- use an online database such as QueryTracker to keep track of all your querying information; or
- create your own database.
Step 1 - Research the agents who accept submissions in your genre
To start with, make yourself a list of agents who accept queries or manuscripts in your chosen genre. Sites such as QueryTracker and AgentQuery will help, as well as the Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market. I'll refer to agents here, though this Top Tip will also apply to editors if you choose to submit directly to publishers.
Once you have your list, make sure that you are willing to be represented by any of the agents on the list. There's no point in submitting your manuscript to an agent who you might not actually want to work with in the future.
Step 2 - List all relevant details
List in your database (at a minimum):
- the name of the Agency and agent
- their contact details, website address, and personal blog address
- whether submission is by email (if so, include an email address) or snail mail (if so include the postal address)
- any requirements for querying (such as things to include in the query letter, whether full or partial manuscripts are to be sent, etc)
- other submission guidelines
- how long you can expect to wait to hear back from the agent, and whether a "no response" within a certain time is to be taken as a "decline to represent"
- whether you should follow up if no response is received within a certain time
- any other information you pick up from blogs, the Agency's website, and word of mouth (for example, agent xyz doesn't like vampire novels).
Step 3 - Always double-check your information before submitting
Note that you should never just assume that the information in your database is correct at the time you are submitting. Submission guidelines can change, as can contact details, and whether or not queries or unsolicited submissions are being accepted at the particular time. Also, agents can leave their Agency. ALWAYS check the relevant website/personal blog just before you query, to make sure that you are still complying with all querying/submission requirements.
Step 4 - Keep track of your progress and contact with all agents
As you submit queries or manuscripts, keep track of ALL contact with each agent (you could use a separate document for this information). List details such as:
- the particular person to whom you sent your query (note that many agents do not accept multiple submissions, ie submitting the same manuscript to different agents in the same agency at the same time)
- which manuscript you are querying
- the date you sent your query
- whether your query included part or all of your manuscript
- whether any response was received (including when and by who - sometimes assistants respond on behalf of the agent)
- when your manuscript was declined (if this occurs)
- whether there was a request for a partial or a full (including any comments or suggested edits)
- whether there has been a response within the stated time frame (you can assume then that the query has been declined)
- whether any feedback was given with a rejection (or whether a rejection was a form letter)
- all other queries/manuscripts that have been sent to a particular agent.
If your query or manuscript is rejected, try not to take it to heart. For the purposes of the database, however, immediately cross that agent off the list once they decline to represent you (I usually "shade" the relevant cells in my table so I can still see the querying details). In this way, it is apparent at a glance how many "live" queries you have out there, and it makes the decision whether (and when) to submit further queries much, much easier.
Make your life easier
By getting yourself organized up front, and keeping your database(s) up to date as agents respond, you can make your life much easier, particularly if you are submitting different manuscripts at the same time. And it will help you to avoid embarrassing mistakes, such as submitting the same manuscript twice to the same agent.
Best of luck in your querying journey!