~ By Brighton Walsh
So you’ve got this book you’ve just given birth to. You’ve bled tears to get it just right. You’ve spent hours correcting grammar and punctuation, polishing your characters and arcs and the climax. You’ve gotten constructive feedback and prettied it up as best you can.
Now what? Well, you have three options. (Or four, if stuffing it in your closet and never looking at it again appeals to you.) First, you can self publish. Second, you can query a publisher who takes unagented submissions. Or, lastly, you can go the traditional route and search for that ever elusive agent.
While I can speak on option 2, as well, I’m going to talk about finding the perfect (for you) agent. I have a few friends who are at or coming up on this process of their writing journey, and I know they’re filled with fears—not just on querying, but on whom to query.
So, what should you look for in an agent? This is tough because what might be a good fit for me may not be a good fit for you. It’s also just a huge question to tackle, so I’m going to try and break it down into manageable chunks and generalizations. We’ll see how I do.
First and foremost, hit up querytracker and absolutewrite. Querytracker is great for actually, you know, tracking who you’re sending your queries to. (Or maybe you’re a geek like me and have an in-depth and color coded spreadsheet to keep track of that…) You can see updates from people who are in the trenches regarding when they’ve heard back from an agent, etc. It also gives you a sort of snapshot of what the agent is accepting/how they accept queries (of course, always check their website for the most up-to-date information). AbsoluteWrite is where you go to make sure the agent you have your eye on isn’t a shady schmagent. If something shady has gone down, chances are it’ll be there. Just like with everything on the internet, take posts with a grain of salt and an ounce of common sense. If there’s one person saying the agent is a jerk and 99 other positives, well…
I also highly suggest getting a full membership to Publishers Marketplace (you can cancel at any time, so you can join for a month, compile all the info you want, and cancel, if you’d like). PM is a fabulous resource for actually seeing what the agent you have your sights set on has done. What’s their sales history like? Where do they rank in your genre? What publishers do they sell to? Are they in line with your hopes and dreams for that baby you birthed (i.e. do they typically sell to the Big 5 or digital first imprints, and which do you want to target?)?
You can also learn a lot by checking out their blogs (if they have one), their tumblrs (again, if they have one. Quite a few even offer Q&As through there!), their twitter (same), etc. I suggest following prospective agents for a few months before you decide to query them. Do you like how they interact online? Do they have a sense of humor? Do you like it or find it unprofessional? Are they stuffy and formal or laid-back, and which would compliment you best? Basically, use this time to see if you’d mesh with them.
Let’s say you’ve done all that. You’ve researched and compiled your list of favorites. You’ve queried and nibbled your nails to the quick. And then you get the call—one of those lovely agents wants to offer you representation! (!!!! that deserves a million exclamation points!)
Is this when all your questions are done? Nope. For me, this was right where the majority of them popped up. Now comes the serious part. Before, everything was just sort of intangible in a what-if sort of way. The questions were thought up in a this would be cool someday sort of mind frame. But now? Now it’s actually happening!
First, gather questions. Ask agented author friends. Look online. Compile a list of things you want to be sure of before you sign with someone. When I spoke to the agents who offered rep, I had a word doc of questions (that may or may not have been four pages…). Now is when you get the details you may not have been able to get online. Are they an editorial agent? How do they feel about hybrid authors? Where do they see your book going? Your career going? How much input do they give on future projects? How often do they communicate with clients and in what format? And so on and so on. While you’re going through these questions, you’ll get a feel for the agent and if his/her answers are in line with what you’re looking for.
Which brings me to my last point: when you find the right one, you’ll just know.
Believe me, I know it sounds lame and idealistic, but it’s true. I swear. I ended up having four agents offer me rep. Four fabulous agents who were all on my A list. It was an amazing situation to be in, but it was also stressful as hell. Because up until the point when I spoke to who would eventually become my agent, I liked them all. They all answered the questions in line with my thinking. They were all very nice. They all had their positive points, and I had no idea how I was going to choose! Everyone kept telling me, just go with your gut! Who speaks to you the most? And the truth was, my gut wasn’t leading me anywhere, and they were all equally loud (that’s figuratively, not literally). And then the phone call with my agent happened, and I knew. We weren’t even five minutes in, and I already knew (my apologies to Mandy, again, that I made her wait days to find out). Everything just fell into place.
While all those questions you dug around to get the answers to are important—without a doubt—what I think tops them all is how you mesh with this person. You’re going to be—hopefully—working with them for a very long time. Trusting your career to them. It would sure suck to do that with someone you just don’t get along with, even if they do get you your dream deal.
Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before taking her storytelling in a different direction and reconnecting with her first love: writing. When she’s not lost in made-up worlds, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her real-life hero of a husband, her two kids—one of which is somehow taller than her, but she doesn’t want to discuss that—and her dog who thinks she’s a queen. Her boy-filled house is the setting for dirty socks galore, frequent dance parties (okay, so it’s mostly her, by herself, while her children look on in horror), and more laughter than she thought possible. Visit her online at brightonwalsh.com.