Break Free From Submission Paralysis: Building an Agent Database by Allison Aubin

Even after the writing is finished—after your characters have done amazing things (or ordinary things in amazing ways) and you’ve told the story in a great voice that will connect with readers—the hard work has just begun. Seriously? Yup.

If you’re going the traditional route, now it’s time to get your masterpiece in front of the right agent. But this can seem overwhelming—how do you choose who to query, and how do you keep track of it all? Member Allison Aubin offered to share her system, hoping it might work for others. Thanks, Allison!


As creators of soon to be great works—if only we could get them into the right hands—we are told we must search for the one agent. This one agent will connect us with the one editor, the one publisher, that will treat our work with the care of a beloved child and raise it into the NY Times Bestseller list and beyond!

The problem with finding that one single perfect agent in a sea of thousands is a paralyzing one. But you aren’t looking for one single perfect agent. To get over this paralysis, rephrase the situation.

You only have until December to get 50 rejections.

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Author Allison Aubin

Somewhere in those rejections, you just might find that one YES. However, the real question remains. How do you find 50 agents to query?

Once I rephrased the situation to aim for multitudes of rejections, and therefore, submissions, I developed a database of agents for my one manuscript that was ready for the market and began submitting in earnest. Sure, I’d submitted here and there with heartfelt queries and not even one request for a full, but with my database of specially targeted agents, the very first one asked for a full manuscript. This wasn’t the end of the road YES, but it was a far sight better than what I had been doing, which was wildly querying people I liked at conferences.

To create your own agent database, you will need excel or Google Sheets, The Book put out by SCBWI, and access to agent information online. This information includes further research on the agents listed in The Book and other agents seeking new clients. They often give interviews to Writer’s Digest and other writing organizations and businesses to boost submissions.

With your very own database, you will identify agents looking for your work in particular, and track what kind of response you’ve gotten. Never be afraid to add or subtract from your database, and always track to whom you’ve submitted. I created my database with headers for contact information, query package requirements, whether they accept multiple submissions, a few brief notes on what they’re looking for, or previous works they’ve handled that are similar to mine but not the same. You can add categories like comparable titles or authors in their portfolio, whether you’ve met them, and even interests that you have in common that you have perhaps gleaned from Twitter or blogs.

I spent two hours creating the first list for my agent database. This was an entry-by-entry reading of The Book. It will go by faster than you think. I needed someone who wanted a YA adventure fantasy with a male protagonist and a humorous voice. Anyone who represented only illustrators did not get an entry into my database. Likewise anyone not open to YA.

I started with a list of 46. Then I began searching my emails. I subscribed to the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents newsletter years ago. I went back six months and copied over any YA agents. I also went to the WD agents newsletter online and looked for links to other agent notices and searched for blogs that listed interviews with agents. From that first list of 60, I began to cut.

CUT? More is not always better. In this case, I didn’t need everyone who would read only YA, I needed someone interested in a new client with a specific work. You know, my work.

I researched every agent in my database and cut anyone who was not open to my protagonist or not open to fantasy. From there, I sorted people by query package. Everyone looking for a 5-page sample went in one tier, 10-pages another tier, 3 chapters a third tier. These tiers don’t have to make sense to you, because it’s my database. The way my tiers are set up, I can submit multiple submissions to multiple agents and get to one YES even faster.

Creating your own agent database is a time investment in targeting your work to the people who want to help you get your work into readers’ hands. Periodically, set aside time to go over your database and ensure future agents are still open to new clients and still eager for work like yours.

While I’m still waiting to hear back on my current submission, I’m not worried. If I get rejected, I can just move down the list and submit to the next lucky agent or agent group. You have better things to do with your time than worrying about the next agent—like starting your next project!

The links below have information on even more agents to add to your database:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

http://www.leewind.org/

http://www.agentquery.com/


Allison Aubin has written for regional magazines and newspapers and has been a member of SCBWI for four years. She loves reading and writing YA fantasy. When she isn’t writing, she works in the food industry and gets to read federal regulations and legislation. Like any normal person, she would rather be writing. Visit Allison at aaubin.com.

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