Selecting An Agent – Literary or Publicity

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.

4 Comments on Selecting An Agent – Literary or Publicity

  1. Christine
    May 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm (6 years ago)

    GREAT article, and exactly what I was searching for.

    I’m a pre-published children’s author (middle-grade novel for ages 8-13), and I’ve currently got two agents interested in my manuscript (an unbelievable situation). They both offer similar and excellent advice. Neither one is in the children’s area, but they’ve bot established an impressive track record. One is a friend from college, so we have a great history and mutual respect. We’ve talked about how a literary collaboration could potentially ruin our friendship if it goes sour, so it’s “on the table”. The other is a hard-working agent referred by a friend, an older and more established professional whose responsiveness seems only slightly ahead of the first agent’s. They’re both looking at my revisions now, and if one makes an offer of representation before the other, is it prudent to let the other know? I don’t love the idea of “playing them off each other”, though I did exactly that with two car dealerships when I purchased my car (and came out ahead)…after all, it’s business. It worries me to work with a friend, but then having a friend to cover my back sounds like a dream. What would you do?

    Reply
    • admin
      May 21, 2012 at 8:27 am (6 years ago)

      Hi Christine! First of all, congrats on the two agents! That’s great! So if one agent offers to represent you, then you should definitely let anyone who has your manuscript know, even agents who may be looking at three chapters or ones you have recently queried. Your email should be short and professional, letting them know that you have been offered representation and are checking in on the status of your manuscript before making a decision. Put “Offer of Representation” in the subject title. I don’t think you have to play them off each other, but to use your car metaphor, you’re in the driver’s seat here. I think you need to decide whether YOU can work with your friend. I’ve been burned by this in the past but that’s because of my personality (I tend to get emotionally compromised very quickly) so I would probably opt for the non-friend agent. HOWEVER, there are many people who can maintain friendships that are also business relationships. It really comes down to parameters – once you both set them and respect them, you should be ok. If you choose to go with another agent, could that also affect your friendship? At the end of the day, the only person you have to make happy is you. You need to feel confident in your decision … that the agent you have chosen will be able to SELL your book. Good luck with your decision. Whichever you choose will be the right one!

      Reply
  2. admin
    July 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm (6 years ago)

    Hi Kat, first of all, congratulations! That’s fabulous! Good luck to you!! 🙂

    I’m not saying to look solely at that, but if you are a debut author, you have to consider the fact that you need the big guns. You will need someone who has a track record selling in your genre because they’re the one who will get you YOUR deal. If they are both awesome agents (score!), then you pick based on which one you click with more.

    This post was based on my experience. I made an emotional decision, and went for an agent who wasn’t a YA agent (although I loved her to death), instead of the shark who had the sales numbers. In hindsight, if I could reverse that decision, sometimes I think that I’d like to, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason. And I’m where I am because I’m meant to be here.

    Here are the 5 things I think are important in agent selection (in no particular order, you should rank them according to which ones are most important to you): Sales track record in genre, responsiveness & communication, personality mesh, agency size and reputation, and client references. Keep in mind bigger is not necessarily better.

    At the end of the day, it’s what works best for you. If someone has a great track record, but you can’t stand them, I’d definitely consider that. I mean, you have to like them to some degree or you’re going to want to punch them every time you talk to them. Not good either way. On the flip side, if you love someone like a long-lost sister, but they haven’t sold anything, well, the word on the street is no agent is better than a bad agent.

    Hope that helps!! Good luck! I hope it all works out!! Stay positive, and you can’t fail!

    Reply
  3. Katherine
    July 15, 2011 at 2:37 am (6 years ago)

    Hi, This is a really great post. I have two agents looking at my manuscript at the moment. If they both fancy representing me are you suggesting to look solely at their sales track/deals as the basis of the decision without considering personality clashes etc?

    Reply

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