No one like wasting their time. I don’t know a single person who starts their day hoping to waste their time. That being said, I don’t know why writers who after pouring their heart and soul into a novel, that may have taken years to complete, would fire off the first query letter that they’ve written to the first agent that they’ve found.
Research is important. Polishing rough drafts is important. Editing query letters and synopsis is important.
There is not one stage of the writing process whether it is plotting or sending off queries that is more important than another. But where most writers can get through the plotting, the writing, and the querying stage fine by themselves or with groups, there feels like a severe lack of emphasis on finding that perfect agent. For some, there is this idea that if they polish their manuscript and nail the query letter, that they can get any agent they want.
This could not be farther from the truth.
Not every agent is going to want your manuscript. I say this not to be mean or rude but to speak the truth. There are agents who will not want your manuscript because it may not be something that they actively or are currently looking to represent. Agents who work in New Adult or Adult don’t want Children centered books. Why waste their time and yours by querying to someone that will give you an automatic rejection letter? Newsflash! No one likes sending out a rejection letter! Not a single agent does. They don’t like handing out rejection, they want to send out those beautiful “Yes, I would love to represent you” emails that every writer dreams about.
This is why research is important. There feels like there is this huge misconception about agents and how they pick which projects they want to pursue – that agents live in this ivory tower where occasionally they grace writers with their heavenly presence. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Agents know what they want, what they can sell, and what the market is demanding. Look at it this way: Would you rather have an agent that can sell your book or not?
When an agent says that they handle certain genres and not others, it’s because they’ve got the experience and connections to make your book soar. They are passionate at what they do and they don’t want to waste their time or yours struggling to sell a book that they either don’t know the market for or have the knowledge to make it stand out in the market.
To help yourself make your book sell to an agent, and this is the only time I will ever say this, in this highly specific context, but stalk the agent. Go through their Twitter feed, find their page on Publisher’s Marketplace, see if they’ve got a #MSWL, and if they’re on the Association of Author Representatives. It’s not like a writer has to guess what an agent is interested in. They will quite plainly tell anyone who will listen what they want to see in a book or what they aren’t interested in.
A Middle Grade agent wants Middle Grade Books. A Murder-Mystery agent wants murder mystery. A Romance agent wants romance.
It’s not hard to figure out. Granted, there are agents who are looking for quirky and off-beat books and that’s harder to define and give examples of but generally speaking, if you look on the agent’s page, you will find what they’re looking for and what they can sell and have previously sold in the past. Being a writer is hard and there’s already a heavy workload attached to the title but not researching agents can be the death knell of your book. While wasting time with agents who are simply not interested, you could have been querying the right ones who would leap at the chance to represent you.
Treat yourself to an hour’s worth of research. An hour of your irreplaceable time to find an agent who will want to spend their irreplaceable time with your manuscript and you.