I’ve just finished a whole month’s worth of preparation for agent submissions for my YA manuscript and I learnt SO much from the process that I really wanted to share some of it!
1. Do thorough research
I looked at the website of every single agent on Querytracker who was currently accepting YA submissions (450+ agents from the UK and US)! It was time-consuming, but essential in order to become more familiar with them all and target my submissions as effectively as possible. It was also invaluable to check out the public face each agency put forward. Agents and publishers often want writers to have good online presences, but writers should also be concerned with the online presence of those who represent them!
2. Look for connections
Doing such in-depth research means you’ll find who you really connect with and you won’t just submit to anyone you’ve heard is a “good” agent. A connection might be that you like the feel or tone of their website, agent bio or submission guidelines. You could have interests in common or one of their comments really resonates. Some agents share the titles of their favourite books, which I thought was super useful. I figured that if we loved the same books then there was a higher chance they might like MY story.
It was when I came to write the first paragraph of my covering letter – the personal bit where you say why you’re submitting to them in particular – that I could really see how strong or tenuous those connections were. Unsurprisingly the ones that were easy to write were the submissions that have gone off in my first batch.
3. Identify key words
After taking in my first impression response to a website, the next thing I went looking for were key words. Science-fiction, fantasy, YA and romance were the fundamentals, but after that I was keen to locate extra descriptors like space, faith, friendship, found family, other worlds, etc. Agents who made it clear they didn’t represent sci-fi/fantasy, I could move on from quickly. Any that mentioned my extra key words went on my A-List!
4. Follow up on Twitter
When I found an agent that caught my attention, I always checked them out on Twitter. Obviously we all want agents who can do the job professionally and get the best publishing deals, etc. but writers and agents also have to work closely together and so it’s important to try to get an idea whether or not you would get on with them too.
Agents that occasionally tweeted more personal comments (not just book promoting ones) made this research easier, and it made me realise how important it is for writers to do the same. Give out the sort of information you would want to know about someone else – it’ll help the right people find and connect with you.
The hashtag #MSWL was also very helpful at times. American agents are keen users of it, but some UK agents are beginning to utilise it too. At least a couple of the US agents I’ve submitted to were on the basis of my story fulfilling several of their #MSWL tweets!
5. Be yourself
Unlike my last mini submission run when I tried to say what I thought might be the “right” things in my covering letter, this time I realised that I just had to be “me”. If I sounded generic or boring then I definitely wouldn’t stand out from any other query letter in the slushpile. It was the agents who said stuff that I remembered, rather than the ones who were more general and non-specific, whose names stayed with me and went on that A-list of “agents to pursue first”.
If an agent doesn’t like the “me” I put across then that’s okay – they wouldn’t want to work with me long-term anyway and it’s best to figure that out asap!
I’ll now hopefully take rejections a little less personally because I know that just as I might easily have overlooked the perfect agent, the agents that say no have similarly failed to realise how wonderful my stories and I are 😉 Some agents will reject me coz they don’t feel that I’m the right fit for them, but I’ve also “rejected” certain agents (i.e. not put them on my “potentials” list) for the same reason.
I’m just a human looking for connections. Agents are just humans looking for connections. Sometimes we connect and sometimes we don’t!
Unfortunately they are also the gatekeepers to my dreams. One of those gatekeepers is hopefully going to open up the gate for me one day – I just have to keep searching until I find the right one…