When I was in graduate school, I did a teaching assistant exchange at a university in Strasbourg, France. Due to strikes and paperwork delays, I didn’t arrive in France until the week before school started. Another American was in the same boat, so the two of us shared a rundown hotel room as we began a panicked search for an apartment in an overcrowded city.
The first thing we tried was the most obvious: the want ads. Finding phone numbers to call was the easy part. Writing down the addresses and directions we were given in French – somewhat nerve wracking! When searching for an agent, start with the obvious: a database of agents and what they are looking for. My favorite is querytracker.net. They offer a free membership that you can use to find agents that represent what you write. They tell you what each agent wants in a query (just a query letter, a letter and the first page, three chapters, synopsis, etc.). You can even track your submissions and find out about agent response times. And the best part is the cute yellow smiley man with sunglasses that appears when you get an offer!
Lots of apartments that we were interested in were already taken by the time we called. When you’re querying, there will be agents who already have their plates pretty full. Along with well-established agents, you might want to consider querying a newer agent at a well-established agency or an agent with experience that has recently opened his/her own agency. Some of these agents may be more actively seeking to expand their lists.
Other apartments that we saw were horrific places that you would only recommend to the kid who tripped you in the cafeteria in seventh grade. To help make sure you don’t end up with an unqualified agent, always do additional research on an agent you are considering querying, such as checking him/her out on the Preditors and Editors website: http://pred-ed.com/pubagent.htm
The second thing we tried while searching for an apartment was paying a small fee to an agency that gave us leads and set up appointments for us. NEVER PAY A “READING FEE” TO AN AGENCY TO READ YOUR WORK. However, you might consider getting a paid critique by an agent or editor when you attend a reputable writing conference such as one sponsored by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Although the agent/editor may not ask to see more of your project, you can get valuable feedback that will help improve your work for when it is requested by an agent. Another opportunity which involves a fee would be entering a contest sponsored by a reputable organization, such as those sponsored by regional RWA chapters (Romance Writers of America). Many of the RWA contests provide written critiques from the judges and the finalists are often judged by agents and/or editors.
When I showed up for an appointment to see one particular apartment, I was shocked to discover that eight other young women had also been scheduled for the same time; the eight of us had to try to convince a girl seeking a roommate that we were the best candidate. I see this as the writing equivalent to pitch sessions – many will pitch, few will be chosen!
And then there was a small handwritten note posted on a random wall at the university. Student seeking roommate. I copied down the phone number, doubtful that it would amount to anything. But I called anyhow, set up an appointment, and visited the apartment. The moment I walked in, I was sold! The place was modern, clean, and bright. The roommate, a perfect match for me. We chose each other and we remain friends to this day. In the agent search, I would liken this to some of the less obvious places to look for agents – in the acknowledgments of books similar to yours, a deal you read about on the free PW (Publishers Weekly) daily or PW Children’s Bookshelf e-mail, a blog you happen to read, a hint from a list-serve you’re a member of, a tweet on Twitter, or in my case, a talk given by an agent at a monthly meeting of my local chapter of RWA.
You might be wondering about my friend, the other American who was also looking for an apartment. She ended up renting a “chambre”, one room in the attic level of an apartment building, usually reserved for a family’s au pair (nanny). It was in a beautiful neighborhood yet inexpensive because of its size. It wouldn’t have been the right place for me, but she loved it! It was perfect for her. The same is true of agents. What seems perfect for one person may not be the best match for another.
When I compare my apartment search in France to my search for an agent, one thing was completely different. The timing. In France, I had one week to find an apartment. In contrast, my search for an agent took months, which is how it happens for many people. In the end, however, I found my perfect match in both cases.
There was also one thing about my apartment and agent searches that was exactly the same. In both situations, I tried lots of different things, never knowing which one would lead to my ultimate goal. If you’re currently in search of an agent (a web designer, a publicist, book trailer designer, or an apartment in France for that matter!), I encourage you to do the same – try lots of different approaches – and enjoy the journey!
What about you? What are some of the ways you have searched for an agent (or other writing-related goal)? And if you’ve gotten to the end, which path ended up being the magic one for you? Please share!