Ihear about them all the time.
“So and so is my dream agent!” or “I’m about to query my dream agent” or “I just sent it out to my dream agent!” or “My dream agent REJECTED my query, I AM NOW GOING TO THROW MYSELF OFF A BUILDING AND DIE.”
The worst one is, “I an ONLY querying X, because she is my dream agent, and I will wait to hear from her until I submit anywhere else, AND UNTIL THEN I WILL JUST WAIT IN BREATHLESS ANTICIPATION IN FRONT OF MY INBOX, SLOWLY WASTING MY LIFE.”
(Not that anyone I know says things like those last two, and not that I’ve ever said those things, la la la.)
But here’s the thing: Deciding who your dream agent is before you’ve even worked with them? Is like deciding you want to marry someone based on their match.com profile.
Think about it.
One way, you’re saying, “This agent seems really nice on their blog, and they just sold a six-figure deal and they rep YA, which is what I write and OMG, THAT PERSON IS MY DREAM AGENT and look at their picture how cute!” It really is kind of the same as saying, “OMG, look at this person’s profile, they like soccer and have a dog like me and they seem really nice and I AM GOING TO MARRY THEM and look at their picture how cute!” An online presence does not a marriage make.
1. She responds to all of my emails within 24 hours, and she either has the answer to what I want to know, or is on her way to finding out.
2. She’s not afraid to tell me when something isn’t working, whether it’s an idea, a chapter, a line, or a whole proposal.
3. She gives me great advice, but ultimately lets me decide on the direction of my career.
4. She’s open to brainstorming/bouncing ideas around, and is always willing to set up phone calls to do just that.
5. She never, ever gives up. She sold a chapter book series for me last year that had been on submission for nine months. We’d been getting close, but the rejections were coming in, and then we got a revision request from a major house. Agent Win followed up on it, I did the revision, and the house passed. I cried and ate three cartons of peanut butter ice cream. Agent Win said, “No problem, we still have more places!” And you know what? Sending out the revised version got us TWO OFFERS on the project that we’d started submitting almost a year before.
There are three million more reasons why I love her, but it would take too long to type all those out, and besides, I don’t want her to see this post and get a big head and then realize she’s too good for me.
But the point is, I wouldn’t know any of those things about her unless I was actually working with her.
Right now you are screaming. You are maybe freaking out. You are looking at the picture of your dream agent that you have taped to your computer monitor for inspiration. Maybe you even want to kill me. And you are saying, “So are you telling me it is ALL ONE BIG CRAP SHOOT and that maybe MY DREAM AGENT is going to be AGENT HEARBREAKER if we start working together?”
Here are the things you can look at BEFORE you sign with someone that might give you an indication if they are your Agent Win:
1. Their blog/website. Does it have good advice that you agree with? Do they seem smart and knowledgeable?
2. Their sales. How many do they have ? Are they to a bunch of different houses/editors? Sometimes an agent will be selling just to the same editors over and over, and you start to think that maybe they’re one of those “send it out to four of five places that I know and then give up” kind of agents.
Also, do they have sales for the same writer that span some time? This is an indication that their clients are happy, and staying with them.
The real work, however, will start after they offer you representation. This is when you really get the chance to see if you’d be a good fit.
Here are the things you can ask an agent if they offer you representation. DO NOT ask ANY agents these things unless you are on the phone with them, discussing representation. These are not questions you ask in a query, or if an agent requests your partial. These are things you ask ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN OFFERED REPRESENTATION.
1. What’s your style like? Do you do a lot of revising and working with clients, or are you more hands-off editorially?
2. How do you prefer to communicate? Email, phone?
3. What’s your submission style? Do you send to three or four places and wait for feedback? Do you send it to everyone at once? Why do you do it this way?
4. What’s your contract like? (Ideally, you want to have a contract that has a thirty-day out clause, meaning you or the agent can terminate at any time. Otherwise, it’s kind of like being married and not being able to get divorced until sometimes a year or more. A big waste of time, and a drain emotionally, especially if you have a manuscript that is just in a holding pattern.)
5. Do you follow up with editors that you’ve submitted to, and give them nudges? After how long?
6. Can I talk to some of your current clients?
Please note there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong answers to these questions, but you want to get a feel for how the agent works, and you should be comfortable with their answers. Do a google search on questions to ask an agent, and get an idea of the things that are important to you. Don’t be afraid to ask these things! If the agent starts acting all put out about it, then maybe they’re not right for you.
If an agent offers you representation? Google. Not just for info on their sales, but for info from their CLIENTS. A lot of times writers will blog or post on message boards about their agents. See what they say. Do they seem happy? Are they praising the agent? Or does it seem that after a few months, the agent is MIA, and they’re posting for advice on how to get out of a contract, or what to do when your agent isn’t responding to your emails?
Do you know of anyone who’s left the agent? Talking to current clients is great, but you’ll get the real story from former clients. (Note: Someone leaving an agent doesn’t mean they’re not a good agent – it happens all time if it’s not a right fit, for lots of reasons. But if multiple people are leaving, and some of those people are willing to tell you why, you might want to listen.)
I’m not advocating agent stalking. And again, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t do any of these things until you actually get offered representation. (It’s not cool to just email someone and ask why they left their agent. If you get offered representation, it’s one thing to drop them a note and say, “Any thoughts would be appreciated.” Even then they might not answer. And yes, I know you want the dirt. Yes, I know it’s driving you crazy. But no. Just no.)
My point is simply this: You don’t know WHO your dream agent is going to be until you’re actually working with them.
The same way you don’t know who you’re going to marry until you’ve actually dated and gone through some things together.
Yes, do your research. Yes, be smart about it.
But cast a wide net. Query widely, and don’t get caught up on the idea of “dream agent.” Your dream agent is someone who is working tirelessly on your behalf, believes in your work, and will fight for you every step of the way.