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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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