was looking for “zombie stories,” she probably has moved on by now.)
I hope if any of you are thinking about querying agents, these points help you plan! More from the conference after I’ve managed to get some sleep . . .