So you know how to write your query and when you will be planning to send it. But to whom should you be sending it? You of course, cannot send it to all the agents out there (there are millions) and you can't know ahead of time how many agents might reject your proposal so you will want to have a good number of agents up your sleeve to send it to. How do you collect those agents?
There are a lot of ways to do this and many different sites will tell you different things but I am going to lead you through my process.
First of all, you are going to want to create an account on Query Tracker. This is an absolute no-brainer. Remember how I said most of the sites will give you different suggestions as to how to find agents? Well, just about all of them will suggest that you use Query Tracker. This site is absolutely amazing and has probably helped enumerable writers find agents. I did not (and will not) sign up for the version of the site that costs money but even with the free version, the site offers a ton of helpful tools that we will get into in a bit.
The other site I suggest saving to your device is MSWishlist. This site largely shows nothing different than the MSWS (manuscript wishlist) posts that agents put on Twitter, however, I found it 10x easier to use than the Twitter site and much easier to sort through and search within. The site can be helpful for directly searching for agents whose Manuscript Wishlist fits your book as well as agents who are specifically not looking for something your book has (for example, in my case, werewolves).
There are a couple of other sites that may come up in your search for agents (for example, publisher's marketplace which many agents put their clients, manuscript wishlist, and submission guidelines on) but I found these two to be the most helpful.
So how do you actually go about creating a list once you have saved these sites? What information should you be adding to the list? What kinds of agents should you be looking for?
Personally, I like to keep important lists like this in google drive (for easy access anywhere I go). You may have a different application you prefer to use but the idea is the same. As I began to build my list of agents to query, I created a table for information about those agents. The more I added to the list and researched about querying, the more I discovered would need to know more about the agents I added to the list. My table grew and grew. I began to use different colour highlights to identify agents in certain ways and slowly, my list became a mess. But I nevertheless had the information I needed. Looking back on my list-building time, I can see the ways in which I could have adapted my list to make it more clean and easy to read. Mostly, I found I didn't know what I needed to know about my agents until the very end. But you will...
Of course, the first slot on your list should be the agent's name. You could go two ways with this. You could include the agent's title (Mr. or Ms. usually) which can be found on Query Tracker next to the name or you could simply leave it as is and come to that when you query them. I like to mark the agents that are male on my sheet, knowing that I would be more comfortable working with a female agent. I also ensure that I spell the names correctly for future reference.
This is where you would list the clients that perk your interest. Particularly list clients that you have read and enjoyed the books of. You can mention these in your letter to them as a reason for choosing them in particular. I like to mark down the names of clients whose books I haven't read yet. These are the books I've seen floating around Instagram or in my siblings' hands. I haven't gotten around to reading them but know they're good quality and do plan to read them. I also make note of it when it seems as though an agent has no clients, few clients, or a wide range of clients whose books didn't receive good deals or nice covers.
This section is a great way to save yourself a ton of time. The way I see it, the agents that are on your list should be there for one of two reasons: they represent one of your favorite books/series or they put something on their manuscript wishlist that reflects your book well (either way, you should still check that they represent your age range and genre). While it is not difficult to remember who represents whom, research it on google, or find it on Query Tracker (that's right, they have a list of who represents whom!), it can be more difficult to track down the manuscript wishlist tweet (out of thousands) that made you think an agent would be "just perfect" for your book. I prefer to quote the tweet or tweets on my list to come back to later. I then quote them word for word into my query letter to make it incredibly clear to the agent that I did my research.
Average Response Time:
This is one you might not think about before you make your list but I found it incredibly helpful when deciding who to query first. Think about it this way: if you are querying in small batches, who do you want to query first? The big agent who will take three months to get back to you or the first-time agent who will take 5 days? The first-time agent! Not only are they more likely to give you a manuscript request (and at this stage, testing your query, that's what you're looking for even if they aren't in your top ten agents) but they also get back to you much faster!
One thing I did realize along the way was that my system of averaging the response times was a little bit inaccurate. What would be more accurate and helpful to me in the future would be to mark the average response time for negative and positive responses in two columns. For many agents, the difference between their negative response time and positive response time is significant. Some get back to you faster if the response is negative. Some respond faster if they plan to respond positively. Some don't respond at all if the response is negative. Marking these notes down is important for tracking the agent's response and for making decisions about who to query when. You can find information about an agent's response times on Query Tracker under "reports." Be sure to look at the specific querying method that you plan to use.
Speaking of querying methods...there are two methods most commonly used nowadays: form and email. Thankfully, Query Tracker shows which of these each agent uses. I found it helpful to mark which each used on my list but honestly, you can see it easily on the agent's front page on Query Tracker so you may find it unnecessary. I would note a few things to be careful of with each method.
Email: The email method is actually the easier of the two as the form can often be difficult to work with. However, agents tend to vary how they want you to email them quite a lot and this is one of the few places Query Tracker can not be trusted. In order to find out how the agent wants their email to be formatted, go to the website of the agent and search for something like "submissions" (sometimes it is under "contact" or "agents"). If you can't find submission guidelines on the website, googling it along with the phrase "publisher's marketplace" is a good way to go. Usually, the agent will have a particular way they want you to format the subject line as well as a preference for whether the manuscript sample is in the body of the email or attached.
form: The biggest thing I have to say about the forms is that they are a nuisance to work around. Many of them ask for a bio as well as the query letter (in which you should have a bio) and it is unclear whether you should take the bio out of the query letter, include more in the bio, or do something different entirely. They generally ask you to chose a genre as well (which is fine but I prefer to write my genre as "fairytale twist" rather than "fantasy"). The biggest issue with the forms, though, is that they take away all the formatting present in the pages you copy and paste in. Rather than double-spacing and indenting your Manuscript Sample as you should for email queries, forms require a single-spaced, unindented manuscript (or else the manuscript is all over the place). If the form allows you to submit your manuscript as a document, leave it as double spaced and indented.
Most agents (not all) ask that you submit a sample of your manuscript along with the query letter. This can range from 5pgs to 50pgs (it is not usually smaller or larger than that). Sometimes the sample is asked for in chapters (ex. 3 chapters) and sometimes the agent will ask for a synopsis as well as or instead of a sample. I like to notate what sample sizes the agents are asking for. In particular, this helped before I began querying as I was able to create a document for each of the sample sizes (1 ch, 5 pgs, etc.) instead of copying and pasting each of these samples every time I queried an agent.
This was not something I started out marking but by the end of making my list, it was something I wished I had marked. The importance of marking agencies comes down to one thing: you cannot query two agents within one agency at the same time. I did ensure I prevented myself from making this mistake by highlighting agents that overlapped and including the names of the agents that they overlapped with. However, this made for a very messy list (now I had agents marked for being a boy, someone with not many clients, and someone else at another agency). My suggestion would be to include this as another column. You can find the agent's agency on Query Tracker. You can also click on the agency button at the top of your query list (the button to add agents to your query list is to the right side of agents' profiles) to organize your agents by agency. From here, you are able to see if you have any agents from the same agencies.
Lists within Lists:
The final thing I included in my list was more lists! Again, like the agency of agents, I did not mark this in a separate column but rather included it above the list of agents as well as using a highlight of another colour to mark the agents on these lists. While I did have a list of agents who I wanted to do further research on if I was given an offer (these were the agents with fewer clients or clients with less commonly known books) the lists I would recommend you have are a list of your top ten agents and a list of the agents you plan to query first.
I did also create a column to mark when I had sent my queries off (and received responses) once I began to query agents but this may not. be something you are interested in as Query Tracker does perform this tracking task for you.