The Right Agent for a Debut Author

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

You’ve probably heard about the importance of finding the right agent for you and your body of work, rather than just saying “yes” to the first agent who comes along. There are plenty of criteria upon which to base this decision. The agent’s track record, their level of interest in your project, the feeling of a good fit—these all come in to play.

Today I want to mention one particular thing you might want to pay attention to, if you’re a new author hoping to be launched into the marketplace:

Try to choose an agent who has experience launching debut authors.

Most agents take on a certain number of new, unpublished authors each year. But some have a client base that is mostly established authors, and it may have been years since they launched a newbie. Since publishing has changed drastically in the last ten years, you want someone who knows how to do this in the current publishing landscape.

I recently spoke with an author who had turned down my offer of representation the previous year, in favor of a larger and more well-known literary agency. The agent hadn’t sold her book, and consequently dropped the client. I questioned the writer about this, trying to figure out what went wrong because I know this writer has several more good books to offer. If I’d been the agent, I’d have learned what I could from the first round of rejections and forged ahead with book #2, making sure we didn’t make the same mistakes the second time around.

The writer got the impression that the agent, having worked mostly with established authors, didn’t have the stamina or the passion to persevere in the face of this daunting challenge. That made sense to me—I know from experience what it takes to be committed to new authors. I must believe whole-heartedly in the project and the author if I’m to have the determination to push through the inevitable roadblocks a debut author faces.

Finding the Right Agent

If you read agent blogs and Twitter feeds, you can sometimes see who has a heart for new writers. If you’re talking to an agent about representation, you may want to ask if they’ve launched new authors. I’m not saying you need an agent who has only new authors, but someone who launches at least one or two a year would be great.

Our agency is committed to bringing up new authors, even while we take care of our clients who are multi-published authors. We’ll always have at least a couple of brand new writers on our lists.

The world of books will always need fresh content, fresh voices. And we will always seek them out.

Do the agents you’re considering love launching new authors? You may want to ask them: Do you ever work with new writers? How long has it been since you launched a debut author? What would you expect to do if this book doesn’t sell?


Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

15 Responses

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  1. Thank you! As a newbie, this isn’t something I had even thought to consider.

  2. Thank you for this post and all the guiding questions. I hadn’t consider asking them or exploring the answers to them before.

  3. Good thoughts, and I’d use them as possible to select agents to whom I might submit, but I could hardly imagine reverse-interviewing an agent!
    * Being offered representation would be a singular enough event for me that I’d take it on faith that the agent knew of my status (were I a debut author), and would behave with professionalism appropriate to the situation.

    • A PS, for what it’s worth. If you read this, please understand that I’m not represented by anyone, and did just about everything wrong in trying to build a writing career.
      * Were I starting over, this is what I’d do:
      1) Research agencies, and individual agents, to see if they’re representing my genre. If they’re not, even if I was offered representation, the agent might very well have a steep learning curve to present my work effectively.
      2) For the agencies that might work out, check out the ‘Who We Represent’ link that most agency websites have. Agencies are proud of their authors, and a bit of research can identify who is doing a lot with debut authors. Just check out the backlist of each author, and you’ll know. (But remember that this information will be about 18-24 months ‘out of date’, as it takes a while for TradPub to get a book to the masses.)
      3) While you’re doing this, follow the agencies you’re interested in on social media, and become a regular (and low-key) commenter. Be present, but don’t be the verbose nitwit spamming up the ether; they’ll remember your name when you submit, never fear, if you’re consistently there. (Yeah, I was the verbose nitwit…makes me cringe.)
      4) This whole process takes time; the only instant successes are ghostwritten books keyed to ‘ripped-from-the-headlines-calamities’. So use that time to develop your own online identity, your own brand. The decision to represent and publish your work is in large part financial, and showing you have a good ‘reach’ – and stellar writing – will position you really well.
      * Do these, and I think you’ll have as good a chance as possible to secure representation, which is the first step to a successful TradPub career.
      * Don’t be like me, and say, at the end, “I wish I’d done it that way.”

  4. David Hotaling says:

    I would likebto know more about the types of works you would be interested in. So far I have not had much luck finding an agent that would represent such a diverse field. I have sevral manuscripts that I am currently trying to make better. Sincerely
    David Hotaling

  5. Lynn Case says:

    IN the past I have sent query letters to your company for my 1st and 2nd novels, only to be turned down. I currently have my 3rd novel “Gabrielle, lost” getting a lot of attention. This novel was reviewed and recommended by Author Solutions for a Studio Feature Film project. A script, presentation video, and an international campaign are being put together. I think I am in need of an agent at this point. My books are for women and about women. I still feel your agency is a perfect fit for my work

  6. Rachelle, I love the practical questions you offer for writers to ask potential agents, especially the question about what an agent would do if a book doesn’t sell.. Knowing these answers can help a writer make a wise decision. And I appreciate your perspective on agents taking on new writers. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wisdom, Rachelle!

  7. Rachelle, thanks so much for the post. Qualified and quality professionally and personally–since one affects the other. Being a member of the local chapter of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers for those who may not know) for the past six years has been part of my education in the craft of writing. If there is one thing I have found out from learning from those who have gone before me is be careful who you choose as an agent. I have heard some stories that I would not want to emulate. Thankfully, I have also watched with eager love things those in our group who are published and well-agented. It is quite a difference. I tend to take time to think things through in spite of my enthusiasm. I work very hard, and put my all I to what I do. My work is filled with my passion for the gift given, and the reader awaiting. For me, it is more important to take the time to find an agent and be well-paired, than be promised and flattered into a less than hoped for match which in the end is good for no one, writer, agent, publisher, or reader.

    I believe I have taken that time, and am very confident in my agency of choice. You know who you are. But, should that not transpire, I know God has another path.

    Once again, thanks Rachelle. I love reading the posts of this blog. I am always gathering information.

    • Please, excuse the typos. I know writing this probably draws more attention to them, BUT dog-nab-it, I do cringe when I see them because it is not a reflection of my work. It is more related to commenting on a cell phone, while my furry little shadow, Peanut, is distracting me.

  8. Such a good point I’ve never really took into consideration. Thanks for sharing!

  9. A challenging glimpse into the mysterious “other side.”


    Most of what we read says agents are up their eyeballs in queries, selecting less than x% for representation, where x lives on the same block as zero. Ms Rowling’s infamous rejection stories line the walls of our Newbies Anonymous meeting rooms worldwide.

    Imagine then the joy of a “yes, let’s do it.” Someone who understands the competitive and challenging minefields of publishing far better than Newbie Me sees enough promise in my project to pass on her other nine million queries!

    The next question (even in our most daring imagination) is likely to be Chantilly Berry Lace cake for the party or Boston Cream Pie, rather than “lemme see, can I get a better agent?”

    The luxury of choosing between willing agents? Our desperate imaginations need serious gym time for that kind of stretch.

    That said, thank you for pointing out that you embrace newbie-ness. 🙂

  10. Great idea, Rachelle! Now my list of questions to ask if an agent offers representation is growing and growing. How will I ever get them to sit long enough for me to ask them all???

  11. Backstory: (yeah..I know 😉
    Some years ago, I’d started a story that my mother wanted to see finished. Unfortunately, she passed before that happened. I felt–and still do–that I disappointed her.

    Eventually I learned it takes a lot more than writing what’s on your heart, though that may be the driving force. And it was a shining moment when I discovered I was going to stay on this course, found ACFW, and continued learning–especially the finer details now, and gaining more experience.

    Then, I noticed something as I read the books I most enjoyed…many of the authors mentioned their agents were from Books & Such. So, I checked it out–and Voila! I’ve met multi-published authors, agents (thankfully, Rachelle is one of them) and entered competitions. All steps on my journey.
    Once more, Rachelle, I need to thank you for your knowledge, experience, and patience while you help us on that journey. I’m sure my Mom is smiling.

  12. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Once again you’ve shared something I’d not considered when talking to agents. Yet the simple wisdom is so obvious now. Thanks, Rachelle!