I’m probably the worst person to ask about agents. I’ve had 5 ½ of them in my 20 years in this business. (The ½ was an agent I sent requested material to and when I followed up 6 weeks later I was told she was fired and no one knew anything about my manuscript. Hence the ½).
I have gotten smarter with time. I recognize there are things I want out of an agent and things I definitely don’t want. I want an agent who is hands on. Who reads the material before she/he sends it out. How else do they know which editors to target? I want an agent who is responsive. I don’t want to have to make an appointment for a phone call but I do expect my calls to be returned within 48 hours unless my agent is travelling or sick or whatever. I want an agent with good negotiating skills who isn’t a bitch/bastard. I lost a hunk of my career because agent #4 lit into my editor and got me labeled a problem author and I was not asked to write for them again. Yes, I want him/her to be aggressive, just not abrasive. I have several former agents who are friends and they tell me stories about how they’d avoid calls from certain agents because they were so unpleasant. Definitely not what I want.
So let’s take a trip down memory lane. I sold my first book without an agent and all my chapter buds said that was a mistake, that I needed an agent. So I hired the one who represented several people I knew. After a year or so I learned she had a pretty hefty cocaine habit. She is sadly, no longer with us. One down.
Still not knowing that having an agent when one writes for Harlequin is pointless, I hired another agent I met at a conference and liked very much. It wasn’t until well into our relationship that I found out two things. My editor had offered a 3-book deal and she told my editor she didn’t think I was up to the task and suggested two of her other authors to write books 2 and 3. Thing 2 – she was a good friend of the first Mrs. Pollero. Two down.
Agent 3 committed the unforgiveable sin. Even though I was calling her on a regular basis to find out where my check was for delivering a manuscript, she kept flipping me off, promising she’d send it ASAP when it arrived. Well, she did send it ASAP when it had arrived months earlier, only she sent it to another author. Three down
½ agent, see above
Agent 4 had real potential. She was one of those agents with enough clout to move me from relative obscurity into single title. Which she did and I’m grateful to her for that. In between that, she was busy tanking my Harlequin career by pitching fits and making unrealistic demands. After 2 years of not having calls returned promptly or at all. Of emails that did nothing, I fired her in a 30-second phone call. Four down.
Fifth agent has been working well for almost 3 years. She is responsive, smart, savvy and knows everyone in the publishing world. She’s professional and a great sounding board so we work well together. Sadly, she was with another agency when I signed with her, so former agency is getting the commission, so basically #5 has been working for free for the last couple of years. Poor #5. Hopefully as we enter contract negotiations, I can finally start making her some money.
Want an agent? Know what you want from that agent. Know that agent’s history (check them out online and on Publishersmarketplace.com). If possible, talk to a present client. Know what that agent is offering – consultation and suggestions or a mail forwarding service. Find the right agent for your place in the publishing world.
There are many agents who excel at making first sales. But they aren’t so good at moving you up the publishing food chain. There are agents who are great at taking an author from phase one of their careers up to mid-list. Then there are über agents who try to get you serious recognition and serious money. Shoot for the right kind of agent. Don’t be afraid of baby agents. Sometimes the newbies are the hungriest to make a sale.
Picking an agent is a very personal thing. One might be golden for your best friend but you may not get on and vice versa. If you do sign an Agency contract, be very careful about restrictions placed on your work. The best clause is termination of representation within 30 days written notice by either party. Agent agrees to pull all active submissions and return all rights to the author.