Blogger: Mary Keeley
What should a writer look for in an agent? What does an agent look for in a client? It’s tempting for a writer to go with the first offer of representation because it means you’ve crossed the first big hurdle toward getting your proposal to a publisher. And frankly, you don’t know how long it will be until another agent expresses interest. But wait. There is a better way to approach it.
An author-agent partnership is a big decision. Like authors, each agent and agency has it’s own set of hallmark values and approach to the partnership. This is one of the best reasons for you to attend one or two writers conferences, if possible, before you make a decision about the agents to whom you want to submit your proposal. You have the opportunity at conferences to meet with a number of agents in-person and compare your reactions to each in close proximity. Another helpful option, especially if travelling to a conference isn’t possible, is following and commenting on a variety of agency blogs to observe the interaction and agents’ responses.
Either way, if you’ve done your homework beforehand, that is, you (1) have visited agency websites to get a feel for each one’s personality and climate, (2) have ascertained the agents who represent the genre of your books, and (3) have researched industry news feeds and publisher websites so you can present yourself professionally and use industry terminology knowledgably, you will be able to enter into conversations confidently. When you do have an in-person or phone meeting with an agent, approach it as a two-way interview.
Yes, that’s right. You should be interviewing the agent too. But first, you the writer need to evaluate what it is you want in an agent. For example, some agents prioritize business and immediate returns for writing projects that provide you and the agent with ready income. Others approach agenting from a long-term perspective, which means they invest in building relationships, mentoring, and career planning for the long term. Books & Such fits in the second category. Neither type is intrinsically good or bad, only different. It depends on what you want from your author-agent partnership. Virtually all agencies serving the Christian market follow industry standards for commissions, making that aspect a neutral factor. Having researched agencies and visualized the type of agent you want, you’ll be in a good position to target those agents to approach.
Here is how an author-agent meeting might look from both perspectives:
FIRST IMPRESSION (if in-person)
Writer: Does the agent seem to be genuinely interested in putting me at ease? Does the agent seem attentive to me and interested in my introduction to my project, or is the agent already showing signs of a lack of enthusiasm?
Agent: Professional appearance? Does the writer show confidence via eye-to-eye contact, friendly smile, and firm handshake? Does the writer appear to be prepared for this career step with a compelling elevator pitch (aka 30-second pitch)?
Writer: What kinds of questions is the agent asking me about my writing background? Does the agent appear to share my passion for my genre or topic? How is the agent directing the conversation? (You’ll begin to get an idea of his or her approach to agenting.)
Agent: Is the writer prepared with adequate answers to my basic get-acquainted questions about the writer’s commitment to improving craft or ability to give his or her nonfiction topic a fresh angle? Do I like the answers?
GETTING TO THE MEAT
Writer: If I need an encourager, am I getting the sense this agent provides that? Is the agent offering constructive feedback and information? Am I getting the sense this agent is forthright and honest in the feedback, but kind in the delivery? (These clues will inform you if this is the type of agent who is willing to invest time and thought in you, which may be an important value to you.) Do I see indications that our personalities are connecting and complimentary? (This is important in any author-agent partnership.) Is the agent up to date with industry changes? Has the agent adequately responded to my questions about his or her core values? (To discern the agent’s values and beliefs, describe several hypothetical situations and ask the agent how he or she would deal with them. By the end of the meeting, you should have a sense of what the agent values so you can determine if they are a match for yours.)
Agent: Does the writer’s responses to my questions about level of craft, branding, and amount of work necessary to be considered by publishers indicate the writer is teachable and willing to do what it takes? (This is a high priority for a long-term author-agent partnership.) Do the writer and I share the same core values and beliefs? (This is all-important, foundational really. The author and agent must value similar character traits to have a positive partnership.) Do I get the sense this writer and I would not be compatible in other ways, that we’d frequently be pushing each other’s buttons? (For example, some are slow and methodical; others are quick to act. While not a deal-breaker, you’ll need to work harder at your relationship.)
What are you looking for in an agent? What does that sweet spot look like to you? If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, what did you learn from it? Conversely, share your good-fit experience.
The author-agent partnership: how to find the right fit for you. Click to Tweet.
Author-agent meetings are two-way interviews. See how. Click to Tweet.