Did you have an "in" with your agent?/Do you know anyone in publishing?
Nope. I'm a slush pile success story. I didn't know anyone in the industry. I did exactly what agents tell you to do. I researched agents and sent out queries. Then I bit my fingersnails to the quick and tried not to check my email every five minutes.
How did you decide which agents to query?
I read a lot. If I read a book that was similar to mine, I found out who the agent was then added them to my list. After that, I checked the agent's website to make sure they were still interested in my type of book. I specifically looked for agents who were interested in quirky, off-beat characters and magical realism.
I also subscribed to Publishers Marketplace, which is a great resource. It's $20 a month but you can research agents and the deals they're making. You can sign up for a month, do your research, then cancel your subscription.
Plus, I spent a lot of time on querytracker.net. It's a great way to organize the agents you are interested in. I also checked the forums on Absolute Write, so much information is available on that site. Everything from query letter critiques to information about agents and agencies.
Finally, I read interviews the agents gave. Two blogs were especially helpful to me there: Mother. Write. (Repeat.) (she has interviews with several agents) and Literary Rambles (they spotlight agents who represent children's books, but a lot of agents rep both children's and adult literature.)
As you can see, I put a lot of effort into figuring out which agents would be a good fit for my book. Using a scattershot approach wastes you're time and the agent's. Why query someone if they don't represent the type of books you write?
Now this wasn't something I did overnight. I started researching in the spring, months before I began querying. My thought was to spend a bit of time here and there to create my list, then when I was finished editing/revising my novel, I'd be ready to query.
How many agents did you query?
I sent out 16 letters.
How long did you spend querying?
I sent out my first query on 10/31/11. Dan Lazar offered to represent me on 11/29/11. This is not typical. Don't get discouraged if it takes longer. Keep going. You will get there.
Did you have a system?
Sort of. Months before I began querying, I made a spreadsheet and divided it into columns: Dream Agents, then agents A, B, and C. (Keep in mind that I only queried agents I would have been thrilled to work with. Everyone on my list was fantastic and often it was hard to seperate the agents into categories. Most of the time it was based on which books they already represented.)
When I started sending out my letters, I chose agents from each column on the list. I sent out roughly 4 letters a week. (I didn't query all of the agents on my list right away just in case my query letter wasn't good enough. I wanted to make sure I could rework it if needed.)
What is something you wish you had known before you began querying?
This is going to sound weird, but I wish I had known how truly nice everyone was going to be. It would have been a little less stressful for me. As a writer, you spend so much time researching what agents want, trying to make sure that you get everything just right, that it's easy to forget agents are people too. More than that, they're fellow bibliophiles. And let's face it, we book people tend to be pretty nice (at least to our own kind!)
Since this has ended up being a very long post, I'll end here. I was planning on talking about query letters, but I'll save that for another day--probably some time next week. I hope this helps those of you on the agent quest! Good luck to everyone, the world needs your books!