Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sara: Working with an Agent

The first step in publishing is getting an agent, and this can be the most difficult part, but for the purposes of this post I am going to skip most of the query process. So much great info is already out there about how to market your book; see Saundra’s great post on writing your blurb, for instance:

What is not as widely discussed is how to appropriately market yourself when approaching agents. First, always be professional and courteous. You want to come across as someone agents would want to work with, someone they can see themselves communicating with on a regular basis.

Second, do your research. Some questions to ask yourself: Is this agent’s list a good place for your work? What is his/her reputation? What do you know about her company? Experience?

You should know enough about the agent’s background before querying that you feel confident about accepting representation from her if offered. Know what she represents and what she has sold in the past. All of this information is easily accessible online.

Third, be persistent because this business demands it. I have turned down many saleable projects--all agents have--because they simply were not a fit on my list. I have even had people come back to me with new projects, when the first was not a match, and had that work out. Do not give up easily.

So, you have queried a group of agents you want to work with and one requests a partial manuscript and then calls you the next day to say she loves it -- now what?

Now you need to make sure it is the good fit you thought it would be by talking with her. Have questions ready--not only questions about commissions and the agency contract, though this is information you need to know--but also questions tailored to THIS agent, questions that show her you have done your research and are professional and are thinking critically about the publishing process. Try to get a real sense of her working and communication style.

Hopefully you will get a feeling from this conversation whether or not you have good chemistry. Of course forging a relationship takes some time —and there will be initial nerves at work-- but you should feel comfortable enough to ask the questions you want answered. Also, this conversation should give you an opportunity to gauge her enthusiasm level. Remember to talk to her about YOUR book-- what does she love about it? Publishing is such a tough business and you want, above all, a passionate advocate for your writing. Does she have a vision for the book, for your career? There are few overnight successes and you need an agent who is in it for the long haul. If this agent is not truly in love with your book, find someone who is. It could be an agent with less experience--make sure to consider all factors before making a decision.

Once you have your dream agent, there are some basic rules for maintaining a healthy author-agent relationship. My first is to be open to revisions. Editors often ask me if an author is open to revisions, and I do not want to be in a position to tell them no. Many authors have understandably emotional reactions to requests for revisions, but keep in mind that revising is a give-and-take process. You shouldn’t feel obligated to make every change suggested, but you should be willing to listen.

Another integral part of any good working relationship is trust. If you do not trust your agent, find one you can trust. Remember that an agent is your advocate, and is working for you. You must have faith that her advice is meant to help you.

Finally, be passionate about promoting your work. It’s your book, and there is no better advocate for it than you!


  1. You're right, there is a wealth of information available to those to want to find out about querying but less on what happens next. I am glad you're filling a much needed gap. Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks for posting this Sara! Your information on working with an agent is so useful. The talk you gave at the SCBWI Poconos was the best agent talk I'd ever heard! I can't wait to put your principles to work:-)

    I hope all is well with you!

  3. Great post! Though of course I'm biased. ;)

  4. Great post! I'm happy I found my dream agent. =)