*Shh* Be very, very quiet. We’re hunting agents. (Sorry, with that picture, I couldn’t resist the Bugs Bunny reference. *smile*)
Many—if not most—writers want to find an agent at some point in their writing career. Even in this age of self-publishing, writers still want agents to help them with foreign rights, career advice, access to tricky markets (libraries), etc.
So the question of “what to look for in an agent” hasn’t gone away. However, what we’re looking for might have shifted a bit from a few years ago.
Because we all have different goals and needs, there’s no single end-all-be-all list of “what to look for” in an agent. Sure, we all want an agent who’s a good match for us, but what a “good match” looks like will be different for each of us.
Some of us want an editorial agent, who will help us with our manuscript before submitting to publishers. Some of us want a business-minded agent with strong knowledge of contracts and royalty statements. Some of us want an agent with oodles of contacts among editors and publishers.
There are no right or wrong answers, but we do need to know what we’re looking for before starting our agent search. Authors with years of experience tell us that having a bad agent (or the wrong agent for us) can be worse than no agent at all. So while an agent might be great for our friend and we might be able to get a recommendation (the Holy Grail!), the agent might not be right for us.
The factors we might be looking for in an agent include:
- We’re comfortable with him/her; we can chat and be friends.
- He/she is with a big, powerful agency.
- He/she is with a small, boutique agency (smaller ponds can be nice).
- He/she is a former editor or has a strong editorial background.
- He/she handles foreign and subrights and/or has a rights specialist in house.
- He/she specializes in our genre, with contacts at every publisher.
- He/she has a wide variety of publisher contacts and handles many genres, including all those we’re writing or considering writing.
- He/she has a strong knowledge of contracts and/or has a contract specialist in house.
- He/she has a coach or career mentor attitude.
- His/her communication policies match our expectations (email vs. phone, frequency, timeliness, etc.)
- He/she provides the amount of hand-holding we want.
- He/she has the amount of experience we want (new and enthusiastic vs. experienced and business-minded).
- He/she has experience analyzing royalty statements for errors.
- He/she knows (or has in-house specialists for) other industry-related contacts: publicists, cover artists, authors willing to blurb us, etc.
- He/she is located in New York City.
- He/she is a member of AAR.
- His/her agency has (or doesn’t have) an epublishing or assisted publishing option (some people like this, and some think it’s a conflict of interest).
- His/her plans for our book (editorial changes, which publishers to submit to, etc.) match our goals.
- He/she has an online presence and helps promote his/her authors through social media.
- We trust him/her.
We can analyze that list, prioritize it, decide which things are important, which things are nice to have, and which things are deal-breakers. Knowing what we’re looking for will help us narrow down our choices and will help us recognize when an agent is a bad match.
On the other end, there are things we all should avoid when we choose an agent. Certain behaviors are signs that an agent is a scammer or a disreputable/dishonest person, such as requiring a reading fee, taking an above average percentage, etc. In addition, we need to check that the author-agent agreement doesn’t include nasty clauses like interminable agency, in perpetuity, etc.
Our list of which things are important won’t look like anyone else’s list. Only we can determine the publishing path we want to take and which type of partner will best be able to help us along that path. Whether we’re planning on traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a combination of the two, the right agent can help us no matter what our goals are.
Other helpful posts about agents:
- How to find an agent with sources of agent names and tips for how to narrow down our choices by Carrie Ryan.
- BubbleCow shares this list of steps to go through for researching agents.
- How to tell if an agent is any good by Jane Friedman.
- How to use an offer of representation as leverage to find the agent you really want by Jessica Faust.
- (Edited to add a post I just found) An agent’s take on what makes a good agent by Sara Megibow.
*** Before we finish this post, don’t forget to pass on a kindness to other writers who have helped you. Leave a comment about your Random Act Of Kindness to inspire others and be entered into the Win-Win Giveaway. ***
Can you think of other things to look for in an agent? What are you looking for in an agent? Why are those aspects important to you? What aren’t you looking for in an agent? How do you research which agents would be a good match?