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Lines on a Spreadsheet, Lines in the Sand

I’m sending more queries this week. I still have one full manuscript out from my last round of submissions, but that is no reason not to keep the ball rolling.

In the past, I’ve collected a few names of agents I was really excited about, and queried them. Then, when it’s time for me to send out more queries, I’m sort of starting at Square One again, looking for a new crop of names. No longer. This time I’m being comprehensive.

There are three basic ways I know to find agents:

Search a major database, such as AgentQuery or Publisher’s Marketplace.

This is nice and comprehensive, but tends to give you too much material to weed through. You cannot reasonably query 2,400 agents.

Target the agents of writers you like.

Some people like to go to the bookstore and look at the Acknowledgements page; that way you can frequently see not only the name of the agent, but a little bit about what the author actually thought of him (assuming it was flattering).

Another way to go here is to simply google “Laura Lippman agent.” You might have to hunt around a few web pages, but eventually you will find a bio or interview that reveals the name you want.


Some agents blog, and many of them link to one another. The way I see it, getting a blogging agent is a bit of a bonus because (1) you can know so much more about them before signing than you could through research and conversation and (2) if they have an audience, they will likely promote your book to it.


Yesterday I found myself about forty-five names, through a combination of #2 and #3. Today I am going through them and (after eliminating the agents I simply won’t query, because they’re not seeking clients, don’t rep my genre, or have something truly off-putting in their bio) triaging them into categories: Query First, Query Second, and Query If You Must.

What puts an agent into Query First? A blog (that I like), a client list that speaks to me, or a “What I’m Looking For” section in their bio that seems to be just begging for my book.

What puts an Agent into Query If You Must? Stating that they don’t answer their mail. Ok, there are more factors here, but this is the one I want to talk about.

A surprising number of agents state right up front that unless they are interested in your project, you won’t hear from them. No rejection, nada. I have to admit, I just don’t get this. I mean, I completely get why you can’t send a personalized rejection to everyone who writes. It would take your whole day. But I have a hard time believing that you’re truly too busy to press Reply, CTRL-V, Send. Or at least train an intern to press Reply, CTRL-V, Send.

To me, this is sort of a failing of professionalism and respect. I mean, hey, I get that when I’m looking for an agent, I am the one with the lower status. They are the handsome prince, I am the barefoot cinder wench. I know this, and respect it, and I understand why it has to be the case.

And yet. And yet at the same time as I am writing to an agent and asking him to make my dreams come true, I am also offering him a business opportunity. I am offering him the chance to represent me, and share in my success. And, humble though I may be, it doesn’t behoove me to treat this opportunity as though it were worth nothing.

Which, to me, means not offering it to people who advertise that they’ll treat it as though it were worth nothing.

(Also, I have a hard time believing that someone who doesn’t answer his mail is really going to be the take-the-bull-by-the-horns agent I want.)

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