What Should You Look for in an Agent?

I write a great number of posts about writing. I have a handy Dripping Ink tab with several pages about query writing. What I’ve never written about are agents themselves. For those of you looking for an agent, how do you know who to target? Beyond submitting to those accepting manuscripts in your genre…what should you look for in an agent?

One day, you will get “the call.” Stop shaking your head. You will. It will happen. If you haven’t gotten it yet, then this is that Darwinian portion of your career where “survival of the fittest” applies. Weaker writers will give out, toss in the towel, walk away. Stronger, more tenacious writers will persevere. You are one of those. So, when you get “the call,” here are a few things you should listen for and weigh out.

  1. The agent should know the industry. Really understand the business too. Sometimes these are slightly different. Be sure the agent you choose has a handle on both. They will become your biggest ally.
  2. Find out if the agent will be involved in any editing of the manuscript before submission. This is important. Most of our manuscripts, regardless of awesome critique groups and partners, can use a professional once over. Consider this. You may not want it. They may not offer it. But, know many agents do this to varied extents. Some WANT to help with this. If it matters to you, don’t be afraid to ask about it.
  3. Same thing for marketing. No, it’s not even close to the agent’s job to market you, but some will help you by sharing what they know. Many have packets prepared for new clients. Like social media one-oh-one. Agents with a strong web presence are a great resource to guide you in building yours. If marketing is an area you struggle with, an agent who works with their clients to build their brand/web presence/knowledge of the topic might be important to you. Consider this.
  4. Will they keep you in the loop? How often will you hear form them? After every submission or rejection? Monthly? Quarterly? What? And can you contact them with concerns?
  5. Which brings me to: Make sure your personalities mesh. You’re both going to be on your best behavior in that initial phone call, but keep your feelers out for red flags. Your agent will become your friend – hopefully. You don’t want to feel intimidated by him/her. Be sure you have the same goals and expectations. Make sure you feel comfortable enough to ask the questions you have. Only your agent can answer them. It doesn’t matter what Absolute Write says about them at the Water Cooler, or even what another author with them advises. The agent is a person who makes individualized decisions. If you can’t talk to them, they can’t do their job.
  6. You want an agent who’s in it to build your career. Talk about this. Be open about where you want to be in five years or ten. Can they help make that possible?

Bottom line: Believe in yourself and find an agent who believes in you too. Ideally, you’re both in it for the long haul.

***As a side note, for those of you choosing not to work with an agent, but are perhaps shopping your work to publishers on your own. These are some important things to discuss with a possible publisher as well. Whoever you put your hard work in the hands of, should be your advocate, spokesperson and cheerleader. If they aren’t doing high kicks for you, find someone who will. I’ve been blessed with both. I know the value of people who believe in you. Every writer need this.

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