How I Got My Agent, Part III: Managing the Query Process

In Part I of this series, we talked about prepping your query letter. In Part II, we discussed how to put together your own list of agents to query. In this part, we’ll organize the process.

I am an annoyingly organized person. I once asked my best friend to describe me in three words, and the first word she chose was “organized,” which may be pitiful, but it made me proud, which may be even more pitiful. I digress. Your life will be so. much. easier. if you have some sort of system in place before you start querying.

I personally love an Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet. While in the research phase of the query process, I created one I called “Agent Database.” Here’s a template for you to use. The first tab (“Agency Overview”) is where I started my research. Here was my process:

  1. I went through my list of agencies in Part II and read every agent’s bio/interests on the agency website, taking note of:

    1. Which agents repped my genre (suspense/thriller, the bare minimum required for me to query)

    2. Which were better matches (mentions of psychological or domestic suspense), and

    3. Which were the best matches (mentions of anything from unreliable narrators to dysfunctional family sagas to strong female characters, and so on).

  2. I added the best agent matches to the Round 1 Agents tab. I tried to find one agent from each agency for Round 1, but in a few cases, I couldn’t find a fit so I left the agency off.

  3. If I found multiple great matches from the same agency, then I’d put my top pick in Round 1 and move the others to Round 2. Most agencies don’t allow querying two of their agents at the same time.

Once the Agency Overview tab is filled out, it’s time to research the specific agents. You should already have a lot of the info for the Round 1 Agents/Round 2 Agents tabs, if you’ve done a thorough job with the Agency Overview.

These were my column headings:

  • Agency

  • Agent Name

  • Email

  • Required Materials (query, synopsis, # pages of manuscript)

  • Rationale (why I’m querying them—I never used this in the actual letter; it was just for my eyes)

  • Average Response Time (usually listed on agency websites)

  • Follow-Up (how long the writer should wait before following up; some agents don’t allow follow-ups so do your homework before reaching out)

  • Source (where I’d found all this info: agency website usually, sometimes Publishers Marketplace or Duotrope)

  • Final Thoughts (here I’d assess how good of a fit they were, any reservations I had—again, for my eyes only)

  • I also had a ranking system to help me determine when to query which agent, but things got a little Beautiful Mind from there, so I’ll leave that off.

You’ll notice two other tabs in the spreadsheet: Closed Agents and Not a Fit. The former is for agents who are great matches but have closed their inboxes to queries. I put them in the Closed tab and set calendar reminders to query them once they were open again (assuming they’d stated a date on the agency website). The Not a Fit tab is so I didn’t forget I’d already researched an agent but didn’t think they’d make a good match. Once you’ve researched 50+ agents, their names/interests will start to bleed together, and you’ll be thankful to have a reminder so you don’t waste your time researching someone twice!

When it was QT (QueryTime™) I made another spreadsheet. This one was called “Query Tracker.

[Side note: I realize there are many query tracking tools online. The only one I really liked was Duotrope’s (which I used religiously for short story submissions to literary magazines when I was in grad school), but even theirs wasn’t customized to my liking, so I made my own because, again: the type-A is strong in this one.]

These were my column headings:

  • Agent Name

  • Agency

  • Method (Email or Website Form—if they were paper-only submissions, I crossed them off the list)

  • Status (with the following drop-down options)

    • Offer

    • Rejection-Form

    • Rejection-Personal

    • Rejection-No response

    • Request-Full

    • Withdrawn (which I never used)

  • Date Query Sent

  • Average Query Response (Weeks) (Again, you can find this on agency websites.)

  • Average Query Response (Days)

  • Date Partial MS Sent

  • Date Full MS Sent

  • Days Out (how many days had passed since I sent the query)

  • ETA (not the right phrase for this, but basically my way of keeping track of how many days until I could send a follow-up)

  • OK to Inquire? (meaning: was I allowed to send a follow-up?)

Get someone in your life who is good at Excel (hello, Spouse!) and they will set you up with the appropriate formulas to get the computer to do the math for you. Then all you have to do is log the dates and update the status.

Or you can use my template. You’ll notice there are also tabs to help you keep track of representation offers and then compare agents. The factors that are important to you may differ from mine, so feel free to delete what I have and modify as you see fit.

In the final post on my agent search, we’ll discuss the best part: results!