What Do You Want in an Agent

In almost every interview I’ve ever done I’m asked what my dream author would be like, or what I look for when considering a new client. What I wonder though, is what authors look for when taking on a new agent? While we might be looking for clients, it is the author who is doing the hiring and when faced with the prospect of hiring an agent what are you looking for?

Presumably you’ve done some of this research before even sending out queries, at least enough to know that the agent who calls is reputable. But do you have your interview questions ready? What are the key qualities you’d like to see in an agent? If these aren’t things you know, I would suggest you start thinking about them.

In the same way I prepare interview questions when talking to a potential new member of the BookEnds team (intern through agent) I think you need to know that the agent you’re talking to is the right fit for your team.

I’d be curious to hear what are some of the qualities you’re looking for or what are some of the questions you’re asking.

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14 comments

  1. Such a simple question with what should be a simple answer!

    Yet most (unpublished, at least) authors are so desperate with the dream of seeing their work in print that they don’t think beyond “Yes” if they’re so lucky to hear from an agent willing to represent their work.

    If I’m honest about it, I believe my main requirement would be a passionate representative of my work, a person that pushes it with as much passion I feel on every word I’ve written, an advocate that realistically sees every avenue for my book and has the connections and relationships to make it happen.

    But I do not have a list of questions at the ready for that fateful call!

  2. Jumps up and down. Loved seeing this post this morning. From day one, someone or many gave the advice to research not only the publisher but the agent. Follow them on social media to gain insights on their likes, dislikes, etc.

    I’ve followed two agents and several publishing houses.

    I’ve asked questions from authors who I am acquainted and know are represented/published with them.

    From the agent aspect, I wanted (over time/following) to learn whether they (authors) were A) Successful B) Happy. Did I find lots of complaints, or misery or did I see shining posts speaking about how knowledgeable, supportive and yes, personable they were.

    This embodies what I seek. Guidance. Agents, or rather good agents, would be up to date in publishing standards in what is being sought after, have good connections but also be a real person. Someone who if asked a question, answers truthfully, but without snark.

    Someone the author can connect with and be comfortable with, or at least for me. One of my biggest flaws, is understanding the difference between work associates and friends. I know this is my weakness, I work at it, but if an agent comes across as aloof, cold or such, then I would be too ill at east to most likely ask the questions which should be asked.

    Yes, I know its a flaw.

    Often I see a new to me someone post about becoming an agent, I might or might not, review their client base.

    But as I said, I only follow two and while that might be an err too, I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about them being top-agents AND top-notch human beings.

  3. I am passionate about middle grade fiction, which is what I write, and would expect my agent to be the same. I’m talking run around the bookstore and point out what’s new, exciting, and gotta READ! passion, which also gets other quieter patrons involved as well…but that’s the fun of it. Jaded agents need not apply.

    My agent would have to be quirky, and fun, and serious, and someone who will not ever give up, on a book or a client. Someone who can push, and sell, and share a good bottle of cabernet.

  4. I’d definitely want to know what their communication style is: are they available by phone or skype to go over crunch time details? do they prefer everything be communicated by email? do they provide editorial input before submitting? are they up on future rights questions? will they do their best to sell my foreign, audio and film/tv rights? But most important to me is how they communicate with me and what kind of a partnership are they offering.

  5. Actually, Jessica, I was curious: when looking for an agent, should we look for agents who represent age categories and genres we’d liked to be published in outside our current MS? (Did I confuse you? Lol.)

    Here’s an example: I removed an agent from my list who fit my current project, but who didn’t represent chapter books/early readers and I have a few sitting on my drive I’d love to clean up and see through to publication. And there are some agents I passed on who don’t want to represent any adult fiction (and I love to write adult romance, category and single-title). Should I only focus on agents who’s interest match mine entirely?

    1. This is a great question. I’m actually going to answer it in a separate blog post. I think it can be valuable to many and don’t want it buried here.

  6. An agent who is as passionate about my book as I am and who has clients who speak highly of them (so one of my questions would be… can I speak to current clients?)
    As for questions (I really need to cull my list, but here are some)…
    How long does agency representation last?
    What editors do you have in mind?
    How often do you communicate? In particular, updates while on submission?

  7. I’d ask, “What’s your biggest grammar/mechanics pet peeve?” I can learn a lot about someone from her answer, and “What is the book you had to read for a class that you hated the most?” Many readers struggle to name a favorite, but have tons to say about their hated book, and we all have at least one.

    1. I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I could answer the hated book question. Class was a long time ago.

  8. Thanks for asking this question!

    I want an agent who loves my main character as much as I do. I want a champion for my main character’s story.

    I want an agent who searches for editors she wants to introduce my main character to because she’s pretty sure that editor will also love my main character and her story.

    I want an agent who can help me see the flaws in my storyline, and who allows me the time to thoughtfully fix them.

    I want an agent who communicates all the submissions details like who she’s sending it to and why, and who’s willing to ask me for suggestions on who I think might be a good fit. I want an agent who forwards me any and all correspondence in a timely manner, and who keeps me in the loop, sending short emails like: I sent Amy Editor at Awesome House your ms today! Amy rejected today, but keep smiling! Here’s her letter. Amy loved your story, especially the ending, and she’s passing it on to….

    I want an agent who wouldn’t toss me aside at the first sign of conflict, but who is willing to work with me despite the times I goof, willing to communicate with me through the goofs so I won’t goof again.

    I want an agent who will make me wiser and smarter when it comes to the craft of writing for children, as well as to the business side of publishing.

    I want a professional friend of the pen.

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