Agency Lessons: Updating your query lists

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
If you've been in the query trenches for any amount of time, it's likely you have some kind of database for all the agents you have already or someday plan to query. For those of you who've been around the blog for a while, it will be no surprise to you that during my querying stage I had a massive color coded spreadsheet broken down by project. For the newbies, I adore spreadsheets because I am weird.

Anyway, these spreadsheets or notebooks or online databases (like query tracker) are wonderful. They help you stay organized and somewhat sane during what is by nature a really stressful process. Plus, once you've got a good list of agents going, you can likely go back to this list if you find yourself querying another project, or another, get the idea.

This is good. You don't want to waste hours upon hours building an agent list from scratch every time you go out with a new project. As an agent I do the same thing with my editors list. I have (surprise) a huge spreadsheet broken down by age and genre preferences and this is always my starting point when it's time to pitch a new project.

But there is a danger in these spreadsheets. As slow as publishing may seem, changes are a constant presence. Agents switch house, editors get promoted, new people come on the scene and all of it happens usually without much fanfare.

It's fine to use the same spreadsheet, but you have to keep it updated. This week, as our agency re-opened from the holiday break we received two queries for an agent who has not been with Corvisiero for almost two years. Two Years! That author is using a seriously outdated list. That or they saw an old blog post and decided to query without even checking the agency website (always a bad idea).

I'm not saying you need to do a full write-up on every agent on your spreadsheet every time you query. However, at a minimum, you should check their agency website before you send off that email to make sure they a) are still an agent with that agency and b) are open to queries. Yes, for a list of 50 agents this is probably going to take you an hour just in the time it takes to look at each website. And that stinks. And I'm sorry. I wish there was a better way to do it, but there is no master database that is updated in real time with every agents status. I wish there was because I would contact the same designer to make one for editors.

It stinks, but you still have to do it. Because not doing it is a sign of a lazy writer and no agent wants to work with a lazy writer. If you send a query to an agent who left in the last few months, no big deal. No one expects you to update your lists monthly. Sending a query for an agent who left two years ago, big deal. It tells me you are in a query rut and are putting in the bare minimum effort when it comes to selected your agent. It tells me you aren't being picky and would literally sign with anyone who thought about making an offer.

Don't be that author. Take pride in your work and be meticulous in your business dealings (because that's what a query letter is). Sometimes being a writer means handling the monotonous, no fun work like updating your agent list. That doesn't stop when you sign with an agent and it certainly doesn't stop once you have a book deal. Best to get used to it now.

Do you have a great tip for keeping your query lists updated? Share it with us in the comments so everyone can learn together.