When it comes to agenting there is no one-size-fits-all. The perfect agent for you will not likely be the perfect agent for your bestie.
Finding the perfect agent is a different experience for everyone. There are five obvious things that every perfect agent should have, but beyond that, the perfect agent for you will differ greatly from what others will find perfect.
5 Things that Make the Perfect Agent
- Vision: I’ve covered this a lot lately in the blog and on Youtube, but there is one thing you need to know about the perfect agent and that’s their vision for your book. Do they see selling, editing, and revising your book in a way that makes your heart sing? Do they see your career in the same way you do? In other words, does it match your vision, even if you didn’t know that was your vision at the time?
- Enthusiasm: The perfect agent’s heart soars when they discuss your book. They usually start telling colleagues well before they finish and have already created a preliminary submission list because the perfect agent can’t help themself.
- Negotiation: The perfect agent always negotiates. It’s sort of a compulsion. Recently a client told me she was very happy with the offer we received. I immediately told her I was negotiating this offer and she was not allowed to take my fun away. The perfect agent will never say yes until they’ve explored all possibilities. I mean, that’s the best part of the job!
- Knowledge: The perfect agent knows the market. They know what’s hot, what’s not, and which editors have a love for dinosaurs, the Midwest, and pho.
- Connections: If the perfect agent is new to the business they at least have connections to connections. In other words, a new agent at BookEnds has all the resources and connections BookEnds provides. They might not yet know exactly which editors love dinosaurs, but they know how to easily find out.
What the Perfect Agent is Not
- Likes all the same things you do. Your perfect agent is also your business partner and while you definitely need to have similar business ethics, you don’t need to like all the same things. They could be a rockstar while you prefer classical. Their favorite author could be one you detest. That doesn’t mean that agent can’t sell the shit out of your books and manage your career like, well, you’re a rockstar.
- MSWL is an exact match. MSWL, or manuscript wishlist, is a tricky thing. I’m afraid it’s led some authors to believe if it’s not on the MSWL it doesn’t exist. Not true. My MSWL is just a few things I’m craving at the moment, but just because I say I love and want donuts (always), doesn’t mean I don’t also love ice cream and coffee (so much).
- Represents Every Genre You Write: This should probably be at the top of the list of what the perfect agent is not. When an author starts out they often have visions that include every genre from kids to adults. I think that’s fantastic. You only know what you’re really good at by experimenting with a lot of things. I played the viola, violin, drums, trumpet, and piano only to discover I was absolutely terrible at all of them. But now I know I’m just a music listener. The only thing an agent needs to be good at is the genre they are offering on. If you’re writing upmarket fiction and picture books I’m going to offer on the upmarket fiction. As your career grows and changes we can figure out where to go from there, but no matter what, I’m not the agent for picture books.
- Best Friend: Many author-agent relationships become a friendship. It’s hard not to when you’ve built a career together, but don’t expect that the perfect agent also needs to be your best friend. The only thing they need to be is your business partner and an honest one at that.
- Beta-reader or critique partner. That’s not an agent’s job. An agent’s job is to manage your career and, for some, that will involve revisions and edits, but your agent is not a beta reader or a critique partner. You’ll need to find someone else for that.
Business Partner First
There’s so much more I didn’t cover in this post. My focus in this was primarily on the emotional side of finding an agent. But a key to remember and always remind yourself is that when finding the perfect agent what you’re looking for is the perfect business partner. That means someone you can trust with your contracts, your money, and your career. If at any point in the conversation you don’t feel you can fully trust the person you’re talking to cut and run. No successful business person, in any business, will ever tell you it’s a good idea to work with someone whose ethics you question.