For this round of “Snagging that Book Deal,” we’re focusing on querying agents. As if crafting a picture book manuscript isn’t hard enough, searching for the perfect agent can take on a life of its own. FOUR of us at 21 for the Books were lucky enough to find amazing agents through targeted queries. Read on to find out about our experiences and to consider suggestions for your own agent search.
Time was of the essence for Theresa Trinder and her book THERE IS A RAINBOW (January 2021), inspired by the rainbows she saw displayed in windows during the COVID lockdown. Her experience with writing for very short deadlines at Hallmark Cards and some googling magic led her to agent Mark Gottlieb (Trident Media Group Literary Agency) who sold her book in a month.
Scott Riley queried his book, THE FLOATING FIELD (March 2021), to over 40 agents. All it took was one to believe that his story belongs in the hands of readers who love soccer, ingenuity, and the power of persistence. Clelia Gore (Martin Literary Management) turned out to be that one, and together they were able to sell his book in a matter of months with more than one offer in hand.
Kristy Everington’s ISOBEL ADDS IT UP (June 2021) made it to the top of her agent’s querying slush pile. Perhaps it was always meant to be as her agent, Jordan Hamessley (New Leaf Literary Agency), ended up being the first one she queried for that picture book. Thanks to their collaboration, we’ll all be lucky to meet Isobel and her math-loving ways.
Jocelyn Rish had been writing and querying agents for years with several close calls, but after a Twitter meme inspired her to craft a nonfiction picture book BATTLE OF THE BUTTS (September 2021), she signed with Tracy Marchini (BookEnds Literary Agency) and had a book deal in a matter of months. Being open to trying different things in her writing was the key to Jocelyn’s success. If you’re interested in seeing her query and the stats on her road to representation, check out this blog post.
Tips for Finding an Agent:
Research, research, research - Find specific agents that suit your category and genre. Use resources like guidebooks, websites, and Twitter to narrow your search. Read authors’ acknowledgements of books similar to yours to find agents that might be a perfect match. Recommended resources include:
Absolute Write forums
#mswl on Twitter
Craft a compelling query letter - Start with a hook. Get at the heart of the story with a bit of craft. Then explain why this book will matter for a targeted group of readers. Include “comp titles” (comparable titles) or related books in terms of topic or format. Finish up with why you are the right author for this book. For picture books, be sure to include your entire manuscript.
Make a plan - Keep track of your queries. Find a system that works for you with names, emails, target response time, feedback, etc. You may not want to send your queries all out at once. Instead, consider sending a handful a month to keep you energized and to stagger the possible responses.
Stay positive - Querying agents is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient, trust the process, and believe in your story. Many agents acknowledge the subjective nature of being drawn to a story. Persistence and perseverance are key.