Thursday, March 03, 2011

Picking Your Agent

I’ve done a number of blog posts on choosing an agent. What questions to ask, how to shop around, and how to know if an agent is right for you. Obviously, all of my posts are from my perspective and not from the perspective of someone who has actually made that decision herself.

Recently, though, in talking with an author I had offered representation to, I learned a lot about the process and felt more secure about the ability authors have in making that decision. This author had received multiple offers from agents. We were talking for the second time, and I asked how it was going. She said it was overwhelming, but the one thing she discovered is that you can learn a lot about an agent by the way she offers representation. And I thought that made a lot of sense. For those who have never received an offer, think of it this way. Did the agent call or email? Did she take the time to talk with you or simply offer and let it go at that? Did she offer with stipulations on revisions or simply offer and tell you she loved it?

Now, keep in mind there is no right answer to how an agent offers or how an agent answers your questions. In other words, the right answer is the one you deem correct, because the agent is working for you, not your friends or critique partners.

And while I’ve covered this information before, I think it’s worthwhile to hear it from another author as well: http://jmeadows.livejournal.com/819549.html

Jessica

18 comments:

Jennifer said...

Great post - reminds me of when I was trying to decide where to go to grad school. I went with the one school that actually called me when I requested info. I liked the personal touch.

Jodi Meadows said...

Thanks for linking, Jessica!

ryan field said...

I love Jodi's blog. I've been following her since I discovered her on Jenny Rappaport's blog.

Kate Douglas said...

Very timely post, Jessica, as there's a discussion right now on the RWA-PAN list about this very thing. Going to post the link there now.

Elle Grace - Miss. City Girl said...

Great post. I'm currently playing with the idea of seeking an agent. I've been approached by several publications to write for them and I'm so scared that I'm going to get screwed over. I don't know the first thing about any of this! Scary stuff!

Kristin Laughtin said...

That's a good point. It will probably also give you an idea of the agent's general communication style, i.e. if an agent calls and has a personal conversation with you while offering representation, that agent probably won't be the type to never communicate again. Of course, I doubt there's a perfect correspondence, but depending on the situation, it might be a good way to gauge.

Karen said...

Very true. Recently, I was in the horrifyingly enviable position of multiple offers of representation from agents--and I say horrifying because choosing amongst your dream-team agent field is one of the most stressful situations to find yourself in.

What was interesting was the agent's different perspectives on the manuscript, and the diversely differing plans to shape my story. Guess I hadn't considered that my choice in agent was going to ultimately change the focus of my little book (just to add another layer of stress!)

One suggestion from an agent that I found helpful was to contact some of her clients through their websites and find out from THEM her work ethic. Writers are generous souls--I had a lovely chat with an author who interrupted her holiday with her family to answer my questions. If I wasn't such a huge fan of hers before, I definitely would be after that experience.

Ultimately, it came down to who felt right. Who shared my vision, who had the reputation and work ethic and passion.

And everyday I count my blessing that I made such a perfect choice. Jessica Faust is everything wonderful you've heard about her . . . and then some.

Anna De Simone said...

well done... thx u for share with us :)

Christine said...

Thank you for sharing this information. When reading this kind of post, I feel as if I've had a college course condensed in a few paragraphs.

Elena Aitken said...

Great post.
I think so often writers get caught up in the excitement of being offered an agent that we forget to take the time to find the one that's 'right' for us.
A very good point...how the agent offers representation will be a good indicator of how they will work.
thanks.

Sharla Scroggs said...

I like the personal interaction. My call was very personal and made it just like two women talking about my book. It was awesome and I wish I could have recorded it to play back later because I was so flabbergasted I think I forgot half of what was said...lol

I think it would be better from the agent's pov too, because then they get to share in that moment when they change an author's life. Get to witness that second of shock! LOL.

Melissa (ATX) said...

Loved both blogs! I must say, however, that I feel a tad bit overly-optimistic reading them. "When choosing between agents ..." has all the realism (to my mind) of "When you win the state lottery ..."

:)

Elizabeth said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine got a request for a partial from an agent. Nine months later (!!), the agent requested the full with a six month exclusive (!!). Ten months into the exclusive, she sent revisions. Five months after the revisions were turned in, she sent more revisions. Then, a while after those revisions were sent in, she sent even more revisions, only this time there was a postscript attached that read, "By the way, I sent out the standard agency agreement. Let me know if you have any questions."

Friend was ecstatic, and she and her agent have since gone on to sell quite a few books. But me? I still think that was pretty rotten. I mean, she was in limbo for three years. Three years without a phone call or a discussion or even a response to an email asking for a status update. And the agent can't even take the time to go over the terms of the contract or make a formal offer? Maybe I'm being overly sensitive in my weakened state (I just got over pneumonia) but that was five years ago and I still find it presumptuous.

Karen Duvall said...

I agree with you, Elizabeth. I went through a similar situation, but it wasn't as long (about a year) and the agent opted not to offer representation in the end. However, I learned a lot from the experience and don't regret it one bit. Three years is too much, though.

Now I have a wonderful agent who knew after speaking with me for the first time about my attitude and approach to revisions that she would take me on. So the offer came first and the revisions second, and she sold the book in a 2-book deal.

I think writers want and expect different things from their agent. Some want no interaction and others want to be a team (my preference). I consider my agent a partner in growing my career because we both benefit. That's the important thing, that the relationship be productive and enjoyable for you both.

Lucy said...

@ Elle Grace

Most agents, if not all, represent books--that means you don't usually have an agent if you're writing for magazines. If I read your comment correctly, it would be magazine offers you're considering.

Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't educate yourself to what's out there. I recommend checking out sites like Preditors and Editors, and Writer Beware (written mostly by Victoria Strauss, whose advice continues to help smart writers stay out of bad situations). Read back into the archives of both sites, and it will definitely be an informative experience.

Good luck, and continue to be cautious--as long as it's informed caution, you'll be ahead of two-thirds of the population. :-)

B. A. Binns said...

I received an email, and I was perfectly happy with that, it is my preferred communication style these days. But the email was only a request to talk at my convenience - I loved that part, because it gave me time to research the agent I knew nothing about (sweat to God, I did everything backwards, I won a contest, got the final judge interested and then investigated who that final judge was.) Anyway, it was the discussion over the phone that did it, that and her asking me about how I wanted to communicate with her. I had another offer at the time, but she was the more enthusiastic person, and that plus the way she came after me, is what really led me to chose her.

5pocketphilosopher said...

Do Literary Agents reply with form letters or are they personal? Everyone rejection letter was so nice. They all said I had talent and that though they couldn't represent me, somebody would. Is that what they say to everybody?

If it is, I may want to self publish my first novel and focus on my stronger second novel.

Anna Zagar said...

Thanks for sharing this. I recently posted my own experience of receiving multiple offers on my blog. It was a crazy experience, but in the end, I went with sheer enthusiasm and it paid off. She sold my MS within two weeks to Macmillan! I agree with Jessica: how did they offer rep? Was it based on contingent revisions? All of these were factors in my decision.