Blogger: Mary Keeley
It’s a thrill and no small victory when an agent shows interest in representing you. You have succeeded in presenting a promising proposal and a professional first impression. Is it time to start celebrating?
Well, not just yet. The ideal author-agent relationship is both an authentic business partnership and a personal relationship with a common passion for your work. Wendy Lawton wrote an excellent blog two days ago on what she looks for in an unpublished client. I visualize every agent’s nodding head.
But today, let’s give equal time. What should a new writer look for in an agent? It’s so tempting to go with the first agent who offers representation because it means you’ve cleared the number one hurdle in launching your career, right? And, frankly, you don’t know how long it will be until another agent expresses interest.
At first glance that thought process seems logical and expedient. But stop yourself. There is more to this decision. There are career and personal benefits in having a long-term relationship with your agent, so you should consider some important factors. In your initial interview, ask the agent some questions and evaluate the responses before quickly signing on. (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the pronoun she when referring to agent in the scenarios below.)
Did the agent exhibit a genuine interest in you? Did she ask appropriate questions about your history that contributed to your wanting to be an author? Where you learned your craft? Your interests and passions? Your faith? Awards you’ve won? Does she show interest in your family? These are indications of her level of interest in you as a person.
Did the agent exhibit genuine care and attention in discussions about your branding? After the get-acquainted conversation about you and your book(s), ask the agent to offer initial insights as to your branding. Is her perspective helpful, and did you learn something about her level of expertise? Did she repeat something you said earlier? This interaction will let you know how well the agent has been listening to you.
Was the agent encouraging? Was she warm and engaging, easy to talk to? If it was an in-person interview, was there good eye contact? Assuming she had read your proposal beforehand, did she offer honest feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions for improvement? These clues will inform you if she is the type of agent who is willing to invest time and thought in you. I’ve heard some authors complain that their agent never talks to them unless they have a new book ready to shop. This type of agent works for some authors, but not for everyone.
How was the communication? Did your personalities blend well? Did you seem to be connecting with the agent in your conversation? Did you see indications that your personalities are complimentary? Patience and tolerance are necessary even in the best working relationships. But have you ever run into a situation where the person just pushes all your buttons? When considering an author-agent relationship, that is an obvious non-fit.
Is the agent knowledgeable and up-to-date with industry changes? The publishing industry is changing faster than a race car team changes tires. Ask the agent for her perception of what’s ahead for publishing. Ask how she is currently advising clients to plan for and incorporate new technologies and how they will affect authors’ content.
Do you and the agent share the same core values and beliefs? This is all-important–foundational really. You and your agent should value similar character traits. Some are all about the relationship; some are all about the business side. Some are slow and methodical; others are quick to act. Some people place a high priority on whatever it takes to make the sale. I’ve observed instances in which a writer just wasn’t believable. It’s a matter of values. For those who read our blog, you know that integrity, honesty, and trust are non-negotiables. In your interview, how can you discern the agent’s values and beliefs? Describe some hypothetical situations and ask the agent how she would deal with them. By the end of the interview, you should have a sense of what the agent values so you can determine if those core principles are a match for yours.
What are you looking for in an agent? If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, share what you learned from the experience. Conversely, share your good-fit experience.