You may start stalking agents at any time in your career, even before you've started a novel. Research is good. DO NOT QUERY an agent until you have a complete, polished manuscript! Here's a step-by-step guide to help you properly stalk an agent or fifty.
- Do not get weird and creepy. Be professional at all times.
- Make various contacts in the Industry. This is good for your career overall, and not just purely for the stalking of agents.
- Look up agents. Writer's Marketplace, Agent Query, Agent Tracker, word-of-mouth, Googling (unless you're a Bing girl, then Bing away).
- Make a list of agent names. Make a long list. The longer the better. This shall hereafter be known as "The List".
- Organise The List. This is a preliminary organisation, as these agents will be moving up and down The List at a later date. At the top should be those agents who are open to subs and who rep your genres.
- Time to stalk, author-style! Pick a couple of names and look up everything you can find about that agent. Pretty much all of them have web sites of varying sizes and qualities. Many of them have blogs, many of them Tweet. Stalk every single agent on your list who reps your genres. Get a sense of their personality, their professionalism, read their tips and suggestions.
- Stalk Janet Reid aka Miss Snark aka The Query Shark, even if she doesn't rep your genres, simply because she is full of wisdom. Now go glean.
- Find out what the agents like (SF, high-concept, YA, etc), what they're reading, what they want. Agents often advertise what they're currently looking for, often in interviews on various people's blogs. If you happen to come across an agent who is actively looking for something that sounds like your manuscript, move 'em up the list.
- Network. Ask appropriate questions about the craft/submitting to those agents who answer such questions. Several of them will. Browse through their blogs first to make sure they haven't already answered your question. This is a good way of narrowing down particulars. (Frex, "As you rep Paranormal, do you find it a hard sell in today's market?" or "Is it better to query agents in batches of twenty or fifty?" "Should I include X in a query letter?")
- As you learn more about these agents, adjust their position on your list. Those who seem to be a better match for your CAREER (and not just this one project), move them towards the top. Make copious notes explaining why they are where they are.
- Write practice queries with these agents in mind. You can get your queries critiqued in all sorts of places. I recommend this, especially if you have no experience writing queries. At the very least, read those blogs that crit queries. Queries are your agent pick-up lines. You want the suave ones, not the cheesy ones.
- Come up with a list of Phone questions. These are the questions to ask an agent, should they call/email you to offer representation. This list can be tailored to each agent, if you wish.
- If you've done your stalking correctly, you should find you will have trouble sorting the top ten agents into an order, because they are all just so good. Just lump 'em all into "Top Ten". When you are ready to query (with a complete and polished ms), send it out to all ten.
And that's how you stalk an agent.
Everyone's methods vary. Feel free to add or amend in the comments.
Her Grace has been developing agent stalking methods, as modern technology makes it real easy. Just remember, do not get weird or creepy.