Since I decided to apply myself to my burgeoning career as a writer I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of agents. How to get an agent, what an agent can do for you, why bother to have an agent etc… I made the choice to pursue the traditional path of publishing because I’m brand new to the whole writing world and I wanted to find someone who knows more than I can read on the internet to guide me.
Now, for obvious reasons, agents aren’t easy to come by. There’s the querying, then the sending the pages, then the anticipation and long waits. But in a lot of cases once you get accepted into Agentland it seems like a pretty good place to be. However, I have heard some horror stories, tales of neglect and being cheated, of communication breakdowns and other issues relating to writers and their agents.
In all the talk of getting an agent, the breathless hoping and the crossed fingers, I don’t often hear about people setting expectations for their agent. In fact, more often than not, it seems to be the other way around. Perhaps it’s the scarcity of the acceptance letters that keep writers from being realistic and business-minded about the prospect of getting an agent’s attention, but the more I dip my toe in the waters of the agent sea, the more I try to solidify my own expectations and form a wish list of my own for finding a good agent match.
I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve been in business for myself for probably around eight years now and I find that has helped me to understand what it is I’m looking for in a business partner. Because that’s what an agent is, a business partner. Agents are the people who will represent you in the publishing world, they are the people who will help you make money and they are the people who will champion your work just as much as you will champion it yourself. As a writer, you are definitely an artist, but you are also a business person running your own small business and I find it helps me to see it as such. Because I don’t want just anyone to join my business, do you?
You can learn a certain amount about an agent through internet searches and websites, but the real trick is getting to know them (if they like your work enough to give you a call or offer representation). It’s at that point when you have a choice. You don’t just have to jump into business with the first person who likes you, although it may be tempting after all that longing and waiting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and figure out if the agent you are in contact with is the right fit for you and your work.
Agents often have wish lists, books they want to represent or topics they are interested in (which you can generally find in their interviews or on their websites), but as writers I think it’s important that we do too. As I spend more time in the industry, meet people and do my research, I try to narrow down my own agent wish list to the most important points. So in the future when I (hopefully) get the chance to work with an agent, I’ll know what I’m looking for.
Here’s my agent wish list:
Good Communication – Communication is key for any good business partnership. Can I be honest with this person? Can I ask them questions? Do they respond in a timely manner to my communications? Are they willing to be honest with me? Do we have a good flow to our communications?
Shared Literary Interests – Although I have a style and a general tone to my work (typically magic realism), sometimes I like to experiment. I want an agent who enjoys all of my work and is interested in a bit of diversity of style, genre and format.
Open Minded – Most of my main characters tend to be bisexual. I sometimes write books about sex and drugs (not always, but it happens). I need an agent who is open to LGBT characters and the idea of things getting a little racy.
Hands-On Industry Guidance – I’m a publishing noob but I’m totally willing to work my ass of to make my career a reality. I’m looking for someone who wants to work with me to help me learn the ropes of the industry.
Passion – I’m crazy passionate about things I dedicate myself to. Sometimes to the point of insanity. I need an agent who is just as passionate and excited as I am, because I want to feel the shared love for the work.
Sense of Humour – I like my business partners like I like my friends, with a sense of humour about things. Life’s too short to take things too seriously and I want to know that I can have a laugh with someone I’m going to work closely with!
That’s pretty much it. I guess it’s not a lot to ask for, but I’m sure there are agents out there who will fit that criteria and those who won’t. But when it comes time to decide I don’t want to settle for someone who won’t be a good long term business partner, I don’t think any writer should!
Writers – Do you have an agent wish list? Feel free to share!
Agents – What are your thoughts on writers having wish lists? Do you have wish lists of your own?