I know that I haven’t written anything lately in my how-to series on finding and choosing a literary agent. I don’t have much to add if you’ve followed most of the advice I’ve posted in prior iterations, but there’s a couple key things I didn’t note before. I can’t emphasize the importance of this advice, especially because it is something that I’ve learned through my own hard experience. This applies to selecting a literary agent or a public relations agent, or anyone who will have anything to do with your book.
When selecting an agent, especially for a first-time author (and especially if you have more than one choice), be sure to carefully look at the agent’s track record IN THE GENRE THAT YOU ARE IN. In other words, if you are a Young Adult author, make sure they have experience and success in selling Young Adult. The biggest mistake you can make is going with an agent who has zero experience in selling your genre. It doesn’t matter if they are Dan Brown‘s agent or have 1000 non-fiction books under their belt. The editors who buy Young Adult material are different from the ones who buy adult books. The key message here is that you want an agent who already has trusted contacts in the field that you are in, and whether those contacts are publishing houses or media contacts doesn’t matter. This applies across the board because at the end of the day, people buy from people they trust and ones that they have worked with before. This is Sales 101 in any industry.
Next, make sure to do a list of pros and cons, and be objective. Remember, this is a sales game, NOT a popularity contest. It doesn’t matter if you get warm fuzzies when you speak to Mr. Prospective Agent…they HAVE to be able to sell your book, not coddle you. This should not be an emotional decision, it is a business decision. Don’t get sold a bill of goods that you will be their “entry into the steam-punk market” – if they don’t have the track record, reconsider your options. If you have a choice, go with the shark…the one who will sell your book. Don’t worry if you feel you’re just going to be a “number” with that agent or if they don’t make you feel giddy – that’s your emotional ego talking. You don’t even have to like them, because if they can sell your book, that is the only thing that matters. When you get your feet wet with a book sale or two under your belt with Ms. Shark Agent, then you can choose an agent who gives you the warm fuzzies, because you will now have your own sales track record (which publishers can see).
So when selecting a literary agent or a publicity agent, consider these messages:- 1) Select an agent who has a successful sales track record, specifically in your genre; 2) Make sure they love your book (you can’t sell something you don’t believe in); 3) DO NOT make this an emotional decision – it is a business decision. They have to be able to SELL your book whether it’s to a publisher or to people who will buy your book; 4) Make sure you are on the same page with respect to your goals as an author and for your book; 5) Do not be afraid to ask for references from other clients – but be aware that those clients, if current, are also competing for “time” from your prospective agent and may not be as amenable as they could be (I had one reference author tell me that she couldn’t talk to me because she didn’t know who I was and what I would do with any information she gave me. Um, ok). Alternatively, be prepared to take any overly effusive references with a grain of salt. Seek facts, not favors.
Lastly, do not underestimate the value of gut instinct. However, if you’re like me and you’re not sure whether that feeling is really constipation or something else, then consider the facts before you as clearly and objectively as possible. And know that any decision you make will be the right one, no matter what happens.