What To Consider When Looking For an Agent
Everyone knows it can be hard for new writers to find an agent. I think it’s for this reason that many authors get so caught up in the desire to achieve that “I have an agent” goal that they forget to really think about what they themselves need from an agent. Ultimately, your agent is there to act on your behalf, so it’s really important that they understand your needs and will work in a way that suits you.
Although all agents are there to support and guide you, represent your work to publishers, and help you navigate the complexities of the publishing industry, there is a lot more to agenting than that, and agents are people too – which means that they will all work in slightly different ways.
If all goes well, your relationship with your agent will last a long time – the length of your writing career, in fact! – so, when you’re starting to think about finding yourself an agent, first of all think about what you would like from them in an ideal world. Of course, not every author finds themselves in the enviable position of having agents fighting over them. But you may well find yourself with more than one taking an interest, so it makes sense to give some thought to your preferences.
Agents in Your Field
I’d advise you to start by thoroughly researching agents who specialise in your area of writing; that way they’re more likely to have the right contacts and expertise for your work. Check out agency websites to get a feel for the people you’re thinking of approaching.
- Do they have the right kind of experience to help you manage your career in the particular area in which you’re writing?
- Do you like the tone of their website?
- What’s on their wish list – do you get a sense that they would connect with your book?
- And, crucially, do they seem approachable and interested in finding new authors? It’s going to be important that you feel comfortable reaching out to your agent, and that your agent is reasonably available to you.
Having chosen the agents you want to approach, take care to do so individually. Don’t immediately send your work to every agent on the planet. It is usually very evident to those on the receiving end and it doesn’t create a very good impression. If you want someone to spend precious time reading and considering your work, then it’s only polite to spend a little time checking out their submission guidelines and personalising your own submission.
As and when you receive interest from an agent – or an offer of representation – take time to talk to that agent on the phone. You need to have at least one proper conversation with them (ideally face-to-face, but on the phone is often more practicable) where can ask plenty of questions and where you also get an opportunity to hear them talk about your book and their vision for it. You need to get a feel for this person who might become your agent!
- Are they approachable and easy to talk to?
- Are they happy to take time answering your questions and chatting?
- Do you feel that they really ‘get’ your novel?
It’s going to be important that you feel able to pick up the phone to your agent and raise any queries or concerns you may have. You definitely don’t want to select an agent who makes you feel rushed whenever you’re speaking with them.
If you find yourself feeling anxious about how they will receive a call from you, then maybe this person isn’t the right agent for you! Agents are busy people and of course it’s important not to waste their time, but you should never feel awkward about calling to discuss legitimate business matters.
The Business Side
Beyond approachability, consider other aspects as well. Your agent will hopefully be warm and approachable, but are they also business-minded and do you feel they could be steely if necessary? Your agent needs to handle negotiations on your behalf – and those negotiations can be tough! I always think “Do you enjoy playing poker?” is an excellent question to ask an agent! (Seriously!)
Consider whether you want an agent who can work with you editorially. This is a biggy because some agents – such as Jo and I here at Skylark – will want to work with you on your manuscript prior to sending it out to publishers. We both have editorial backgrounds in major trade publishing houses so we know just what editors are looking for in the books they acquire, and we want to make sure our clients’ work is in tip-top shape so that it has the best possible chance of being snapped up!
Naturally, we think this is an advantage and lots of authors welcome this hands-on approach, but others aren’t looking for that – and that’s absolutely fine. As an author, you have plenty of other options because many agents don’t choose to work in an editorial way – either because they don’t have an editorial background or simply because it is time-consuming, and agents don’t get paid until they sell your manuscript to a publisher!
So – you have options. Which kind of author are you? What kind of agent are you looking for? Think about that from the outset because it may guide your choices.
Get Out There
And finally, don’t feel shy about submitting. We agents want to read your manuscript. We’re always looking for that next gem that gets the blood pumping and the heart racing, and without all you wonderful, creative, hard-working writers out there, we’d have no chance of finding it!
So keep those submissions coming and don’t let the inevitable rejections get you down. Reading is subjective and personal; just because one agent doesn’t connect with your work doesn’t mean another won’t. Take any feedback you’re lucky enough to receive on board, think positively and keep going.
As a very wise person once said to me – “Failure is not falling down, it’s refusing to get back up.”