Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Friday, January 11, 2008

What I Do - Agent Hunting

Bait them with lost masterpieces from Steinbeck?? Catch and release?

But seriously...

I thought I might start a series of 'What I Do' posts just to give everyone an idea of how I approach this whole crazy business of writing. (We'll see if it really turns into a series or if I totally blow it off by next week.)

This week, since I'm getting prepped for submitting Blink, I thought I'd talk about the process I go through when I'm agent hunting.

1) Write the book to completion. It sounds silly to say it, but from what I hear there are folks out there who query agents before their work is done. That may be fine for some people. It doesn't work for me. I can't even show my CP my books before they're as close to completion as I can get without outside input. (As in, I've edited it so much I can no longer be objective, so I pass it off to her to shred.) If you're sending out work you'd be ashamed to have your high-school English teacher read, then why in the name of all that's good would you send out a query for it. Even if the agent is interested, he's going to want to see more, and you don't have a polished piece to send him.

2) Decide what genre your book is. If you're a long time visitor to The Writing Spectacle, you may have already heard me grouse about this subject. I am horrible at deciding what genre my books fit under. Of course, it probably would be easier if I wrote straight genre of some kind, but most of my work swings on several sides of the street at once (and no, I don't write that kind of fiction - it's a metaphor). But in order to target the right agents, you have to know what it is you're sending them. Take Blink, for instance. It could be considered soft SF. It could be considered 'speculative fiction'. It could be considered literary. So who do I send to??? The short anwer is everyone who represents any of those three genres. The long answer is...

3) Do a boatload of research. For example, today I spent a large portion of the day on AgentQuery.com (which if you haven't used it, is an awesome first research source). I waded through the listings for agents who represent SF. 8 pages worth of listings, or 64 total agent names to read through. And read through them, I did. As I read each listing, I ignored any agent listing who, other than checking some box for SF, didn't actually say anything about SF in their listing. I also dismissed any agent who only talks about hard SF. I paid special attention to those people who said they were looking for future SF and social SF, as well as those few who specifically said 'speculative'. I looked through their client lists and picked agents whose clients styles seemed similar to my own, or their subject matter was closely related. (For instance, I printed off the listing for Ray Bradbury's agent, even though Blink only resembles Fahrenheit 451 in the dystopia aspect, it's worth a shot.) Additionally, I went a step farther for the ones I liked.

4) I looked at their websites, if one was available. I read their individual agent bios. I looked at their philosophies. I tried to see if they were a good match not only for my work, but also for my personality and beliefs. As much as I'd like to get an agent, I don't want to go through all that work only to reach the point where I can't stand them and they can't stand me on some personal level. This is only business, but we still have to work together. An example of this is one agency that looked particularly yummy until I went to their website and learned they are very environmentally conscious (treehuggers or if not, borderline ones). One look at Caldera, and we'd come to blows. It's not worth the effort only to have the relationship dissolve eventually.

5) The next thing I do before I send out any queries is I take each of the potential matches and run an internet search on them. I read whatever articles they've written, any news pertaining to them, any warnings or cautions. I figure this'll keep me away from the scammers out there. So far, so good. Part of this process is checking them out at Preditors and Editors. P&E keeps up with all the scuttlebutt about agents, they tell writers who's good and who's bad, and they keep our butts out of the fire. Another place I go is Writers Beware. Those gals are the best watchers for scam agents and schisters.

6) Finally, before even start creating query packets, I plug all of the keepers into a database program so I can keep track of who has what, when I sent it, and what their reaction was. Personally, I use an antiquated contact management program (for DOS). It works for me most of the time and when it doesn't, it takes ten minutes to reload. I can use it to generate letters, too, but the letter template looks hokey, so I don't bother. I highly recommend using some tracking system to keep yourself in the loop on your own submissions. Mine not only helps me stay on track, but it also prevents me from sending things to people who've already rejected them. When I sent out queries for Spectacle (back in 2004 when I was still a neophyte), I didn't keep track of anything. I even threw out the rejections. Then my computer crashed and I lost the names of everyone I had already queried. If any agents reading this got multiple submissions on Spectacle after that, please forgive me for my stupidity. Now, not only do I have everything backed up and protected, but I also have hard copies of everything.

7) Now that I'm ready to query, I have to go through the business of writing and perfecting a query letter, a synopsis, an outline, and making sure I'm ready if anyone requests a partial or a full. I won't go over all that here. Plenty of sites online help with creating those things, and making sure your manuscript is polished. You'll get much better information there than I can provide at this time.

And then I sit back and wait.

Okay, I don't really sit back and wait. I keep working on my other books and wait. Sitting back is not allowed. Even after you get a contract, there's no sitting back in writing.

I'll be starting querying again after I'm sure my manuscript is polished, and I still have to write that darned synopsis. Keep a happy thought for me.

Now, what're YOU waiting for?

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