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Tools to Help You on Your Querying Journey

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The last time I wrote a post for Writer Unboxed was back in December. I was in the querying trenches having, well, not a grand time, but learning to appreciate the journey and everything I’d accomplished these past few years. 

Then 2022 rolled around and my journey sped up. Like, really really sped up. In a span of two months, I received my first agent offer, which became five offers, which became choosing my agent, doing a very quick revision pass, going on sub to editors, and selling my book at auction two weeks later.

Unfortunately there’s no magic advice that I can give to those of you in or ready to jump in either the query or submission trenches. Trust me, I have too many talented friends who have been struggling in both much longer than I. But what I can do is talk about the tools I used to structure my journey through querying – in particular, the websites that helped me figure out who to query and when, because that is one part of the process you can actually control. And I think we could all use a little more of that these days.

Some considerations before jumping into querying

Choosing which agents to query and when can be daunting. It can seem that there are so many options you might never narrow it down, but also that there aren’t nearly enough. Once the rejections start coming in (or, worse, not coming in – ghosting is very, very real), it can feel like your options are slipping away. Add to that wait times of two months or more in some cases, and policies against simultaneous submission to multiple agents within an agency, and it might seem impossible to ever decide who to send to. But it’s not, and I’m going to show you the tools I used to help narrow it down. 

Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL)  / Agency Websites (price: free) 

  • What to use these for: Seeing which genres agents represent, learning what their specific interests are (or aren’t), choosing between agents at an agency, searching by genre for agents (MSWL), finding querying guidelines for individual agents / agencies

Perhaps you’re already familiar with some agents or agencies, and you want to know what exactly they are looking for. Maybe you follow a handful on Twitter or you have some friends in the business and they’ve given you some leads. Almost all agency websites will have a section listing all of their agents and many will list exactly what they represent and what they are looking for. This can be very helpful when you can only query one agent at a time from the agency (or in some cases, only one agent altogether!).

Another great resource is the Manuscript Wishlist website. I can’t count the number of times I saw an agent on Twitter and googled their name + “MSWL” and up popped a page full of useful information. I’ve seen everything from descriptions of how they work with clients, to clients the agent represents, lists of their favorite books and other media, to very specific requests such as “heist novel set during the gold rush in California” (Okay, I just made that one up, but I’m sure it’s on somebody’s list somewhere!). 

You can also search by genre on MSWL (under Find Agents + Editors → Genre / Name Search). For my book, I searched Young Adult and LGBTQ under the fiction category and received a huge list of potential agents, many I’d never heard of before.

Agent websites and MSWL were also a great place to find out what agents do not want to see. More than once I thought an agent could be a great fit only to find out that they wanted only queer books that were lighthearted, or that they didn’t want books with themes of religious trauma, both of which ruled out my book even if it seemed to be a good fit in other ways.

Author websites / social media accounts / book acknowledgements (price: free)

  • What to use this for: discovering which agents represent your favorite authors / authors of similar books

The first agent who made an offer for my book was one I discovered by googling the author of a different queer book and checking their website to see who their agent was. While this book was not a perfect comp title for my own, I was pretty confident the agent who represented it might also like my book. Turns out I was right!

Most authors will list their agent on either their website or social media or will thank them in the acknowledgements of their books. This is an easy and free way to start gathering a list of potential agents for your own querying journey. 

QueryTracker (price: free version, or $25 / year for extra functionality)

  • What to use this for: organizing your query list, checking if agents are currently accepting/open to submissions, reading comments from other querying authors about particular agents, finding querying guidelines for individual agents, seeing agent response data & timelines (paid function only)

QueryTracker was the most important tool I used while organizing my query submissions. The free version has less functionality but is still useful, though if you can afford it I would recommend considering the paid version. 

Both versions of QT allow you to manage a project you are querying (the paid version allows you to manage multiple). You can search for individual agents and see if they are currently open to queries (actively accepting them), or closed (not actively accepting new ones). Many agents also have the option to query them directly from a form on the website, which I would recommend over email submissions any day! You can also search by agency to see which agents are open to submissions and which aren’t.

With QT, you can also keep track of which agents you are considering, which you have actively queried, and the status of each query. This made it very easy to see how long I had been waiting at each stage of the process and decide whether or not to follow up or move on. 

While both versions of the website allow you to see comments from folks who have queried the agent in question, the paid version of the website allows you to see information about an agent’s response rate & timeline. I’ll admit it– I may have spent too much time on this part of the website, but it was also incredibly helpful to see which agents were 3 months behind but almost always responded, which never responded at all, and which agents had a really fast response time of < 1 week. After waiting weeks or months with little response, I decided to start querying agents who had a really fast turnaround time. This worked out well for me– while it did mean multiple very fast rejections, I also got a few quick full requests and my first agent offer this way, which allowed me to nudge all of the other slower agents who might not have looked at my query for weeks or months more. 

Publisher’s Marketplace (price: $25 / month)

  • What to use this for: Seeing an agent’s sales record, seeing agent / agency rankings

Publisher’s Marketplace is the most expensive of the tools I used during my query process. It is definitely not a necessity in order to query, but if you are considering it, or wondering what it can be helpful for, I am here to tell you.

While some agents do a good job of providing access to the authors they represent and the deals they’ve made in other locations, Publisher’s Marketplace is an easy way to see a more comprehensive list of these deals. Each deal announcement includes a genre, blurb about the book, as well as information about the editor / publisher who bought the deal, and sometimes includes (vague) information about how much money the book was sold for. 

This information can be helpful for all sorts of reasons. While an agent’s MSWL might tell you what they are looking for, their deal announcements tell you exactly what they loved AND were able to sell. Newer agents will of course have fewer deals, and this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but for those with more of a record, this can provide you with lots of information. 

Because you are typically limited to querying just one agent per agency at a time, Publisher’s Marketplace was also helpful in discovering new agencies I hadn’t heard of. I checked the Young Adult sales rankings list for agencies and then visited each of the top twenty or thirty to find agents who might be a good fit for my book. 

Publisher’s Marketplace was also very helpful when editors became interested in my book as it was the easiest place to vet their sales records and help me figure out who would be the best advocate for my book. But try not to get too ahead of yourself if you are still querying – you can worry about editors later. 

So there you have it– these are the tools I used to help me decide which agents to query.

For those of you who have queried before, what tools helped you during the process? And what advice (or encouragement!) would you give those about to jump in for the first time?


About Kasey LeBlanc

Kasey LeBlanc (he / him) is a graduate of Harvard College and of GrubStreet's Novel Incubator program, where he was an Alice Hoffman Fellow. His debut novel, FLYBOY, will be released by Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) in early 2024. He has been published by WBUR's Cognoscenti, Condé Nast's them, and was a finalist in 2019 for the Boston Public Library's Writer-in-Residence Position.

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