It appears that yet another of the writing competitions I was participating in has magically disappeared. At least they didn’t take my credit card number with them. I suppose this is all a result of my insisting on doing competitions that have no fees attached. And so, rather than taking my short story through a final reading and then submitting, I found myself sitting on my computer, purposeless and discouraged. That inevitably leads to two things: twitter and sudoku. Neither of those things is good for my productivity.
However, twitter let me know that a literary agent I’ve been following is closing for submissions soon. That always makes me perk up. Nothing spurs me like a hard and fast deadline. So I started nosing around to see if she’d possibly be interested in my work. Twitter led to her agency’s website. Which led to Goodreads. And then churning her name through Google and clicking on any reputable looking link that might give me clues. And then it hit me. “I’m totally stalking her.” I know it’s all part of the game. I know she’d probably rather people internet stalked her than to get an inbox full of total garbage that is nowhere near her preferences. But still. Yikes.
I may be alone in this, but trying to find a literary agent seems a lot like trying to find a decent boyfriend. You kind of have an idea of what you want. You hang out in places those sorts of people might be. You try to get to know them a little better, even if they seem totally out of your league. (Because let’s face it: as an unpublished no-name loser, pretty much EVERY established literary agent is going to be out of my league.) And the odds aren’t really in my favor, either. These hypothetical boyfriend-literary-agent-chimera types can afford to be choosy. There are hundreds of potentials out there, and odds are pretty good that they’re going to be funnier than me, or smarter than me, or prettier than me. (I’ll let you decide whether I’m talking about pretend-dater-me or my book at this point.) But I don’t make a list of these potential boyfriends and then proceed to pick apart the internet trying to find what makes them tick, all before even talking to them. That’s how restraining orders happen.
But that’s how it works in the literary world. Dream Agent, whoever he or she may be, isn’t going to come find me. And besides, I’m not going to pepper my query letter with creepy references to the dress she was wearing at her nephew’s birthday party last month. But I do have homework to do. So I’m going to cyberstalk, and I’m going to read through the acknowledgements of my favorite books, and I’m going to fish around the websites of similar authors, and I’m going to do everything I can to figure out who would most proudly display my awesome book on his or her shelves. I should know what an agent likes before querying. I should be aware of what is on said agent’s list of sold books. And if a particular agent CANNOT STAND shih tzus, I should know that because I really don’t want to send her my Legends and History of the Chinese Lion Dog. And she really doesn’t want to receive it. Because she hates them.
So, from my stalking over the past several months, here are a very few tips I’ve gathered from agents themselves about some good and bad tactics when first introducing yourself, whether via query or in some other way:
Personal connections, such as common hobbies (but again- don’t be creepy)
An awareness of agent’s interests
A liking of books by agent’s clients
Knowledge of and adherence to submission format requests
Polite, confident, interesting queries or introductions
Opposites of everything above
Mentioning how much your mom and three best friends loved your book
Half nude pictures to “get [agent’s] attention” (not joking)
Comparisons of self to or dismissal of other insanely wealthy and popular authors
Threats of suicide
Lying about references and who you know
Bottom line? Don’t be creepy, crazy, and arrogant. A little common sense probably goes a long way here. Oh, and the agent I was stalking this morning? Turns out she doesn’t like epic fantasy. Good thing I checked.
Please, let me know more good and bad tactics you’re aware of in the comments below! I know you’ve got them!