You’ve revised your manuscript, sent it out to beta readers, revised again, and now it’s cards on the table time. You’re bringing your book to that fancy conference that’s coming up and shelling out the cash for a session with an agent. But how do you make the most of your 15 minutes of professional attention? How do you even choose which agent to meet with?
There’s no magic password or handshake that will guarantee you a successful meeting — if there was, I promise I’d be sharing it here. The good news is, if you’ve persevered to this stage, you already have the skills to maximize your chances. Hard work and preparation may not sound flashy, but they’ll take you far. Ready? Here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful:
- First, draw up a list of attributes your dream agent would have. I’m not talking about a hotline to the heads of publishing houses or connections to Steven Spielberg — you’re dreaming, yes, but keep it realistic. For example, are you the kind of person who needs the reassurance of a big, experienced agency in your corner? Or do you want an upstart agent who is setting up her own shop and is hungry for business? Is having an agent with a solid social media presence important to you? Or will you chew your nails and glug antacid every time your agent tweets about the manuscript she’s currently reading? Do you expect lots of hand-holding, or are you more comfortable with a strictly professional relationship?
- Next, make a for-your-eyes only list of attributes that are important to you and keep it handy. Use it as a guide to help you narrow down your choices as you do your research. You make up half of the agent/author relationship, and you want to find someone you are comfortable working with, not just leap at the first agent who shows interest. At the same time, try and stay somewhat flexible, and remember that agents are people too — they grow and change with time, just like everyone else.
- Use your google-fu to research previous years of the conference you plan to attend. Go back several years, and try to find lists of past agent attendees. It’s likely that someone who has attended regularly will be present again this year. Use past descriptions to get a sense for what types of writing the agents you are interested in represent, what appeals to them within the publishing world, how they are perceived, how they interact with writers.
- Once you’ve found a few likely candidates, dig deeper. Check out their agency website, look for recent sales on Publisher’s Weekly, cross-check their reputation on writing forums. Pick up a few books by authors they represent. Read them. How does the quality of writing, the style and themes, compare with yours? Can you find some kind of a fit for your work? What do the authors say about their agents on their web sites, or on social media?
- When the current conference attendee list comes out, search for agents who are new attendees and repeat the last step. Also cross-check new biographies against those of previous years for any major changes.
- Compile a list of your top three choices. From here, you’ll need to decide how much money you’re able to invest — do you have the funds to meet with more than one agent? Or are you willing to go all in on just one?
Slots with favorite agents often fill up quickly, so with luck your advanced planning and research will give you an edge in making your decision. Once you’ve sent in your check securing your position, it’s a matter of making sure (again) that your manuscript is as ready as possible, and that the segment you are having reviewed (or the pitch you’ll be giving) is as perfect as can be. From here, good manners (no slipping pitches under bathroom stall doors, talking about something other than your novel at lunch) and good luck will hopefully do the rest.
Now it’s your turn — what are your tips for researching agents?