I recently came upon the site QueryTracker, which is exactly what it sounds like: a place for you to track your queries to agents and publishers. (It works, see?) In the comments section for one agent, a poster said that they queried nearly 350 agents before finding the one that they wanted. This person also said that they turned down some agents in the process, but how many (and whether that’s true) is indeterminable. Granted, that’s a crap ton of rejections to have to go through, but it falls between the 27 Dr. Seuss got and the 600 that Jack London got before they were published. Rejection is just part of the business and tenacity wins out in the end. (Some more famous rejections here.) Other authors wonder if they should bother to go on, even after just a handful of queries to their “dream agents.”
Which brings me to my next point. Until you work with someone, you have no idea if they’re going to be your dream agent. This is why there are so many articles about agent breakups. It’s like any other relationship, which requires work and time to figure out. As always in publishing, there are no shortcuts.
So the best way to find your “dream agent” is to do the work.
STEP ONE: FINISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I don’t mean, just finish a draft, but finish the editing, re-writing, getting feedback, and then rewriting again, process. You can’t find someone to represent your work if you have no work to represent.
STEP TWO: RESEARCH. Figure out who represents the kind of work that you’ve written, and what you think you may write in the future. Books like Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace’s Guide to Literary Agents, etc. are good sources. You can also follow many agents on twitter to get a bead on what they’re representing. Going to conferences is another great way to find someone you’d like to work with, and is infinitely better for getting a feel for a personal relationship than reading about them in a book, or even following their twitter feed. Plus, you may have the opportunity to pitch an idea to them, which is good practice for you, and a good “in” when you query them later.
STEP THREE: QUERY. Perfecting your query letter is key to getting an agent’s attention. Writer’s Digest has a blog that showcases successful query letters. Once you’ve sent out queries, keep a cool business head. Though you may be passionate about your work, there’s no place for emotional pleas and heated responses in your business letters/emails to potential agents. If you want to bitch, that’s what your friends are for.
STEP FOUR: MORE RESEARCH. When you do get a favorable response from an agent, it’s still good to check into their business practices, if possible. Nathan Bransford recently posted about “spaghetti agents” which may or may not be what you’re looking for in a representative. Have a few questions on hand about what you’d like to see out of the relationship and let them know what your plans are for your career. If everything matches up, you should be good to go.
At the end of the day, finding the right agent is a matter of hard work, luck and more hard work, but it can be done. There are a lot of great agents out there, and a lot of good resources to help you find the right one.