Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Finding the Right Literary Agent for You

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

When I first started looking for an agent, my search was just that. The search for an agent instead of the right agent. Which is kinda like if I had looked for a guy to marry instead of the right guy to marry. It's just not going to work out well.

Literary agents are not a one-size-fits-all deal, but many writers (my young self included) take on the search for an agent with a desire to find someone, anyone, who will agree to represent them.

I understand the desperation and remember it well. In some ways, finding the right agent can feel harder than finding the right publishing house. I hope you'll be able to learn from my mistakes.

You are looking for the right agent for YOU.

Some agents are go-getters. The type who blast editors they don't know with queries, drive a hard bargain with a publishing house, and take charge in meetings. Other agents take a more patient, let's-wait-and-see approach.

Some communicate mainly over email and others by phone. Some will respond to you within 10 minutes and others it's 10 days...before you send them a reminder email that they haven't responded to you yet.

Some agents insist on being involved in the shaping of the manuscript. Others view that as strictly your job.

These are good things to know up front about your prospective agent. When my current agent and I were having our first phone conversation, she told me that she can be hard to get a hold of sometimes. That was a really helpful thing for me to know, and it avoided a lot of frustration along the way.

Your agent is not just the person who gets you contracts. They're the person who's looking out for your career. Who is providing counsel. Who has your back if the publishing house isn't holding up their end of the bargain. Your reputation is tied to their reputation because they're who you've chosen to represent you. When your agent is at a conference and starts chatting with an editor about you, you want to know they're behaving professionally and acting in your best interest. Otherwise that reflects poorly on you.

I'm going into all this deetail because I simply didn't get it in the beginning. You want an agent with a good reputation in the industry, who understands the genre you write for, who loves what you write and is excited about you, and whose work style meshes with yours. And that is worth waiting for.

So how do you find these people?

I posted about the methods of querying for agents in my Thursday post. Most writers I know would tell you that meeting an agent at a conference is the ideal route. There's something about the face-to-face time and observing the way they behave in a professional setting. Plus at a conference you'll meet a lot of agented writers who you can talk to about their relationship with their agent. (Most writers will instantly tell you how much they adore their agent, whether it's actually Blissville or not, so you have to be prepared with specific questions to get the info you want.)

Another way to get a sense of who an agent is and if you'd want to work with them is visiting their blog if they have one. If they don't have one, they might have guest posted on a few blogs. The first exposure I had to my agent was in a blog post she wrote about the publishing process that showed a lot of heart.

If you don't even know how to go about finding names of agents, one good resources is AgentQuery.com. This site can help you find a list of agents to investiage. You can also look through the staff names at writers conferences and check acknowledgements sections in books you really like or that are similar to yours.

Will this ever happen for me?

A few months ago, I was feeling very discouraged and asked my agent for a pep talk. (Not really, but it was totally in the subtext.) When we talked she told me, "I know it's an uphill battle. Unless you give up. And then it's not a battle at all."

Finding the right agent for you will likely feel like a battle sometimes. It did for me, anyway. But the other option was giving up, and I wasn't okay with that either. All you can do is lock arms with a fellow writer or two and try to forge up the hill together.



26 comments:

  1. Great post Stephanie. Always good to get more insight on the search on literary agents.

    A question though, how do you stand in the debate of whether or not one needs a literary agent?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are they absolutely necessary for getting published? No. I've met a few multi-published writers who did it without an agent. Usually they met an editor at a conference or something like that. When your books are selling well and your publishing house is backing you, then you're probably fine without.

      That being said, even the authors who landed their contract without an agent are typically searching for one. And I've been in a couple situations now where my agent needed to step in and make sure I was being treated fairly. Had it just been me trying to make the phone calls, I imagine I would have been blown off. Because it was her, the issues were resolved quickly.

      Is that helpful?

      Delete
    2. That's defnately helpful! Thank you for your take on it Stephanie!

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the post! This is very helpful for me.
    So, basically at a writers conference, are agents almost "lined up" at different booths like a buffet, or scattered about the place and you have to find them?
    This might seem like a silly question, but I've never gone to a writer's conference besides OYAN.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wait, I was bouncing around some of the posts you linked on the Thursday post. You get to agents by appointments.... Which sounds more convenient.

      Delete
    2. Not a silly question at all!

      Some of the bigger conferences have you sign up for appointments when you register. You might get two appointments during the conference, but they have you pick who you'd like to meet with (and rank them by importance to you) and then they do their best to be fair to all the writers.

      Then they have agents and editors stationed in various meeting rooms. Usually they're at a desk in a big room with others, or maybe one or two per room. (Kind of like the mentoring appointments at OYAN.) Once I went in to pitch to an editor and my agent happened to be seated at the desk beside her receiving appointments as well. That was a strange feeling!

      Some smaller conferences I've been to have you sign up once you're there and you can sign up for as many as you want. At that conference my appointments were in places like, "the chair by the water fountain" or "the potted plants by the hallway."

      Make sense?

      Delete
    3. Yes, it does. So I assume you make the appointments at the conference?

      Delete
    4. For the big ones I've gone too, you find out what appointments you have when you arrive. It tells you times and locations in your registration packet.

      At the smaller conference, you signed up for what time slot you wanted and it said on the sign-up sheet where you were supposed to go. (And it truly was things like "the potted plants by the hallway door.")

      I'm sure there are other ways conferences do it, but those have been my experiences.

      Delete
    5. So, basically you sign up for appointments before hand? Like with OYAN?
      So you would sign up for an appointment before you get your registration packet. Like, I would want to go to a conference next year, so I start filling in the registration packet on the computer, and there would be places to sign up for an agent. I think you said it would be something like "on a scale from 10 to 1, choose your agents you'd like to meet." Is that correct?

      (Sorry for all the questions) :/

      Delete
    6. No apology necessary :)

      The only big conference I've been to is ACFW. The way they do it (or the way they have done it) is you get one editor and one agent appointment with your registration fee. You list your top four editors and your top four agents in the order of your interest. And it's first come, first serve.

      But if you are interested in only editors or only agents, then you can request that too. And you find out when you get to conference who your appointments are with.

      Delete
    7. Ok. Thank you for clearing that!

      Delete
  3. These posts about publishing have been encouraging, but scary at the same time. Thanks, Stephanie! I hope your family is doing well.
    Another great website, in my opinion, is Predators and Editors. It really helped me when I was putting together a list of potential agents I wanted to query.

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sarah! I know it can be scary. I wish it wasn't :( We still don't know what caused Connor to have a seizure, but he's acting like himself and was able to go to preschool today. The tests at the ER showed it wasn't a tumor or head trauma or anything. Still no clue about the cause, though.

      Predators and Editors is an excellent resource. It's always good to double check people on there. I remember there were a few agents that I was really excited about based on their website, and then on P&E I figured out they weren't what they claimed to be.

      Delete
  4. Searching for agents makes me nervous - I don't know if I could do it. *deep breath* I can though. I can do it with God's help...along with some helpful advice from GTW. :) Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! And it terrified me too, so I understand!

      Delete
  5. Thanks Stephanie! I have dream agents picked out based on who my favorite authors are *but* that's like two people, so when the time comes, I'm definitely going to query/met at a writer's conference waaaaaay more than that. Checking blogs seems like a good place to start. I would also read books by their clients, when doing research...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love your intentions to be thorough, Allison! Very wise!

      Delete
  6. Interesting that your post today complements Rachelle Gardner's post over at the Books & Such blog (and vise versa).

    http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/minimize-the-obstacles-to-publication/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing that, Leah! Rachelle is a wonderful blogger, and I like the way she presented those obstacles in such a clear way.

      Delete
  7. Thanks for the post! And there's a question I've been itching to ask somebody who might know the answer.
    9 weeks ago, an agent whom I contacted, replied, saying she would like to see the whole manuscript. Like I said, 9 weeks have passed and I haven't received any reply other than a, "we got it, thanks!" She's a fairly well known agent, and I'm sure she has a lot on her plate, and it's possible they might not have even begun to read it yet. Still, I was wondering if you think it would be apporpriate to send her a little "nudge" and if so, how I would I word it? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karoline, I've heard two to three months is a fine time to send a respectful nudge.

      Delete
  8. This is now, I think, my favorite post! Thank you so much! :D About the AgentQuery place--where are all of the agents, or do they just tell you the truths about agents these days? And this answers sooo many questions I had! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On Agent Query you can search by a bunch of different categories. So if you're looking for agents who like historical fiction, you can search for that.

      Preditors and Editors will tell you about the reputation of an agency or publishing house, but you have to know who you're looking for.

      Make sense?

      Delete
    2. Yes! Thank you, Stephanie! :D This just made Agent Query SO much more helpful!!!!!! :D

      Delete
  9. What's the difference between an editor and an agent??

    ReplyDelete

Home