The Writing Life

Three Things to Remember When Looking for an Agent

This May will be my first agentversary — one year exactly since I met my literary agent.

I know that isn’t really A Thing.  If it were going to be A Thing, it would probably fall on the day I signed the contract, not the day we met. BUT STILL, it seems like an auspicious time to talk about Getting an Agent.  So happy Agentversary, Laura and Penni! But this post is more addressed to people who are in roughly the same position I was in a year ago.

I know that you don’t need an agent in order to be published.  Heck, these days, you don’t even need a publisher in order to be published.  But, if you’re on the fence about having an agent, this first piece of advice acts as both a Reason to Do The Thing, and also guideline for What To Look For.

#1: Your Agent is Your Advocate

Your agent is going to fight your corner.  They negotiate with publishers for better rates, they may sell translation rights, audiobook rights, even film and TV rights.  They have to be excited about your writing, because if all goes well, they’re going to be your partner not just for The Thing You’re Writing Now, but also The Book That Comes Next, and hopefully The Rest of Your Career

Also, your agent is your advocate, they literally work for you, not the other way around. But in my (one year of) experience, it’s more partnership than boss/employee. They work for you, but odds are, they know more than you. You have to trust them, and let them do their job.  

In sum: Make sure that an agent is on the same page as you before signing with them.

#2: Rejection is Not About You

I know it feels like it, but there are a million reasons for an agent to say no that have nothing to do with you. It might be about your book, but you are so much bigger than your book.  It might be about your query — but queries are awful and impossible to write and agents know that. The truth is, your book might be The Next Big Thing, you might have The Query Letter To End All Query Letters, and you can still get a form rejection or fifty.  Maybe they already represent a book like yours and they want to branch out.  Maybe they’re just too busy to take on another client.  Maybe they don’t think they can sell your book right now, but that still isn’t a judgement on you.

There are lots of reasons for an agent to say no.  And if they say no, they’re not the right agent for you, because (see point #1) you need them to be passionate about your work.  

In Sum: If you have to twist someone’s arm to represent you, they’re not going to represent you well.

#3: Be A Joy to Work With

If you remember only one thing from this blog post, remember this: agents are people and deserve to be treated with respect.  Don’t harass them. Don’t waste their time: make sure that you’ve done your homework and you know what kind of book they represent.  Keep your queries short and concise because they probably have a million emails to read today.  Remember that they are professionals: if they offer critiques, accept them graciously and take them seriously.  They know what they’re talking about.  Always, always, always thank them for their time and consideration.  It costs you nothing to be nice.  And for god’s sake, make sure you’re spelling their name right and using the correct pronouns.  It’s common fucking courtesy. 


And hey, man, I don’t know everything.  I’m not an expert.  But I do have an agent, and I’ve managed to keep her around this long, so that’s something right?


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