Finding the Agent Who Gets You

I’ve talked a lot of late about writing as a business, but writing is an emotional subject too. Everyone  – author or not – has a favorite book, one in which the characters sometimes seem more real than imagined. I joke about “killing off my imaginary friends” on a regular basis. (I’m a mystery author – it’s what we do.) Authors have passion for their work – and for publishing generally. We have to. There’s no other reason to stick it out as a wordsmith.

In honor of that, and of this morning’s fantastic news that my writing-group sister Heather Webb has signed with Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, I thought I’d talk a little about the times when emotion should factor into an author’s decisions.

Deciding to accept an agent’s offer of representation is one of them.

Not the initial decision, mind you – an author must decide which agents to query based upon logic and business sense. Pitching your romance series to a non-fiction agent will get you about as much traction as running across an icy pond in ballet shoes.

The initial choice to query is a business decision alone. Which agents sell works similar to yours? Which ones are interested in launching new authors’ careers? Has an agent given interviews or made statements that make you believe he or she would make a good business partner for you? (Note: we’re talking about belief based on facts, not a “woo-woo” sense that you were her pet canaries in previous lives.)

Picking BIG NAME AGENT_001 just because (s)he is famous is not the right reason to make the call.

But once the queries are out, the requests come in, and you find yourself on the phone with a real, live breathing agent who offers you representation (and once that agent has satisfactorily answered your business questions about the offer) it’s time to let emotion into the room.

Because the last question…the final hurdle…the cornerstone of any author-agent relationship boils down to this:

Does (s)he get you?

Does the agent love your work with a passion that echoes your own? Can you hear the excitement and joy in the agent’s voice? Is this someone you feel would make the right partner for you and the work?

If the answer to those questions are yes…congratulations, you’ve found your agent.

There are many agents out there who could sell any author’s work. Competent professionals with more than adequate skills and sales records. The thing that sets your agent – the one that’s right for you – apart from the others is ultimately an intangible: your agent loves your work as much as you do.

How do I find that agent? You ask. I’m tearing my hair out…what do I do?

The answer is simple: you follow sensible advice from websites like Query Shark, and from (other) agents and authors who blog and speak about the process. The real reason for tailoring your agent search is efficient use of resources – if you write mystery, wouldn’t you rather send your work to be read by a mystery fan? Research helps you target the agents most likely to love your work.

Sometimes the process is easier than others. Sometimes an author connects with the agent right away – and sometimes authors have to send multiple queries to find the agent who truly connects with the writer and the work. Professionalism and perseverance are valuable skills in this business.

But when the moment comes – when you’re on the phone with an agent and trying to convince yourself that you’re not just dreaming the excitement you hear in the agent’s voice when (s)he talks about your work…when you find the one that gets you…you will understand that all the work and business skills have finally paid off big-time.

And then, dear writer….emotion can have its day.