Research First, Query Next

You’ve finished and polished your manuscript. You’ve crafted your query letter. You’ve compiled a list of agents or publishers. You’re ready for the next step: sending out your work.

So you start submitting. And you wait. You try not to obsess, but you can’t suppress that tingle of anticipation whenever you open your email. And then–joy! Requests start coming in. Requests for partials. Requests for fulls. It’s time to do some research to see if those agents or publishers are reputable.

Wait. What’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s another version of the story. You’ve finished and polished…etc. Requests come in…you send off your material. And one day, the moment you’ve been dreaming of arrives: you get an offer of representation or publication. It’s time to do some research to see if the agent or publisher is reputable.

Uh…no.

Writers–the time to research agents and publishers is before you query or submit. Not after.

I know that many readers are rolling their eyes at this point and saying “Duh!” But I hear all the time from writers who are contacting me post-submission or post-contract offer to ask this very question.

It’s simply a waste of time to query an agent or submit to a publisher who isn’t reputable. There’s just no reason to do it. I mean, you’re not going to sign with a schmagent who charges editing fees and has never sold a book, are you? You won’t contract with a publisher that wants you to buy cover art and has been the subject of scathing complaints on industry blogs, will you? So why not avoid such agents and publishers right from the get-go? Why not spare yourself the emotional baggage?

Because querying and submitting is an emotional process. It’s not just a waste of time to approach an agent or publisher that isn’t reputable: it’s a waste of emotional energy. Imagine your elation when you’re asked to submit. They like you! They really like you! Now imagine the letdown when, in your post-query research, you discover that the publisher hasn’t been paying its authors, or that the agent charges fees and has a sales record of exactly zero. Why put yourself through it? Why not eliminate the bad actors in advance?

Don’t underestimate the power of desperation, either. Suppose you get all the way to the offer stage before you decide to look into the agent’s or publisher’s reputation. Suppose you discover that there are problems. Suppose you’ve been querying for a while with no luck, and this is the first offer you’ve received. Will you do the smart thing and say no? Maybe you think you will. But I’ve heard from too many writers who allowed the joy of validation, or the hope that they would be the one exception to a publisher’s or agent’s history of failure, to overcome their good sense. Saying “no” isn’t easy, even when the warning signs are right before your eyes.

So don’t waste your time. Don’t squander your emotional energy. Don’t risk putting yourself in a situation where desperation or frustration or the need for recognition may drive you to make a bad choice. Research first. Query next.

9 Comments

  1. I have to echo this. I receive all too many requests for information about agents being legit even though P&E has notes beside the listings stating which we recommend and which we don’t. The words “not recommended” will not magically change just because you emailed and asked about them.

  2. Yes–this is absolutely true as far as the basic research–is this a reputable agent with verifiable sales, is this an agent who reps in my genre. But beyond that, there’s only so much an aspiring writer can glean from the usual places: P&E, AgentQuery, Publisher’s Marketplace, etc.

    There’s a second layer of information that’s harder to get to, once you’ve gotten nibbles from said reputable agents, and that’s the intangibles of what that agent is like to work with, how responsive to communications is that agent, how does the agent see him or herself as guiding your career. Some of that is what comes through in agents’ blogs, but for the most part, it feels like a big black hole.

    Not every reputable agent is going to be the right fit for every writer. But at least in following Writer Beware’s advice, you spare yourself the emotional turmoil and wasted energy of querying the wrong agents.

    Thank you for your ongoing support of us aspiring writers in the agent-searching trenches!

  3. Seems like common sense to check first–especially in days like this when there are so many scams afoot. The process is slow enough without having to start over because you chose a dud!

  4. To go along with this; an author also needs to research a publishing house before submitting, as well. Another “duh” moment, but many beginning writers send out to anyone and everyone. It is also a waste of time to send children’s materials to a house that doesn’t publish them.

  5. Of course it might be helpful to list the resources one could use to research the reputability of agents. Preditors and Editors? Agent Query? What else? And what exactly should one look for?

  6. This is something that continues to bug me no end. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of posts where the writer says, “I just receive a request from a partial, but wanted to make sure the agent/publisher was on the up-and-up.”

    Hunh? Doesn’t it make more sense to find that out before you start querying? As someone else said, the process is slow enough as it is; what’s an extra week or so for research?

    Thanks, Victoria. This kind of stuff needs to be shouted from the rooftops! 🙂

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