Sarah here, with a Public Service Announcement for anyone searching for an agent: You are not desperate.
Sure, you may, at times, feel desperate. You may think, dear not-yet-published writer, that your chances of getting an agent are very slim. You may think it is arrogant to be picky, that if an agent—any agent—wants to represent your work, you should sign with her, no questions asked. You may think that because you’ve heard “no thank you” or maybe nothing at all from your first fifty queries that you will absolutely say “YES!” if numero fifty-one offers representation, signing on the dotted line without a moment of hesitation.
But you won’t do any of that because you are not desperate. Remember? Repeat after me: I am not desperate.
Good. Now, please say these words: I will thoughtfully consider what I need in an agent before I start an agent search.
Because here’s Part II of my PSA: It’s not enough to have an agent. You need to have the right agent.
Of course, “right” looks different for each of us. In fact, finding the right agent is a lot like finding your “right” romantic partner or the “right” nanny for your child. Let’s explore that nanny analogy . . . when you are searching for a nanny, trying to figure out if a particular person is the right in loco parentis person, you do your research. You consider the following questions: Will this nanny love your child (almost as much) as you do? Will she keep your child safe? Will she want your child to have solid skills before she’s launched into the Real World? When she takes your beloved to the park, will she push her in the swings and sing to her and read to her on a picnic blanket and make up silly haiku poems about squirrels and teach her the multiplication tables and maybe a little French OR might this nanny plug into her iPod and iPad and iFriends and smoke ciggies while your crying leibchen is plopped in front of Elmo TV?
And what about the nanny’s personality? Her communication style? Her responsiveness? Does she want to work with you, the parent, in true team fashion, or will she be calling all shots when it comes to your child? How busy is she? Does your nanny LOVE THIS BABY or is she only interested in the money? Does she understand that you try very, very hard not to be an emotional trainwreck of a freakshow but sometimes (maybe once a year) you may need a little encouragement and cheerleading? And in return, do you understand that she is human, that she might be employed by other freakshow families, that your child is not the only sun in her universe?
Please consider similar questions as you search for your agent because while you are at work (on your next book), your agent is going to be parading your book baby all over New York. Do your due diligence.
Let me share a bit about my agent searches. Signing with my first agent was a no-brainer because she was also my writing partner’s agent; for two years, I had a vicarious understanding of this agent’s style, personality, skills and integrity. It was equivalent to hiring the nanny that a good friend had happily employed for years. After this agent made the tough decision to leave agenting, I (cried a lot, then I) embarked on Agent Search 2.0 with a solid understanding of what really matters in the Sarah-agent relationship. I knew what I needed to thrive, and I knew what I could contribute to the relationship.
To illustrate: Since I’m an emotional person who feels things (a little too) deeply, I knew I wanted a compassionate agent, one who would show her emotion and passion in appropriate ways.
I am also very impatient; I knew I needed an agent who had more patience than I, one who was more concerned with doing things right than doing things fast.
I wanted someone with a good editorial eye, someone who’d be willing to provide feedback before my books went out on submission.
I am also a ridiculously lousy salesperson, to the point that once my book gets published, I will probably tell people NOT to buy it. But while I wanted an agent who was an arse-kicker of a salesperson, I didn’t want someone who was too pushy, too charming, too much of a smooth operator. Why? Because my agent represents me. As my agent was pitching my manuscript, I wanted editors to know my agent was symbolic of me.
A business-savvy, patient, kind-hearted editorial agent who could sell the heck out of a book she loved? Yep. I went in search of that. A few months later, I found it. I cried tears of relief.
Of course, there’s only so much you can learn about an agent via internet research. Even when an agent calls to offer representation, you will not see and learn everything about her style and personality. But pay attention to red flags. An extreme red flag: an agent wants money from you before she sells your book. Agents do not earn one penny until they sell your work. If an agent asks for money up front, forget it.
Less-red red flags: she gushes a little too much over your book, she tells you your book will absolutely sell in three days, she bad-mouths other agents or editors, she promises you’ll be the next NYT Bestseller . . . reputable agents will not say any of that, especially not in their initial phone conversation.
I cannot stress how essential it is to have an agent whose style and personality jives with yours. We’re looking for jive, people! If finding an agent is proving impossible, we may need to polish our query, we may need to hone our craft, we may need to write another (better) book, but we must never settle for an agent who won’t act in our or our book-baby’s best interest.
What do you need in an agent? What qualities or personality traits are most important to you?
If you have an agent, please share why she/he is a great fit. Have you been surprised by what is helpful (or unhelpful) in the agent-writer relationship? Thanks for sharing!
Photo courtesy of flickr’s Guadalupe Cervilla.