Do Agents Have a Voice?

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 03 2010

We’ve all talked about voice hundreds of times and have an understanding of what it means when we hear “an author’s voice,” but while reading a book the other day I had a thought: Do agents have a voice?

Let me explain. I was reading this book recently and throughout the entire book I kept thinking to myself, “this sounds exactly like something I’d represent.” The book sounded somehow familiar to me, as if it had come off my own bookshelf. As if it was written by one of my own clients. Now, granted, there are a lot of different voices among my shelves and certainly no two are alike, but if you look at an agent’s client list will you start to see a certain voice or similarity in voice shine through?

I have no idea if there’s an answer to this question, but it is something that has me thinking.


33 responses to “Do Agents Have a Voice?”

  1. Avatar Philangelus says:

    I think it only makes sense that an agent would prefer novels that resonate with the way the agent already thinks.

    If agents are demanding that they "fall in love" with a project before representing it, then that similarity would seem to be mandatory, at least in terms of the novel's core beliefs and approach to the world.

  2. Avatar Lorenda says:

    I think we all as readers are drawn to certain types of author voices. I read across several genres, but I still find myself drawn to authors who present things in a certain way. They might be writing about completely different topics, but something about how they put together a string of words draws me.

    On the other hand, there are bestselling authors out there that I can read, and only say "Yep, it's pretty good, but it's missing something."

    I would guess it's the same for agents.

  3. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Yes, yes, and yes, what was the question?
    I know exactly what you mean.

    I don't usually have a marathon reading opportunity but this weekend I started and finished a wonderful book. When I googled the author's agent the descriptions of what she handled sounded EXACTLY like how I would describe my novel.
    I mean, totally.

    Is my book exactly like the book I just finished, no, but the voice and the feel of the writing was enjoyably familier.
    Could this agent be the one?

    I'm rewriting my 'killer' query and hoping for a little serendipity.
    I know, serendipity has nothing to do with it…it's the writing stupid. But a smile from the writing Gods wouldn't hurt.

  4. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    Well Jessica, you have a voice in your writing. I can determine that from your Blog, so, it would make sense that you as an agent would have a voice also. Therefore it would be reasonable to say that all agents have a voice.

    My memoir has a unique voice and now I'm wondering if that would translate into my finding an agent that has a similar voice? Or just one that enjoys mine?

  5. Avatar steeleweed says:

    The books I keep rereading are those with a voice which makes me want to sit down with the author and have a few beers.

  6. I've read lots of books my agent represents, and I've definitely noticed a consistent kind of voice. You can also pick out a consistent voice preference at certain imprints.

    My (now) best writing friend and I met because we'd just sold books to the same imprint- when we traded manuscripts to read, we were both nodding our heads, "Oh yeah, I can see why we're both here." 🙂

  7. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    There's an irony not lost on me today that Christie Craig posted some photos of us singing karaoke at the same time you're wondering if we have a voice. Here's proof that we do…it just might not be pretty….

  8. Thats why we look at your list before we query. One thing always worries me…I see someone on your list that kind of matches what I write so I think you'll like my stuff too, but does this mean you already have a writer like me so you won't need another?
    How many thriller writers do you have and would you consider another? Or are you full up?

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I hadn't given it much thought, but it seems to me absolutely, positively, that agents have a 'voice'. It is that voice that an agent possesses that determines whether that particular agent 'gets' a particular writer. It is what determines a 'fit' or not. Their 'voices' speak to each other–not in Babel but in intimate conversation.

  10. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Kim–I was unable to upload video of you and Jessica singing so I gave my thumb drive with the video to Jessica. It was sort of like throwing it into the black hole…a mistake to hand over my only evidence? It appears so…

  11. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:


    Mwah ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaa…

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This worries me. Our agents do encourage us to write a certain way, presumably the way they like.

    A few days ago I bought a book for a child. After I got home I flipped through it and thought it seemed like a really unpleasant book. I took it back to the bookstore.

    Then I found out that this book was, in fact, sold by my agent.

  13. Avatar ryan field says:

    First, I'm laughing because I have a friend who is an agent and his voice…his speaking voice…is one of a kind.

    Second, I do think all agents have voices. Their lists show it.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes, it seems many agents like to over-edit or encourage their clients to conform to a certain standard. Hence, the novels all start to sound alike, especially in romance and genre fiction. I think it's a problem when an agent tries too hard to control and dictate a project, forcing it to fit into a cookie-cutter mold in order to sell.

    How will authors ever discover their voice if their agents are so heavy-handed? One more reason to go directly to editors.

  15. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    It would seem reasonable that you only chose, consciously or subconsciously, work that has a voice you can relate to. I know I have that tendency as an editor, which is why we have several editors. So the journal doesn't all sound like something I would have written. 🙂

  16. Avatar Taryn Tyler says:

    That's a very interesting question. 'Voice' is such an ambiguous thing to define to begin with it could probably have any answer, but it is still an interesting question. I think yes. You could probably even say that all reader have a 'voice' if you look at their bookshelves.

  17. Avatar Jill Wheeler says:

    Perhaps, rather than a voice, you have an ear.

    The whole bookshelf bit makes perfect sense to me. There are certainly books out there that speak to me more than others, and if I were an agent, I'd want them on my "shelf"/client list.

  18. I definitely think agents have a voice.

    It's how you present yourself and your clients. It's not genre specific, it's when part of yourself comes through in any form of communication, though it's easier to identify in the written word.

  19. Reader, Bookseller, publicist, marketer, editor, agent, author:

    Together, they must sing a chord!

    But simply hitting the right "note" isn't enough.

    Ever seen a "voice print?" Each voice is a complex and unique symphony of signals.

    For "voices" to sing together in perfect harmony is art.

    The Reader gets the thrill of a lifetime when joining such an ensemble chorus and finding that their own "voice" just flows right into the music.

    I do love analogies!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  20. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    Anonymous 11:27 —

    I think you're grossly underestimating authors. By the time they reach the point of an offer of representation, most authors have already found their voice. That's what makes them stand out from the rest of the pack.

    Do we offer editorial suggestions to our clients? Sure. If those revisions feel right to the author, then they employ them. If they think the changes would somehow sacrifice their creative integrity, then they don't.

    Certainly we do want to make our client's work as marketable as possible. That's our job. But we take our cues from the publishers and editors who in turn take their cues from the book-buying public. Editors are just as concerned about marketability as agents. More so. So I'm not sure I understand your argument for cutting the agent out of the equation.

  21. Avatar CFD Trade says:

    I believe the agent has his or her own voice. That's why some rejection letters come in the form of "this is a subjective business, I am not the right fit."

  22. I know Kim and Jessica have voices. I heard them sing. LOL.

    Kim has made some suggestions on adding more to a scene or tweaking a scene, but I don't think her "voice" leaves an imprint on my writing. (She's not nearly crazy enough. LOL) I guess that could happen if someone had an agent that did a heavy critique. However, a good agent is like a good editor, they should know the importance of voice and any suggested changes needs to be line with the writer's voice or it can hurt the overall work.

    I've heard agents comment that they must have the same "taste" as other agents because they often requests the same authors. I can see that happening. I think a writer can learn a lot by reading an agent's client list. However, it's wise to remember that agents can have complex taste. I know Kim likes dark as well as really light.

  23. Avatar Levonne says:

    I would say that it probably pays to know the voice of the agent that you are querying for representation.

  24. Avatar Janice Hardy says:

    One of the reasons I queried my agent was because her client's books had a similar voice to mine. Agents are readers, too, so it makes total sense that they'd have certain preferences that show up in what they take on.

  25. I think it's similar to asking if readers have a voice, and I'd posit that yes, everyone has a certain type of voice toward which they gravitate. This is one of the things we have to evaluate when we look at your lists to see if we have a chance at being a good fit!

  26. Fascinating post! Yes, I'm sure agents have a voice, or at least a voice they're drawn to and relate best to – a voice they are passionate about and, therefore, are better able to sell. Sorry for the run-on, but yes, this makes so much sense!

  27. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Interesting comments, especially after the panel I was on with Jessica, and authors Angie Fox and Sally MacKenzie at RWA last week. We discussed the author/agent relationship, and the one thing we all agreed on is that an agent should only edit when the author wants it. Jessica hasn't read any of my Wolf Tales since the first one, but she offered a lot of help–at my request–on my DemonSlayers series, because it was a new genre for me. An agent works for the author, not the other way around.

  28. Though I am not an agent, I know from personal experience in other types of sales that I have to really believe in something to be able to sell it at all.

    I have a summer job at a hardware store. I'm very good at paint, and I can usually sell a higher grade of paint than the customer had intended. It's not because I'm trying to boost sales numbers, but is instead because the cheaper paints usually won't do what the customer wants.

    When it comes to painting accessories and doo-dads, I usually talk them OUT of them because they're mostly worthless except on very specific types of jobs.

    I won't sell something I wouldn't use myself, so it seems entirely rational to me that an agent would have a similar idea in mind.

  29. Sure you have a voice. And it can transcend genre. For instance, look at your iPod. Probably you have all sorts of songs downloaded on it. If you thought about it, you could probably come up with at least one thing they all have in common. My current playlist has everything from Queen to Lady Gaga to Justin Beiber (yep, I said it out loud). Point is, they do all have something in common: I would LOVE to hear Jessica sing karaoke to Every. Single. One.

  30. It's very strange that you posted this, because I was just thinking the same thing. I recently picked up a book that was repped by an agent I'm hoping to query. I didn't pick it up because of the agent, but because I thought I'd like it. But when I found out who repped it, I got all nervous, wondering about the sensibility of the agent, etc. etc. Turns out the prose is actually not that different from mine–in fact, almost eerily similar. One of his other clients is too. On the one hand, this freaks me out a little, but on the other it's sort of exciting, because I think there may be a such thing as shared sensibilities.

    And I get what wry wryter said–there's a familiarity there, almost as if we're all from the same family, or at least the same shelf.

  31. Avatar S Yarns says:

    I am surprised to see this question. You write. You write a lot. Why would you think that you didn't have a voice?

    As with a bunch of other comments, I am always late to the show, I find myself reading things that resonate with me. And I have been completely turned off by certain types of voices.

    I have a book in my possession that, for some reason, I can't let go. It was the first book I have ever read that I absolutely hated.

    The book was a NYT Bestseller, and I detested it. The story was ok, the characters were ok, but the voice, the almighty VOICE destroyed it for me. This was before I knew what voice was. Before I dared to dream that I too, could be on the NYT list.

    You read, a lot. You write, a lot. How in the hell could you NOT have a voice?

  32. Avatar nightwriter says:

    Isn't voice your personality (or in the case of fiction, your characters) on the page?

  33. OMG, I hope you get this.

    I met with my agent at RWA Nationals, along with many of her other clients, and I couldn't believe the similarities between us. Freaky Teaky, baby!

    So if my agent doesn't have a voice, she certainly has a particular pallet for them.