Friday, January 21, 2011

How To Cyber Stalk Literary Agents

Okay, don’t actually cyber stalk anybody. That’s creepy. I mean, don’t try to find somebody’s home address or birthday or the names of family members. Seriously, just don’t do that.

Psh! Why am I worried? You guys are normal. Right? 


No, this article isn’t about actual stalking, but about literary agent research. Far less creepy and infinitely more important to your writing career.

You’ve written the next Twilight. Or Hunger Games. Or Paranormalcy. Or Across the Universe.

All you need is a literary agent to get those big publishers to take notice of you. But there are hundreds of them listed on sites like querytracker and agentquery!! How the heck are you gonna find the right one for you?

This is why the agent hunt is likened unto dating. Because there isn’t just one right agent out there for you. There are lots of right ones, lots of agents who could fall in love with your work and be effective, tireless champions for you in the face of publishers who rarely take direct, unagented submissions anymore.

Unlike dating, though, one party is at a distinct disadvantage in the agent hunt. 

You. The writer. 

It’s not, “Hey, let’s have dinner.” It’s, “I have something here you might like, but I know you get a thousand of these letters every week, but still, would you please look at mine for a second?”

It doesn’t have to go down like that.

Agents have said in interview after interview that a professional query letter personalized to them rises to the top, while Dear Agent varieties get automatic deletes. How important is the personalization?    

To some, it’s more important than others, but all agents agree they want to feel like you’ve done your research and you’re not just taking a shot in the dark, hoping something will stick. 

I’m not a querying professional, but I am a writer of professional queries. I’ve written a lot of them. And I’ve had some positive responses, mainly from agents who knew I’d specifically sought them out for what they represent. 

One agent agreed to read my book after a query workshop on her blog. Two kind souls on the querytracker forum invited me to query their agents because we wrote in similar genres. Another awesome agented writer gave me a referral to her agent after she read my pitch. Mentioning that query workshop and those client names got my foot in a door that was sometimes barely ajar, sometimes completely closed. 

But it’s not because this business is all about connections. No. It’s because agents get slammed with queries from all sorts of writers in all different stages of their writing careers. Some are just starting out. Maybe, like me, you sent out one of those newbie queries to an agent who didn’t rep what you were selling just because you liked his blog (*cough* Nathan Bransford *cough*). Even if you didn’t, you probably know agents get those kinds of queries all the time. It’s a breath of fresh air when they get a client referral or a query from someone they recognize as a regular blog reader/commenter (in the right genre for what they rep). 

Finally! I imagine them saying, as they sip their mysterious dark-tinged beverage. Finally, somebody who actually wants to be represented by me and not just any old agent!

See, for them it might be just as frustrating as for you. They want clients who take writing seriously enough to care who represents them. They want clients who want to be their clients. Makes sense, right?

So here’s how to cyber stalk them (again, not actual stalking):

  • Read any interviews linked there. Visit their websites. Take actual notes on your favorites. If they give submission guidelines, follow their instructions.

  • Keep up on the market. Read the genre you write in. If you read an awesome book that’s similar in tone to yours, check the acknowledgements or “[author name] represented by” in your favorite web search engine.

  • Read books represented by the agents on your list. (When I first started my agent hunt, I thought this was going the extra mile, but it really, really helps you to personalize a query if you can say your book has similar elements to [published book by client name] and actually know what you’re talking about. And besides, the reading doubles as writing research, as well.)

  • Search their name at forums and forums. If they’ve done a Q&A or just been talked about by other authors, this info is priceless.

What about you guys? Any cyber stalking tips for newbies?


  1. Every YA book I read for the past year and a half I would note the agent in an excel spreadsheet. It's true that it was extremely helpful now that I'm sending out queries. And especially when you've read several books you love, all repped by the same agent - you KNOW that's someone you want.

  2. I love this's SO helpful. I'm hanging on to it for when I'm ready and may start using some of the new links to stalk in the meantime! ;)

  3. Perfect timing since I'm currently querying and getting ready to research the next batch. :D

  4. Excellent wealth of info all gathered in one place here. Thanks Katrina!

  5. This is a fantastically awesome post. And why wouldn't it be? It's on Operation AWESOME, after all. Okay, I have two stories that relate to this, specifically the entering contests point you made.

    I entered the Mystery Agent contest in December (after urging from Katrina--thanks!!). I had no idea who the agent was when I entered, but figured, what the hell? Nothing to lose, right? It turned out to be an agent who had rejected my query just two weeks prior. Seriously. And because of the Mystery Agent contest, she requested 50 pps! It wasn't right for her in the end, but it opened the door for a second chance, and I'm not giving up on her yet. I'll just have to finish my second book and try again. :D

    The second story relates to another contest by an agency. A lovely romance author, Lila DiPasqua has an agent, who doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. Door is closed. Period. Finito. Except, that her agency decided to do a Twitter-pitch session. Lila gave me the heads up and I threw together a 140-character one-line pitch for my book. My full MS is now with closed-door agent.

    Lesson I learned: make sure you're after the right agents, and don't give up. You never know when opportunity will open up with them. And following them on Twitter gives you a great way to connect with them (and something personal you can write in the how much you love a certain color of Starburst, too. :D)

  6. @Elena, what a great idea! I can imagine that would be an amazing resource! I keep my notes on because I'm slightly Excel-challenged.

    @Kristi and Stina, I'm so glad you found it helpful! Good luck querying when the time comes!

    @Matthew, thank YOU! Every time I blog, I get a sense of deja vu because everything I know was learned from other awesome bloggers like you. I'm just glad I have a forum to pay it forward. :)

    @Noelle, those stories are awesome!! Thank you for sharing them. You are Exhibit A and B for how it pays to pay attention. (Squeeing for your full request and crossing fingers on both hands for you!)

  7. Awesome post Katrina. You know, I'm so picking your brains when it's time to get on the query train. LOL.

  8. Hey Katrina, there's some pretty fab tips there! Bookmarked...


  9. This information is very usefull for me. I shall definatelly try this one. I found one of the best link.
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  10. I'm at this stage of the game and need all the help I can get! It's amazing how difficult the world can be if you don't know where to start. Extremely daunting. However though this freaked me out it also gave me grounds on where to start!

  11. : Casey McCormick’s Agent Spotlight IS MY FAVORITE place right now. I love it.


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