QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Listen to Your Gut

If you’re like most writers (fiction and non-fiction), one of your goals is to land an agent. However, not just any agent will do. You need one who will be the best advocate for your project, and one who shares the same passion for it as you do.
But why is this so important? Why not sign with the first one who offers representation?
I’m going to answer this by sharing with you situations in which writers signed with the wrong agent. These are individuals I’ve spoken with or they have shared their experience via their blogs.
·    Agent sold the client’s book, but didn’t get them the best deal. I’m not talking about money. I’m taking about the option clause. This refers to an editor having the first right to buy or reject your next book before any other publisher sees it. Typically, it’s X number of months from the time contract is signed. In this writer’s situation, it was 18 months after her first book hit the bookshelves. You do the math. This meant the publisher was allowed to hold onto the second book for almost three years before making a decision. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t know about this until it was too late.

·    Agent was submitting to the wrong editors.  Editors have a wish list, and there are certain books and topics they aren’t interested in. Agents learn what editors are looking for and make sure they target your manuscript to the right one. If your project is only going to editors who aren’t looking for that type of book, your project will never be sold.

·    Agent didn’t submit client’s book to any editors. I can’t imagine this happens very often, but it has happened. In this situation, the client did the right thing. She asked for a list of editors to whom the agent had submitted her book. When the agent left the industry (without telling her clients), the writer contacted the editors, only to find out none of them had heard of the writer or her manuscript. The agent had never even contacted them.

·    Communication dwindled to nothing after book went out on submission. For some writers, this might not be a big deal. For others, they want to know about the rejections. And they want to be able to share their concerns with the agent.

·    Agent did a mass mail-out to all editors. When we query agents, we’re told to only query five at a time. That way if your manuscript (or query) is constantly being rejected, you’re able to fix it before querying again. You only get one shot. Same deal with editors. There are occasions in which an editor will request revisions. But even though she falls in love with your book, the acquisition committee might not be as enthralled with it. This means your agent can take your shiny new project to a different editor who hasn’t already seen the original book. You can’t do this if the agent pitched to all the editors in the first round of submissions.

So how can you avoid signing with the wrong agent?
·    Google the agent’s name and find out as much as you can about them. Yep, that’s right: Stalk them. This is your career we’re talking about. Just remember, I not talking about the type of stalking that will result in a restraining order.
·    Look up their names in P&E (Preditors & Editors) to see if they have a bad rating.
·    Only query agents listed in Querytracker.net. Patrick has already done a lot of the work for you, including linking interviews the particular agent has done.
·    Check out writer forums such as Absolute Write, Querytracker, Verlakay’s blue boards (for kidlit writers), and see what other writers (and sometimes clients) have to say about the agent.
·    If you get The Call, ask to talk to the agent’s clients. Though that might not always help. I know a number of people who did that and signed with the wrong agent because the clients didn’t know there was an issue with the agent at the time.
·    Know what you want in an agent. Maybe you’re fine if he only wants to rep the one book. Or maybe you know you want an agent for your career (but this doesn’t mean you can’t change agents at some point).
·    Have questions ready for when you get The Call. The above issues can be addressed during the call so that you and the agent are on the same page if you decide to sign with him.
·    Ask if you can have a list of editors to whom the agent is submitting. If you want to see the rejections, let the agent know that before you agree to representation. Some agents don’t like to do that, and you’re left in the dark as to what’s going on with your submission. I’ve heard this complaint a number of times. Of course, if you don’t want to see the rejections, then you don’t have to worry about this.
·    Check for the name of the agents who represent your favorite authors and books. They are often mentioned in the acknowledgement page. Also, note if the author switched agents. There might be good reasons for that, including:
                ·     Communication issues
            ·     Agent and author no longer shared the same vision.
            ·     Agent wasn’t in love with the new novel, but the next agent was.
Just because an author left an agent, that doesn’t necessarily mean there was something wrong about the agent. It just might mean she was no longer the right one for the client.
·    Listen to your gut.
The last point is the most important. A number of writers I spoke with said they had a bad feeling about the agent who had offered them representation, but they ignored it. Turns out their gut was right.
Remember, just because the agent has a pulse, this doesn’t mean you have to accept the offer. Do what’s right for you. Your book and career will thank you for it.
Does anyone else have suggestions on to how to avoid signing with the wrong agent?

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  


Natalie Aguirre said...

This is all such great advice Stina. I think we get so excited when someone wants to represent us that we don't take the time to be sure the person is right for us. I hadn't heard of talking to the agent's authors until recently, but I think that's a great idea.

Christine Danek said...

This is great Stina. Thanks for all the advice and links. So helpful because finding the right agent can be so scary.
Thanks again.

kah said...

Thanks, Stina! So much to consider in the whole agent hunt. It makes me dizzy.

Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent advice, Stina!

Jessica A. Briones said...

Great advice, I am almost intimidated now even though I am nowhere near the submission stage yet, but lots to think about.

Luanna Stewart said...

All great advice, Stina. This is a business partnership we're trying to establish, and we wouldn't go into business with someone without checking them out first.

Dana Elmendorf said...

Love this kind of advice because it's hard to find these type of details. I'm a type A personality so I want to know it all and things like "first rights clause" did not have a clue about. And all those websites you linked, perfect.

My hope is to be submitting by this fall but I still have a lot of work ahead of me (editing and research agent work.) Again, I have bookmarked another Querytracker page for reference. THanks.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think you covered it all. I'm particular about who I query because if I query someone I really don't want and they end up offering, what am I going to do? So better not to get in that situation at all.

Sort of like when your mom tells you not to date any guy you wouldn't marry.lol

G. B. Miller said...

What if you have a manuscript that no agent will take on, simply because of the content (fantasy with elements of erotica)?

I have a strong suspicion that will be a major stumbling block in trying to land some kind of representation.

Granted, what you give is sound advice, but sometimes you have to look beyond landing an agent and concentrate on perhaps landing with a small to medium sized publisher before trying to land an agent.

McKenzie McCann said...

I've seen blogs about this before, but this is so much more detailed. Good advice.
At least we know there are worse things than being a non-represented author.

Stina said...

G--You're right. There are some circumstances, like you've pointed out, in which an agent isn't essential. But make sure you know the specifics of the contract BEFORE you sign with any publisher. Or you might end up in the same situation as the first author I mentioned.

raisingmarshmallows said...

This is the main reason I like to attend conferences. I get a better feel for the agent.