Columns > Published on July 9th, 2012

Ask The Agent: What Does "Researching An Agent" Really Entail and More.

Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect two of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.

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Question from Lauren in Los Angeles, CA

I’m in the middle of writing my first novel, which I’m told fits into the Urban Fantasy category of Young Adult. When I’m closer to finishing, I’m going to start looking for an agent, but I’m wondering: what’s the best way to go about doing this? I know I need to “research”…but what does that REALLY mean?

I love this question because agents are always barking out “research, research, research” but that’s quite the broad command, isn’t it?

I think research can be one of the most exciting parts of the road to obtaining an agent. Finding that person who is dying to read the exact material you’ve just perfected; finding someone who is as passionate about your manuscript as you are. Your first step is learning your genre and audience. You’ve said that your manuscript is YA urban fantasy. Are you sure? Often times I am queried with, let’s say, a YA horror that turns out to be a YA paranormal. That becomes a problem because I represent horror, but not paranormal. So half the battle is really knowing your own material and recognizing where it fits. Once you know that, you can weed out all of the agents who DON’T represent your genre or audience.

If you want to be really thorough, I suggest making an Excel spreadsheet at this point. Start listing out all of the agents at reputable agencies who represent what you are pitching. There are many Web sites to help you in this process. AgentQuery, PublishersMarketplace, AbsoluteWrite, WAENetwork, on and on. Not only will these sites and their members help you find agents to query but they will warn you against agents and give you the down-low on how specific agents operate (i.e., how long it takes an agent to respond to a query letter, what the agent really loves to read, etc).

Query widely, but do not throw your query against the wall like spaghetti to see if it sticks. Know whom you are querying. Know what they like, what they represent. Google the agent AND the agency to find their submission guidelines. Learn their policies. This will all pay off in the end. Your hard work and time spent now will lead to less months/years spent querying the wrong people. Also, by knowing an agent’s policy on, for example, how long their response time is, you can plan when to send a little nudge email. And so on. (Make specific notes about their policies in your Excel spreadsheet next to the agent’s name. You’ll thank me later).

Pro tip: Follow as many agents as possible on Twitter. We are constantly tweeting what we wish we were seeing in our inboxes. We tweet tips and tricks of the trade. You will learn so much from following an agent’s Twitter feed. 

Question from Haylee in Southern California

I have a Twitter, a Facebook, and a personal website with a blog... Now what do I do?

Produce quality content.

First of all, unless your Facebook page is a Facebook Fan Page, then forget about using that as a marketing tool. Never try to use your personal Facebook page as a marketing tool. And you really only want to create a Facebook Fan Page when you have something tangible to promote. Promoting a manuscript (especially an unagented manuscript) with its own Facebook Fan Page is really putting the cart before the horse.

However, Twitter and (definitely) a blog can produce wonderful marketing results…

…but only if you are producing quality content.

By “quality content” I mean helpful and interesting, well-written blog entries (or 140-character tweets) that will appeal to your target market.

For example: if you are writing a young adult contemporary about a girl dealing with a parent’s death, you’ll want to draw in an audience interested in reading this sort of subject matter. Use your blog as the lasso and reel ‘em in. Write about true stories involving this subject, have guest bloggers, show stats, hold a literature giveaway with a book in this demographic.

Once your blog reflects the product you are promoting, you’ll soon find that your fans and followers have a deep interest in what you are writing.

Pro tip: Separate your personal blog from your writer/author blog. Not that many strangers are going to continue reading about your daily adventures in dieting or the fun holiday you went on last week. They’ll continue coming back to your blog because they can rely on you to post interesting material about a subject they care about.

Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor

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Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 2 of Ask the Agent. Issue 2 answers will be posted Monday, July 23rd.

Ask The Agent!

About the author

Bree Ogden is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary and a comics/TV columnist and reviewer at Bloody Disgusting.

When she's not agenting, compulsively watching horror films, reading comics, hiding out at her local science center, or killing off her bee colonies, she serves as the managing editor of the macabre children's magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree, which she co-founded in 2011 with artist Rebekah Joy Plett.

Bree teaches query craft and graphic novel scripting at LitReactor as well as serves as the Assistant Class Director. Unless you are an exciting new piece of taxidermy, she'll probably never let you in her room. You can find her at agentbree.wordpress.com.

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