It is imperative that you have a process for pursuing an agent. The last thing you want to do is go into this blindly. Jeff Kleinman at Folio Lit, had a brilliant idea that he shared with our writers on a call last year. He recommended that writers make three lists of agents, an A List, a B List, and a C List (each with 10 agents). Your A List is agents who you would love to represent your work. Your B List is agents you would like to represent your work. Your C List is your last resort list. He recommended that with each round of queries you send out, you pull a few from each of those piles. I am going to modify that thought. I recommend that with your first two mailings, you only pull from your C List. Hear me out.
The first aspect of the submission is the query letter. It is the agent’s first line of defense. It summarizes quickly for them where you are in your career. Your query letter (explained in more detail in a future blog post) has a job to do. The job of the query is to motivate the agent to request your manuscript, or the first 3, 5, 30 or 50 pages of it according to their own protocol. What is important to recognize here is that query letters have to be test-marketed to see if they do their job. If you test market your query letter on your A List, by the time you have created the perfect query letter, all you’ll have left is the C agents on your list. So I say, start with the C’s and use them to perfect your query.
Then use the B List to perfect the pages you send them. Nothing like getting that A List agent to request the manuscript and sending them the first 30 pages only to realize that your story really gets bumping around page 31. TRAGEDY!
So use your C List to perfect your query. Do not move on to your B List until they are requesting the manuscript. Then use the B List to submit manuscript portions to and do not target the A List until the B List requests the full manuscript.
You have to be thinking of human psychology when you put all this together. It is imperative. Get into the psyche of the agent and help them to see your work in the best light. To do that, you will probably have to rewrite your query and your opening pages multiple times. Remember, agents will only consider your work once, so start at the bottom of the pile and use them to test the effectiveness of your strategy so that by the time you are hitting your A List, you have your act together!