Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Search of the Perfect Agent

When homeowners decide to sell their house, they must choose whether to sell it themselves (For Sale By Owner) or to find a a real estate agent.

Writers with manuscripts to sell face the same choice--with one major difference. Literary agents are much harder to find. After a long, agonizing search, I found the perfect agent for me.  I'll share what I learned along the way.

Why I Wanted A Literary Agent

There are a lot of Internet resources (such as this blogpost) that explain how writers benefit (or not) from having an agent. I didn't need to read many articles. From the moment I began to pursue publication, I knew I wanted an agent.  My reasons were fairly simple.

  • Agents enjoy the details of the publishing business. I love to write.  It's a great division of labor.
  • Good agents have access to publishing houses that would be closed to an unagented me.
  • An agent with market knowledge and good instincts can advise me on my writing career.

Writers who don't share my reasons may decide to use the For Sale By Owner route.

Where To Start

First, I needed a sellable product.  So I spent the early years of my writing career like all artisans or athletes; I looped through education and practice until I got the product right [or, at least, I thought it was right.]

Next, I formed a clear idea of what I wanted in the ideal agent.  Obviously, I want a professional who is capable of selling the product--my books. But I also wanted more.  My ideal agent would handle the legal and money stuff, like contracts, royalties, and taxes.  She would enjoy reading and critiqueing my manuscripts.  She would have an open door policy [or, rather, an open phone policy] to talk me through insecurities or tough decisions.

All other traits were negotiable.

The Search

I had a product to sell and a checklist of  ideal agent traits.  I was ready to begin the hunt.  [I didn't bother to estimate how long it would take, which proved to be wise.  It took four years and 60+ rejections before I found the perfect agent for me.]

The Internet is a goldmine of information.  I started and ended the search there.  Here are some tips and links for the resources available in an agent search.
  • agentquery.com is a great tool.  It lists hundreds of agents. It provides an advanced query feature so that I can narrow the search to the agents most likely to be interested in my books. One caution, though: the information is not always current.  Whenever I located an agent that might be a good fit, I always went to the agent's website for submission guidelines.
  • Several agents blog on a regular basis.  Not only do they provide great information about the publishing industry and other agents, their postings can give authors a sense of what that agent would be like to work with.  Two blogs I would recommend are written by Kristin Nelson and Rachelle Gardner.
  • Writing conferences offer plenty of opportunities to meet publishing professionals.  I made an effort to attend writing conferences and signed up for pitch sessions and author intensives whenever possible.  I made an effort to be friendly, courteous, and enthusiastic about my book.  Although I didn't obsess about my appearance, I was careful to dress and act like the kind of author that an agent would want to represent.

The last tip is how I found my agent.  Kevan Lyon was accepting pitches at a conference.  I was unable to get one of her slots, but that didn't deter me.  I researched her on the Internet and thought we might make a good team. I sent a query (as per the guidelines on her website.) She liked the manuscript and arranged to meet me at the conference.  By the time I returned home, I had accepted an offer of representation.

If you have questions or comments about searching for an agent, feel free to leave a comment and I (or other blog followers) will try to help you out.

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