Unfortunately I don't have a 10 point flop proof guide - if there's one out there, I'll take two, thank you!
There is a plethora of excellent information out there with any number of excellent agent blogs. So many, in fact, that I've had to limit the blogs I frequent otherwise it all starts to get a bit mind boggling. My personal favourites are:
USA agents are fantastic: they blog, they're accessible, they're fast on the turnaround and they mostly accept email submissions which makes it that much easier (and cheaper) for us to query widely.
UK agents are slower on the mark. Many of the agents still want snail mail submissions, they're quick to close their doors (with regards to my previous post, maybe this is a good thing rather than letting authors query with no chance because they're not currently looking) and their turnaround time is a lot slower - I've currently got a YA under consideration, and although it's gone from query to full request to full request via hard copy, it's been 6 months and counting - that's a long time in the land of agents.
Most agents accept submissions from anywhere in the world, that gives us two continents across which to query, query, query. There seems to be a quirky exception to this, and doesn't apply to all agents, but from my experience it seems like US agents are a a bit antsy about stories set in the UK, and vice versa. But any other country setting and you're fine across the borders.
And now (finally, you might say) we come to the reason that triggered this post...
Firstly, it was a post of the wonderful Kristin Nelson's blog, Pub Rants.
In answering some questions, she had this to say about a question on how long to wait before re-quering an agent with a new project after a rejection:
Of course we all differ on what the answer would be. That’s why publishing is so maddening to writers. For me, I’d say wait 4 weeks, then query with new project. But here’s the kicker. DO NOT mention that you have queried the agency before. Act like this is the first query ever that you are sending us. We get 150 queries a day. Chances are very good we won’t remember your name (unless you have a really unique name that is!) Writers for some reason feel obligated to tell us their whole prior history of our rejecting their queries. Don’t be seduced!
And she had this to say about re-subbing a previously rejected but revised story:
My suggestion? Change the title to something new. Sometimes titles stand out and it will sound familiar. In terms of time span, if you submitted queries and have received mainly rejection responses, I’d revise significantly, wait about 3 weeks, then resend. What can an agent do? Track you down and chastise you for resubmitting? Grin. Be bold. Now if you are rejected numerous times by same agent. Move on. Lots of other agent fishes in the sea.
She is so honest and candid, and this advice can be applied when subbing to publishers as well. Our baby might be precious to us and chiselled into our brains, but to the agent/editor it's one of thousands and there's a good chance they won't remember. Good idea to change the title and maybe even character names - and hopefully it would have been revised to an extent where you have something more/different to offer in the query/partial - basically after revision you do have a new story, so why not re-submit? This is a particularly sensitive topic when it comes to M&B because, let's face it, if they reject your story, you don't have many other options left to place it. But M&B is brilliant about giving decent feedback, enough to show you what is wrong and how you could improve. I've never really understood why they then suggest you send in something new rather than the revised ms (and I'm talking about rejection letter feedback, not revision letter feedback).
And secondly, I'd like to point you to a brilliant site, Miss Snark's First Victim. Every month she hosts a Secret Agent contest, where you post the first page of your ms and the secret agent reviews all the posts, gives feedback on whether she'd request more or why she'd stop reading, etc and the secret agent also selects winners and runner ups and the prizes vary from a critique to requests. The secret agent is revealed and she's had some great agents there, like Ginger Clark and Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown, Kirstin Nelson, to name a few. Each contest is usually limited to a selection of genres, and throughout the contests most genres are frequently covered.
For me, the benefit here is more for the agent feedback than actually winning (although that would be great too). If you've got a couple of hundred hours to spare, you can also read through the archive of previous contests, and see which agents had what to say about which submissions. It's a great way to get inside an agent's head and understand what they're looking for - and, once again, I think this applies to editors as well.