Agency Lessons: The Query Games part 2

So last week, I let you all see my neurotic side with my agent spreadsheet. This week, I'm sharing my tips for deciding who to query when.

Once I have my master list of agents, it's time to prioritize. Based off their personal preferences, online interactions, and interviews, I group agents into levels. Level one is a small group of agents who make up my "dream team". These are the people I would love, love, love to work with. Now, there is a lot of wonderful advice out there about not getting your heart set on a dream agent. And they are right. But that doesn't mean a girl can't hope.

The largest level of agents are the ones I think would be great to work with. They may not be my dream gal or guy, but I would still be tickled pink to work with them.

The last group are agents that I know represent my genre, but I couldn't find much information out there about them. They could be the best thing since sliced bread. I just don't know that yet.

You'll notice I don't have list of ho-hum agents. If they aren't someone I want to work with or if I'm not really sure they would like my particular brand of writing, I'm not going to query them. Other folks might disagree with this tactic, and that's fine, but I don't want to work with someone I'm not jazzed about.

I like to send queries out in small batches or 8-10 agents. It helps me to keep things organized. It's fine to send more if that's your thing. I would recommend not sending your query to everyone on your list all at once. If you find out the query isn't working for you, you've just burned all your bridges in one shot with no chance to revise. I also advise against sending your queries one at a time. It's not unusual for an agent to take 6-8 weeks to respond. At that rate, sending queries one at a time would take years to query a decent number of agents. Not at all practical.

My first round is sent out to a mix of agents from group two and three. I don't send any group one agents for the first round on purpose. You only get one shot to impress an agent. The first few rounds of queries can quickly let you know if your letter is working. If I didn't get any positive responses from that first round I know that I need to revise my query before sending it out again.

Once I've sent a round or two and have some positive feedback, I know it's time to include my top group in the list. This is the most nerve wracking round. :)

While most of the time, the query process runs super slow, there is always the chance that yours won't. At any time, you need to be prepared to send off query letters to all of your top agents and anyone in the other groups that you are really excited about. If you are receiving lots of full requests, you may not have the benefit of spacing out your letters. It can be a big numbers game. You want to make sure that you've had a chance to query your top choices before you get "The Call". If not, you risk your top agent not having time to get to you before a decision needs to be made. Agents will have patience with you, but they won't want to wait a month or two for you to finish sending query letters.

Even if you've decided my fancy spreadsheet isn't for you, it's crucial to keep track of who you are querying, when you sent it and what the response is. Nothing says disorganized like querying an agent twice because you forgot you already sent them your query. You also need to keep track of who has a partial or full. When you get "The Call" it is standard industry etiquette to let agents reviewing your material know that you have an offer. It's up to you to let them know the material is no longer available for representation, or that they have until a certain date to get back to you. Personally, I'm a fan of color coding my spreadsheet for this, but any method that keeps it all up-to-date will work.

If you've been following along, you now have an organized list of agents to query and a game plan for who you are querying when. Next week I'll finish this series with a post on what to send and how to keep it straight.