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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Forte

How to Build a Query List: (No, it's not just searching for agents with pulses).

Querying is a treacherous journey through a jet black trench, filled with monsters, goblins, and the ghosts of rejections when a rope drops down from the heavens, offering you a way out, it's only natural that you grab onto it and start climbing. Any rope will do, right?


Not just any rope will do. If you haven't picked up on my super flawed analogy yet, the rope is the agent. If you grab onto a flimsy rope, do you know what will happen?

You will fall.

It's better to be walking around in a trench with both feet on land, prepared for what's coming, than to grab onto a flimsy rope (even if it looks like a good rope) and fall to your death when it breaks. So before we get to the call, let's start at the beginning.

Building your query list.

Your query list is actually really important, because this is the pool of people you're going to be choosing from to represent you and your work. You need to vet every single agent on your query list. Querying is sometimes synonymous with desperation, which can draw us to querying huge lists of agents. Anyone who will rep me. Just one yes, right? Anyone with a pulse will do!

NO. Dude, you're The Author! Start acting like it! Vet your agents. Don't just send your stuff out to any old Joe.

"But, Morgan, didn't you--"

We're not talking about me.

Here are a few things to consider before adding an agent to your list:

Sales History:

My advice is to take the plunge and pay for Publisher's Marketplace (split it with a friend! That's what I do). PM will come in handy not just during your agent search, but also when you go on sub with your book later. The truth is, sometimes the loudest agents on Twitter are the ones people assume have the best sales record. It's quite interesting after you've scoured PM to see how some agents look really fluffy on the bird app, but their sales records don't measure up. Look at their sales. Are they selling often? Are they selling to reputable presses? Take note...

Mentorship (for new agents):

New agents are great. We are not here to crap all over new agents. New agents can be wonderful for a multitude of reasons.

  • Their lists are less full, so your chances of signing with a newer agent are higher (they're hungry to fill their lists!)

  • Their lists are less full, so they have more time to allocate to each author

  • They are sometimes hungrier than more established agents, and a lot of them are willing to get sharky to make that sale. They're trying to build their names too!

These are all nice things. New agents are good. But, if you're querying new agents, make sure they have the mentorship to support them. If their agency is newer, but founded by an agent with a lot of experience, you're probably safe. Especially if this new agent is co-agenting sales with a more experienced agent. Great sign. But there are not great signs to look out for:

  • No obvious/clear mentorship

  • The agency is new and none of the senior agents or founders have proven experience in publishing

  • Sales are to small / digital-only presses, or primarily to presses with open submissions

  • Sales to small presses in and of themselves are not "red flags", but it all depends on context.

  • Agent has no internship experience at a reputable agency or publishing house

I'm not here to tell you how to define a red flag. This business is very murky and there's a not of nuance, but watch out for things that could be concerning, and if they're surrounded by other concerning things, that's probably enough to steer you away from querying certain people. And these things don't just go for new agents, they go for everybody.

Client lists:

Look at these agents' client lists. How are their clients doing? Are they selling consistently? Are they being placed with good imprints? How is the marketing around these clients and their books? This can tell you something about the agent's negotiation powers. You also want to see how you compare to their current list. Is there an author on their list that writes exactly what you write? Maybe try someone who is missing that spot on their list. These can be harder things to decipher because you're guessing, but it's worth looking into and seeing what you can dig up.

Now, aside from doing your research on all of these things, the only real way to tell if someone will be a match for you is on that offer call (that post is coming up next, reader. Do not fret). But I caution you: only query people you genuinely want to work with. Don't just take whatever comes to you because it's "all you could get" and "you were lucky to get one". You hold so much more value than that. Believe in yourself.

As someone who was previously agented, getting back into the trenches after having rep that wasn't a perfect fit for me has really taken off my rose-colored glasses.

There are good agents and bad agents, and there are meh agents everywhere. Figure out who they are for yourself. The list will probably vary per the individual, but don't do yourself the disservice of putting your work in front of someone who will mistreat it. Do your book the courtesy of finding it a home worth living in, or you very well may find yourself in the bottom of another trench.

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