What Should You Look For In An Agent?

Do you know what you want from an agent—besides selling your book of course? Two years ago, I didn’t. Two years ago, I would have taken any agent who offered me a contract. And I have a strong suspicion I would have regretted my decision.

But now, as Lisa and I work on the final draft (we hope) of The Amazon Heir, we recognize that a bad agent is worse than no agent, and we’re doing our homework.

In the same way that I had a “must have” list for a husband, I’ve also created one for an agent. A concrete list can help keep priorities in sight.

In that spirit, I want . . .

An Agent with an Excellent Track Record

I’m expected to act like a professional, give evidence of my credentials, and prove my ability to write. Here are my return expectations for an agent:

  • Be a member of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives)
  • Have a good reputation among authors and other agents
  • Have a background in publishing and a history of selling books to royalty publishers
  • Possess knowledge of the publishing world so that they know who would be most interested in a book like mine
  • Keep up on new trends and advances in writing and publishing (e.g. deep POV, smart books).

An Agent Who Wants to Represent a Writer, Not Just a Book

An agent who wants to represent a book will dump you if your book doesn’t sell. An agent who believes in you as a writer will recommend you move on to your next project and keep you on as an author rather than firing you.

An agent who wants to represent a book will give you advice that will make you the most profit on that book, regardless of how it will affect your career five years down the road. An agent who wants to represent a writer will be looking out for the writer’s career over the long term. They’ll even help them with career planning.

In researching this distinction, I learned the terms to watch for in an agent-author contract.

A term agreement means that the agent will represent me for a particular period of time. An at-will agreement means that either of us can terminate at any time. The first is like a date, while the second is like a marriage. My preference would be to find an agent with an at-will agreement.

(As an aside, a term agreement doesn’t mean an agent will drop you if that particular book doesn’t sell. They might still renew the contract and be willing to wait for the next book.)

An Agent Who Does More Than Negotiate a Contract

Maybe all you want is someone who makes sure you get the best deal possible from a publisher. If so, that’s okay too. But I’m also looking for a little bit more.

I want an agent who’ll provide good career advice, point out any remaining weaknesses in my manuscript so that I can fix them to produce the absolute best work possible, and help with marketing/publicity suggestions.

I want an agent who I can come to occasionally if I have questions. I also want an agent who communicates with me regularly enough that I know he/she hasn’t forgotten me, and I want to be kept updated on all submissions. A short note every 2 weeks or whenever a new development occurs is plenty.

I don’t expect an agent who will talk to me every day or will breathe down my neck, controlling every aspect of each new project. I have a husband and friends to talk to, and I’m a freelancer for a reason.

I also don’t expect an agent who will do my marketing or publicity for me. That’s my responsibility or the responsibility of the person I hire to do it.

An Agent Who Will Be My Biggest Fan and Ally (After My Husband Of Course)

An agent who’s lukewarm about my writing isn’t going to be the best person to sell my book, nor is an agent who wants to change the way I write to make me sound like someone else. I also need an agent who will respect my boundaries and won’t pressure me to include something in my book that I’m uncomfortable with (profanity for example).

This is an abbreviated version of my “must have” list. What does your “must have” list look like for your future agent?


Want More Advice on Choosing An Agent?

Rachelle Gardner 10 Things to Expect from an Agent

Janet Kobobel Grant Choosing An Agent

Natasha Kern How Does a Writer Get the Right Agent?

Jennifer Laughran On Agency Agreements

Kristen Nelson Where “In Perpetuity” Might Come Back . . .

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.


3 comments on “What Should You Look For In An Agent?

  1. Hi Marcy:

    I agree with Stephanie.

    And you’re right. I never realized the agent/author relationship should be like a marriage.

    Can’t wait to delve deeper into your and Lisa’s informative blog.


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