Should You Pitch (and Sign With) a New Literary Agent? The Pros and Cons…

PhotobucketThis column excerpted from my book, the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (Writer’s Digest Books), the biggest database anywhere if you’re seeking a literary agent.

One of the most common recurring work blog items I get complimented on (besides my headshot, which my wife has called “semi-dashing … almost”) is my “New Literary Agent Alerts,” a series where I spotlight new/newer literary agents who are open to queries and looking for clients. At writers conferences, a frequent question I get is “Is it OK to sign with a new agent?” This is an interesting question, so let me try to delve into it here.

First of all, let’s look at the CONS:

  • They are likely less experienced in contract and money negotiations.
  • They likely know fewer editors at this point than a rep who’s been in business a while, meaning there is a less likely chance they can help you get published.
  • They are likely in a weaker position to demand a high advance.
  • New literary agents come and some go. This means if your agent is in business for a year or two and doesn’t find the success for which they hoped, they could bail on the biz altogether. That leaves you without a home. If you sign with an agent who’s been in business for 14 years, however, chances are they won’t quit tomorrow.

Now let’s look at the PROS:

  • These agents are actively building their client list — and that means they are hungry to sign new writers and lock in those first several sales.
  • They are usually willing to give your work a longer look. They may be willing to work with you on a project to get it ready for submission, whereas a more established agent has lots of clients and no time, meaning they have no spare moments to edit your novel for structure and plot, etc.
  • With fewer clients under their wing, you should get more attention than you would with an established rep.
  • If they’ve found their calling and don’t seem like they’re giving up any time soon (and keep in mind, most do continue on as agents), you could have a decades-long relationship that pays off with lots of books.
  • Just as they may have little going for them, they also have little going against them. An established agent once told me that a new agent is in a unique position because they have no duds under their belt. Their slate is clean.

How can you decide for yourself?

  1. Factor in if they’re part of a larger literary agency. Agents share contacts and resources. If your agent is the new girl at an agency with five people, those other four agents will help her (and you) with submissions. She’s new, but not alone.
  2. Learn where the agent came from. Has she been an apprentice at the agency for two years? Was she an editor for seven years and just switched to agenting? If they already have a few years in publishing under their belt, they’re not as green as you may think. Agents don’t become agents overnight.
  3. Ask where she will submit the work. This is a big one. If you fear the agent lacks proper contacts to move your work, ask it straight out: “What editors do you see us submitting this book to, and have you sold to them before?” The question tests not only their plan for where to send the manuscript, but also their fervor for the work.
  4. Ask “Why should I sign with you?” This is another straight-up question that gets right to the point. If she’s new and has little/no sales at that point, she can’t respond with “I sell tons of books and I make it rain cash money!! Dolla dolla bills, y’all!!!” She can’t rely on her track record to entice you. So what’s her sales pitch? Weigh her enthusiasm, her plan for the book, her promises of hard work, and anything else she tells you. In the publishing business, you want communication and enthusiasm from agents (and editors). Both are invaluable. What’s the point of signing with a huge agent when they don’t return your e-mails and consider your book last on their list of priorities for the day?
  5. Get to know them personally. Agents reveal a lot about their personalities and lifestyle through their Twitter accounts. Plus, you can always attend a writers conference or writing retreat where agents gather to meet with them.
  6. If you’re not sold, you can always say no. It’s as simple as that. Always query new/newer agents because, at the end of the day, just because they offer representation doesn’t mean you have to accept.

All this said, let me say how happy I am to now contribute Writer Unboxed columns. Thank you, everyone!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s music5one

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

Comments

  1. says

    Chuck,
    Thank you for this post! All you have said is solid advice, and I appreciate the way you layed it out, bullet for bullet, pros and cons. All great points on weighing out the selection of an agent. Thank you!
    -Jennifer

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  2. Vaughn Roycroft says

    First of all, welcome to WU, Chuck! As an unpubbed writer, I would entertain the idea of a newbie agent. I would think that it would garner me more focused attention. They would most likely bring a certain enthusiasm to the process. If you found the right relationship it would be ‘us verses the giants, together.’

    Great start! Looking forward to your future posts.

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  3. says

    Perfect timing! I have been wrestling with this question myself as I’m querying my military life memoir.
    Thanks,
    Royale

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  4. says

    Chuck, Welcome to WU. Great advice in this initial post. I think the points you bring up are ones many of us have learned by experience. Looking forward to your posts and your unique perspective.

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  5. says

    Well-balanced and well-considered. Good thoughts directly presented. I look forward to other good thoughts you will be sharing with us. Huzzah!

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  6. says

    Great post. When I was agent hunting, I went with an agent I connected with, but I also knew that the agency she was part of thought of themselves as a collective: manuscripts got read by a number of different people and they brainstormed about the process. It was signing with the agency as well as the agent. I think I’d feel differently if it was a new solo agent. Lots to think about here!

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  7. says

    Chuck, thank you! This is a fabulous post. I think as we start to look for agents, we tend to gravitate toward the big names. It’s good to see the pros and cons for signing with a new agent. The most important thing is to connect with them. I always say, trust your gut. Like you said, you don’t have to say yes in the end.

    Welcome to WU. I look forward to reading your future posts. :)

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  8. says

    As someone who went with a new agent and got burned by it, I can attest to how careful you need to be when it comes to choosing a new agent over an experienced one. My agent eventually left the business. The biggest warning sign I ignored was the fact she wanted to be a writer. I know there are some agents out there who can do both, but not many. So another good question to ask an agent is: what are their career goals? If they talk about how much they really want to write, RUN.

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  9. says

    Welcome to WU, Chuck!

    Thanks for offering such a balanced perspective on this tough question.

    Oh, and LOL at “Dolla dolla bills, y’all!!!” :)

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  10. says

    Welcome, Chuck!

    The new agent question is so hard. If a writer gambles and it pays off, it’s a good situation. If not . . . you’ve probably lost a year, maybe more.

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  11. says

    Welcome to Writer Unboxed. I’ve enjoyed your alerts on new agents on Twitter. This post was helpful in how to choose an agent. Often it is the new member who shows up at writer conferences. Thanks.

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  12. says

    Great advice, Chuck….I have a couple of friends who did very well by signing with a hungry young newbie agent. Perhaps the key thing is that while she was inexperienced and untried, she was with a large established agency and had an experienced mentor. My buddy Jake described it as “the best of both worlds ….the clout of a big agency but lots of individual attention.”

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  13. Betsy Ashton says

    I signed with a new agent who does not live in New York. It was a risk, but when we met and talked about what she would do in representing my book, I took a chance. At the time, she hadn’t sold a single contract. In the year since, she’s sold 30+ contacts to smaller and mid-sized presses, has several multi-book deals, and has my manuscript in the hands of three New York editors. It could have turned out differently, of course, but her stable of writers is reaping the rewards of taking a chance.

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  14. says

    Solid advice as usual, Chuck. I think your conclusion is telling: for the unagented, it’s obviously worth it to check out new agents for what they can offer, and turn them down if the offer isn’t right.

    (How does one graduate from “semi-dashing” to full-on “dashing”?)

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  15. says

    I emailed this to myself so I would not forget. I have been toying with the idea of seeking an agent with my next book. This is a great reference article.

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