Thursday, February 07, 2008

Choosing the Best Agent

I recently did a post on Agent Research Sites, and I thought the related question below was a great one. I’ve done a couple of posts on how to identify a bad agent and the scam agents everyone should avoid, but I’m not sure there’s been a lot on how to find a list of good agents. Probably because there is only sort of a list.

How do you determine which are the better/best agents out there? I've done research on Publishers Marketplace, read countless webpages - both agencies own and places like Absolute Write - but still, at best, it seems agents are listing maybe 2-3 deals so far this year, with maybe 1 in a specific genre. I know not all agents list every deal, but how do you know who will give you the best chance to sell your book? Is there somewhere else I should look? My book is upper YA - is there a list somewhere (other than Agent Query) of the most successful agents by genre? What is the typical number of deals an agent does annually? What percentage of books are likely to find a legit agent, but still not sell? I know there are a lot of questions in this, but any/all advice would be appreciated!

It sounds like you are doing the right things. I would always recommend Publishers Marketplace and of course Preditors and Editors, but beyond that things can get a little sketchy. You can check out AAR, too, although to be a member you have to have been agenting for 18 months, which means that if you are only reviewing AAR, you might be missing out on some very talented, experienced fresh blood. Eighteen months is a long time, and I know that by the time we became AAR members we were already well established and looking for authors with less of a need to fill spots.

However, despite all of that advice, I don’t think that’s what you are looking for. It seems you’ve already done your research and know who is reputable. Now you just want to know who is actually good and who will be good for you. Well, unfortunately that’s going to require conversations with other writers, visits to discussion boards, writers' loops and chats at writers' group meetings. And of course it’s going to take some gut instincts. If an agent is reputable, selling books in your genre (and Publishers Marketplace, of course, only has those deals that people are reporting; most agents have, or should have, a great number of deals outside of just those on Pub Marketplace), and experienced in contract negotiation and career building, you’re probably in good shape.

Unfortunately there’s no place that I know of, other than maybe an agent’s web site, that will list all of the deals an agent does annually, or who is the most successful. Especially since that would be somewhat subjective. Is an agent who has 300 clients and some bestsellers but no time to really give to any of them more successful than the agent who has only one client who just happens to be Dan Brown? Or is the agent more successful who has 25 published clients but has never really moved any of them forward in their careers, versus the agent who has three published clients but has gradually and successfully built all of their careers over time? I think what makes an agent successful is one who is able to give each of her clients what they want and need and help each of them attain their individual goals.

It sounds like you’ve done all the research you can. Now it’s up to you to send the work out there and make the final decision when the call comes. Is the agent who offers the right agent for you? And, of course, maybe my readers can share their own experiences and advice on how they went about choosing which agents to query.