How do you know?
A question that can apply in so many areas, but in creative endeavors specifically it has many applications:
1) How do you know where to start?
2) How do you know where to end?
3) How do you know if you're any good?
4) How do you know if you should bother trying to be published?
My latest in that endeavor is the ever popular "How do you know which agent is right for you?"
I'm doing research. From what I can tell the general recommendations are to hunt down every scrap of information available to you about a potential agent — who they've published, is it like your work in subject or theme or approach, are they taking applications, how do they take applications, do they turn the toilet paper flap side down or flap side up. (The answer to that latter one has to be flap side down. Accept no substitutes.) It seems as though you're supposed to get enough information for a biography on the agent before you can approach them.
Meanwhile, most who have any information in the public domain — web pages, information in books, etc. — don't offer up a whole lot of detail. They list the books they've recently acquired, what they're best known for, and perhaps a few general subjects or genres they're most interested in. Well, unless you've read their acquisitions/best known fors those lists don't help much — and look, I understand research but I'm trying to get published myself, there's a limit to how much of a reading list I'm going to take from one agent's clients — and the general subjects or genres are about all you have to go on. Could I go agent by agent and spend hours, if not days or weeks, researching them before sending out a query? I could. But I could also just do some basic informational gathering to eliminate the obvious nos, then send out my queries. There's no guarantee the former would rate me any better-qualified (for me) agents than the latter.
So that's the next plan of attack. I'm getting 15 agents I think are useful. Some of which are being picked only for their interests — I need me some suspense, thriller lovers — and some of which are being initially selected for location (hey, they're one neighborhood over!) and then whittled, and some I'm digging more deeply into because the agent's name has a nice ring to it. I'm talking to you, Jake Elwell. That's a name. He's probably 31 with two kids and a dog, but that name says: cigar chomping reader of books. Or possibly a private detective.
I've got nine agents this way. I'll do more research at 15. Then comes the query letter. To hook or not hook? That is the question. I'll cross that bridge when I find it, as a great lyricist once said.