Disclaimer: All opinions below are my own, and are just opinions. They are in no way meant to reference any specific agent, nor to tell you a specific type of agent is better than the other.
A lot of my writerly friends have come to me for advice on choosing an agent (whether an offering one or ones to query), so I thought it would be nice to share the factors that a baby writer like me considered when I was choosing my agent (whom I am still absolutely, squealingly over the moon with*!). Pete Knapp has an amazing post on questions to ask an offering agent, and Jim McCarthy also has a great article on questions to ask a prospective agent (all of which I recited at my prospective agent meetings like a good student) — but I wanted to explore the different factors I, as a writer, weighed after those agent meetings. Because when choosing your McAgent, you just want to get married and live happily ever after.
So, I’m going to try to answer the question: what happens after the Ever After? And how what factors should you consider to make sure you’ll be happy after the Ever After as well?
Choosing an agent is about finding the best fit, not jumping to the one at the most superstar New York agency or the one with the bombest titles. It’s like choosing shoes: sure, there are the Pradas and Valentinos and Manolo Blahniks of the world, but that doesn’t mean their shoes will be comfortable for you. (I need to stop myself before this post derails into the shoe world.)
Today, I’ll outline some of those factors for consideration when you choose a prospective agent. The right fit, though? That’s up to you to decide.
Speaking of comfortable — glass slippers?? Really??? hoW DID THOSE LAST THROUGH AN ENTIRE BALL.
* I literally debated for an entire minute on whether I should end this sentence with a preposition… my agent has better grammar than me and I know he’s going to read this… *hides*
Factor 1: Passion
In my opinion, this is the absolute, number one most important aspect to consider: an agent’s passion for your book. And this is what drove my decision in the end: mine connected with my book on a personal level, and that was the “it” factor that made my heart flutter. Let me tell you why this is so important: because, after the glorious signing-wedding, will come the not-so-glorious stuff (the fights; the realization that, uh oh, she actually does get angry and that’s what she looks like without makeup). In the agent-world, that consists of reviewing your book. Revising. Revising. Revising. And submitting.
The revision process can take months. I’ve heard of people revising for over a year. And at the end of the day, the agent with the most passion for your work will do the best job for your book. If he/she loves your story endlessly, he/she will be the most invested in taking that story and shaping it into the best possible form prior to submitting to editors. You don’t want to choose an agent who is just throwing their hat into the ring just because they think you have a pretty good story. You want The One who will be fall deeply in love with your made-up story, talking about your made-up world and unpronounceable made-up words and made-up characters that he loves like his own. Because he is going to read your manuscript five, ten, twenty times, and still love it, and still come up with new ideas/suggestions.
During submissions, passion is key. There are so many ways to submit, from my (very) limited experience. I’ve heard stories of agents who mass-email editors a bunch of their clients’ books. I’ve also heard stories of agents who meet in-person with the editors to pitch. I have my opinions on which way works best, but at the end of the day, if your agent is passionate about your book and wants to share it with the world, he will work hardest to pitch your book during your submissions.
And — fingers crossed this won’t happen to you, but it does happen — if your book doesn’t sell during the first round? An agent who is more passionate about your book is more likely keep going, because he loves your book and believes in it.
Factor 2: Editorial Process
An agent’s editorial mindset and process is another crucial factor I evaluated. To see this, I had to ask some crucial questions.
- What didn’t you like about my book? What would you change about it? Obviously, all the agents are going to gush about your work, but each agent’s opinion on what needs improvement should weigh equally in your determination. This will allow you to see the editorial vision each agent has for your book, and to suss out if they truly understood the themes. For my agent meetings, I wrote down a list of “what I didn’t like about my book” and noted whether each agent hit some of those, and jotted down some new suggestions each had.
- What is your editorial process? How much time does it take for them to get revisions feedback to you? What kinds of editorial comments do they make? Do they write an edit letter, or go through the manuscript with line-by-line comments, or both?
- The timeline is so important to understand. I’ve heard stories of agents who didn’t get back to writers for months. For reference, my agent sent my revisions to me within 24-48 hours. Every single time. That’s the difference between an amazing agent and a less-amazing agent.
- What is your vision for my book? What are the key themes that resonated?
Again, it’s so important to suss out what an agent’s editing process is. Some agents are very editorial and will send you both an edit letter and go through the entire manuscript line-by-line, whereas others might just point to a few major things that need work and let you go from there. Some might just request you to revise once, whereas others might go through multiple iterations until they’re completely satisfied. It’s entirely up to you to see which style resonates with you.
This is hopefully what happens on your revision journey — except, instead of waving a magic wand, there are a lot of tears, sobbing,
blood, and snacks. And it takes weeks/months.
Factor 3: Communication Style & Personality.
Your partnership with an agent is a long-term relationship, and it’s important to make sure you guys match in terms of communication, and personality. They’re like your business partner, or your colleague. None of us want to work with someone we don’t get along with. For me, my job demands precision and efficiency; I usually respond to my clients’ emails within minutes, and we cannot tolerate mistakes (type an extra “0” in a single cell of an Excel model calculating clients’ interest payments and you’re fired). And I wanted to find an agent who could do the same.
- What is your communication style? Do you prefer email, phone calls, texts, social media, or snail mail? (The last one was a joke.) How often do you connect with your clients?
- How do you take new projects? Do you look at all of my potential ideas and advise as per the market? Do you take a hands-on approach? Or do you let my creative muses (monsters) run loose and then check it out when I’ve produced another manuscript?
- What happens if my book doesn’t sell? This is crucial, because this does happen. *knock on wood* Some first manuscripts don’t sell. And you want to find out what happens when they don’t: Does the agent drop you? Wait for you to produce new work?
- Personality: This is really for you to judge during your phone call/coffee meet-up with the agent. You guys should click in some ways, or at least like each other. Again, it’s like choosing a coworker. Besides the qualifications, you need to look for someone whose work style and personality will make the ride enjoyable.
Factor 4: Agent Stats
Of course, this is going to be a factor, though it makes me feel a bit like
But this is important, not because you always want the one with the most bestsellers, but because it’s an indicator of whether the agent’s work style translates into his/her success. You should have done this research before querying, but it’s not too late to revisit. Publisher’s Marketplace is the best resource to see all the new deals your prospective agents have booked, but I’m sure they have their credentials on their websites, etc.
See what types of books your prospective agents sold — what genres (did they sell in yours?) and when. It’s important to have an agent who’s sold books recently, and even better, sold books in your genre, so that you know they’re current with the industry trends. Also, it doesn’t hurt to take into a peek into their deal sizes 😉
I had a friend ask me about the pros and cons of choosing a super-successful megastar agent, or a relatively newer agent. So, here goes.
Having an offer from a megastar agent is the dream. A megastar agent has clearly demonstrated that he/she has all the connections to the publishing houses, knows what sells, and can do his/her job. They probably have a huge social media presence, and can singlehandedly create a huge buzz for your writerly news. And they have a lot of clout in the industry. You definitely want that, and it’s a no-brainer that having an offer from a megastar agent is AWESOME. You know you’re in great hands of someone extremely capable and talented if you sign with them. The pros are blindingly, dazzlingly clear.
However, there may be some cons as well (remember the theme: is the Prada the right fit for you?). The megastar agent might already have a huge list of clients, and as a result, may have less time for you and your book. You might become the tiny, un-debuted fish in a huge sea of famous authors. Also, if your book needs more work, or you just don’t have time to research so much into the specifics of the publishing processes (like me, whom you should not seek to emulate!), you could need a little more hand-holding. The megastar agent might not be able to do that.
You also have newer agents who might not have a lot of industry stats yet, so understandably, it’s a bit more of a risk. You don’t know if they’re going to have the right connections to the publishing houses. You don’t know if they have good “taste,” or if they have the right editorial vision to fit your book to industry trends so that it sells. You don’t know their work style, whether they have it in them to become a great agent. They’re a blank page — and I get it, that can be a risk.
But if you really like a newer agent, that should not deter you (given that you do your research). I would weigh these factors with the next factor (the agency itself): if the newer agent has a big agency behind him/her to support him/her, that’s a great resource and a great sign. But even if that’s not the case, newer agents can be great for debut authors. They’re often the hungriest in the industry, and will work very hard with you on your book. They’ll do their best to sell it. Why? They have more to lose. They don’t have a big track record of success yet, they’re looking to carve their mark in the industry, and they probably have a smaller list of clients which means more time for you.
Poster-child for a newbie agent who made her first deal as a million-dollar deal with an unknown writer? The founder of the very agency I signed with, Theresa Park. Read the story about how she discovered bestselling author Nicholas Sparks.
So, not to sway you one way or the other, but frankly laying out what I heard during my process and what I considered. And the key? Do your research, and find the best fit for you.
Factor 5: The Agency
This can be a factor when you’re considering an agent: their agency. Is it strong in representing your genre? Do they have a lot of authors in your genre? (Again, as per my above, this can have both pros and cons!) Is the house reputable? (Something else you should have researched beforehand.) What kinds of titles do they have/are they known for?
When I spoke with prospective agents, I asked them about the strategy of their agency in developing my genre. There might be agencies that are well-established in your genre and have a bunch of rockstar authors in your author. That means the agency is well-equipped to sell your book, and they likely have great resources to promote you and market you after the sale (because marketing is imperative to a book’s success these days). That’s a great sign, and the pros are, again, dazzling clear. But some agencies might be trying to develop certain departments for certain genres, and that’s also a good sign. It means they are actively accumulating resources to build their reputation in that genre. They are likely going to put a lot of focus on that genre, and that means that if they succeed, you’re going to be their marquee name in that genre.
Again, ask about (and research) their current standing in your genre, and what their strategy is. Yes, you want find the love of your life and get married and live happily ever after, but it certainly helps if the love of your life has a billionaire king-daddy and a bunch of butlers to buy you Jimmy Choos forever.
So, those were the primary factors I considered when choosing my agent, and I hope this helps! My Twitter writer friend Caroline Quillinan also asked me about what happens post-signing with an agent, so hopefully this gives a brief glimpse into the next steps after you’ve hit that Happily Ever After and celebrated with lots of champagne.
Writer babies, may you live happily ever after with your McAgent, and may you be happy after the Ever After as well!
Best Resources for Researching Your McAgent
- Publisher’s Marketplace: Book deals, clients
- Manuscript Wishlist: An agent’s wishlist for manuscripts
- Agent website
- Agency website
- Agent interviews
- Agent’s clients: Ask your prospective agents to recommend 1-2 clients you can speak with to get a feel for the agent’s style
- Other agented writers in your community: This one helped me so much and is so important — I simply reached out to several amazing agented writers I knew (from Twitter, AbsoluteWrite, etc.) to ask them whether they’d heard anything about my prospective agents. (They also gave me some incredible tips, which led me to create this list.)