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How to Know When an Agent Is Right for You
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
February 2020
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
February 2020

Today's guest post was written by Akemi Dawn Bowman, the author of Harley in the Sky (available March 10, 2020).

There are so many moving parts in publishing, and most of them are completely out of a writer’s control. We don’t know whether our books will sell—or how well they’ll sell. We can hope for a beautiful cover, splashy promo, good placement in stores and a multi-city book tour, but oftentimes hope and reality are rarely the same thing.

But we can control the writing. We can focus on the words instead of the noise. And we can choose an agent who will not only be the best advocate for our stories, but for ourselves, too.

I have always viewed the agent-author relationship as a partnership. It requires mutual trust and respect, but it’s also going to be different for everyone. Because like most relationships in life, people don’t always want the same thing. That’s why choosing the agent that’s right for you is so important—because if a partnership is going to work, you’re best off finding someone whose goals and work style align with your own. And the best way to do that is by asking questions.

Compatibility

Every agent cares about book sales. This is a business relationship, after all. But that doesn’t mean they’re all going to navigate your budding career in the same way.

Do you want someone who is invested in your career for the long term, even if your first book doesn’t sell? If you write across genres and age ranges, do you want an agent who is going to be happy to see you venture into other avenues? Do you see your books being commercial and buzzworthy, or quiet and literary? And does your agent agree?

Again, you’re looking for a partnership. You want to make sure you and your agent are on the same page, as much as possible, and that you both have similar views on your value and potential as a writer.

Editing Style

Learning to handle criticism is a necessary skill. Your agent may ask you to rewrite a third of your manuscript, and months down the line you may get an editor who asks you to rewrite it all over again. It’s part of the business, and it’s important to be flexible while also staying true to the story you want to write. But you also want your manuscript to be in the best shape possible before going out on submission, and a good agent will understand that.

Some agents want a manuscript that’s submission-ready. Others love the potential of a project and are eager to provide editorial input. Do you want an agent who is very hands-on with your manuscript? Do you work well with general feedback, or do you need line edits and detailed notes? Do you want an agent who is going to be brutally honest about what works and what doesn’t, even if it isn’t always what you want to hear?

Writers need to be able to collaborate and work well with feedback. But you also want someone who gets the heart of your story. Because if your agent gets you, there’s a better chance they’ll be able to match you with an editor who gets you, too.

Enthusiasm

It’s wonderful when an agent loves your book, but it’s also important to find an agent who is enthusiastic about your career as a whole. Because sometimes books don’t sell. And publishing is often a long-game, with many ups and downs.

Is having an agent who not only deals with contracts and sales but also acts as a mentor and a cheerleader something that’s important to you? Do you want someone who is prepared to offer support and a good pep talk when publishing is making you anxious, or are you happy as long as the business side of things is handled well? Your agent is the main person throughout the publishing process that will always be fighting your corner, so it can be great to have someone on your side whose enthusiasm matches your own. Especially if the day comes when you need someone to talk you out of an imposter-syndrome black hole.

Communication 

A great agent doesn’t just get you a book deal and bolt; they also make sure things between you and your new publisher go as smoothly as possible. They’ll maintain an open line of communication, and make you feel like it’s always safe to go to them with questions.

Transparency is vital for a lot of writers, and you might want an agent who is going to be honest and help you manage expectations. Maybe you like to be informed every step of the way, or maybe you’re someone who is fine just getting infrequent emails about the important points.

But what happens if your first book doesn’t sell? What happens if you aren’t happy with your contract, or things start to go south with your publisher? What happens if your second and third books don’t sell? What happens if your agent hates your newest manuscript?

The reality is that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and you need to be able to communicate your feelings to your agent, and vice versa. And like any healthy relationship, communication is key. And at the end of the day, your agent can’t help you if they don’t know there’s a problem.

I’m not someone who believes in universal advice, so I can’t say for sure what will work for you, and what won’t. The fact is, we’re all different. But I really believe the first step in finding the agent that’s right for you is to figure out what you want from the partnership. Ask questions. Request to be put in touch with the agent’s other clients, and learn about their experiences. Do your research and make the most informed decision you can.

And remember: you’re looking for someone who is going to be the best advocate for you and your work, and you’re the only true expert on what that looks like. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut.

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Comments
  • Rose CG Writing

    Hi, thank you for the wonderful tips. Keep them coming.