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:~: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 :~:

The Daunting Agent Search

You’ve all heard the writer’s mantra: No agent is better than a bad agent.

Great concept in theory, but the truth is you don’t know you’ve got a bad agent until you already have the bad agent.

Beyond the recommendations on Predators and Editors, the heresay or experience of other authors, an article or two on the Internet giving you a few basic rules of thumb, you’re on your own when it comes to choosing an agent. Even if you land the big one—the one everyone raves about and covets, he/she may not fit your personality, may not have the same big picture for your author career as you have.

In my humble unpublished opinion, it’s a daunting task. Here you are, busting your ass everyday—writing, revising, developing, dreaming, growing, stretching, learning—and at the end of the day you have to choose another human being to garner you compensation for all your sweat and frustration and creation.

With mantras out there like no agent is better than a bad agent, it’s no wonder so many writers cringe, balk and procrastinate when it comes to securing a professional to represent their work.

And here I am again. After two years, I parted ways with my agent. Wonderful gal—personally, I adored her. Unfortunately—for both of us—I didn’t sell with her, and at some point you have to decide to move on.

I’m going at the search a little differently this time. I’m two years more experienced with several contest finalist credits to my name and a much better understanding of how the industry works.

My style has always been to cast a wide net. As a new writer without one writing credit to provide credibility, that’s what I did the first time around. I researched agents and sent queries to any and all agents whose profile stated that they accepted fiction. I figured my work fell into the category of fiction. I figured if they repped suspense they might be interested in romantic suspense. I figured romance wasn’t that far a leap from women’s fiction, etc.

After three manuscripts and 300+ rejections, I found an agent who loved my third story and saw some degree of potential in me. After talking with her over the phone and finding we had similar aspirations for my career, similar working styles and similar personalities, I accepted her offer of representation. She was young and new to the industry, but then so was I. I felt it was a fair risk-taking adventure for both of us.

This time around, I’m doing a different kind of research. I’m cross-referencing the agents who accept romance fiction with how many romance fiction they’ve sold, whether they’re taking on new clients or accepting unsolicited queries, what comments I can find about them via Predators and Editors and their general reputation within the romance community.

And I’ve created a tiered system to which I’ll submit, wait and continue to the next tier, most likely before I’ve heard back from the agents from the prior tier—we all know this industry moves like cold lava.

I’ll be posting my tiered agent list on my website when I get around to the redesign—probably over the holidays—with the criteria used to develop the placement.

Tools I’ve found useful in my search:
  • Agent Query: Great beginning, but not an all-encompassing list of agents representing a particular genre.

  • Internet Lists: In conjunction with Agent Query and research, I’ve discovered a few additional prospects.

  • Publishers Marketplace: Invaluable to know who’s selling what. I’ve discovered several agents working in romance who are not considered “romance agents”—some selling more romance than other well-known romance agents.

  • Predators and Editors: I believe this site gathers information via other authors, which can be biased, but over time I’ve come to realize it’s eerily accurate and depend on it when culling my lists.

  • Internet: A search on an agent's name can bring up a wealth of information as posted by other writers and authors who have dealt with that agent. Just remember, it’s all personal opinion—consider the source before basing a decision on their account.

Share your personal agent stories with us. How do you conduct your searches? How do you decide who you send your work out to? What successes or failures have you had?



Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Joan, I applaud you for being honest. I can't tell you how many authors I've heard go on and on about their toils and tribulations and 50 rejections. When I read that I snort. 50 is a lot?! Not for me. I never totaled my rejections but I have a nice big FAT stack of them in a file and I can guarantee there's more than 50 most likely more than a hundred...probably a lot more than that.

Publishers Marketplace is INVALUABLE. It's expensive, but so worth the investment, especially when you're researching an agent. When I got serious about it, I subscribed and just being able to see who was making sales helped me in my final decision. Another invaluable tool is to talk with other writers. Don't be shy about asking who their agent is, who reps their friends, what they think of so and so. Let's face it, authors talk. We know who's selling and who's not and we know who's had good experiences and who hasn't. While you're right in that one person's dream agent may be another's nightmare, at least you can go into your decision well-informed.

Good luck in your search, J! You'll find a new agent in no time. I'm sure of it. ;)

10:51 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I haven't started, yet. I think you're gonna do great, though! Good luck!

I keep wanting to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace.

2:30 PM  
Blogger B.E. Sanderson said...

That's pretty much my MO for agent-searching. I haven't sent near as many queries out, but I stopped querying for a while to apply what I'd learned to my manuscripts, synopses, blurbs, etc. I'm just now getting back into the search.

The only thing I do beyond that when researching agents is, I also look at what they have to say in interviews, on their own websites, etc. You can learn a lot about someone by what they say in an interview. I also look at their client lists. Sometimes I come across an agent who looks perfect, and then I find out they represent someone I absolutely hate. It doesn't put that agency out completely, but it moves them farther down the chain. That's more of a personal preference thing, though. There are some cases where I'd rather remain unpublished than see my name next to a person I hate on someone's client list. In those rare cases, I can wait. I'll be in the right place at the right time for the right agent sooner or later. =oD

7:16 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

E, yes, PM has given me a whole different view of agents and sales.

And a well informed decision is the best one you can make--no one can see into the future, you can only make the best choice at the time with the information you have.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

Spy, I wanted to subscribe for a long time, but it's not cheap -- $20 a month to a non-selling writer is a lot.

Now that I have it, I can't imagine how I lived without it.

When you're ready to give it a shot, Spy, there will be lots of us around to give you tips and hints.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


Good advice. I was looking at websites today to check into submission guidelines and noticed some of them do portray a less-than-professional face.

7:45 PM  

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