Seeking an Agent Is Not Seeking a Job

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 22 2011

When talking about query letters we often use the analogy of the job hunter. We say things like, “Your query letter is like the business suit you wear to a job interview. It’s your first impression.” But that analogy has never been quite right because you are not looking for a job, and the agent is not looking to hire you. In fact, it’s just the opposite: You are looking to hire the agent. That being said, the agent still has the chance to say no, unlike many in today’s job market.

So instead of thinking of your agent search as comparable to a job search, I think you should look at it as the search for an investor in your new business, because that is, in fact, what you’re looking for. An investor will only agree to back your business if she feels it’s going to be profitable for both of you. She has a certain level of financial success, a gain or return on her investment that she hopes to achieve, and her decision to invest or not invest in your business is based entirely on her personal feelings and experiences with the business you are proposing.

In other words, you might be pitching a profitable-looking business plan, but the investor might personally feel that it’s not enough profit or simply not the type of business she wants to spend her money on, especially if she has six other business plans to consider.

Finding an agent to work with is about finding the right person to invest in your future as an author.


28 responses to “Seeking an Agent Is Not Seeking a Job”

  1. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Brilliant –

    Now I know why you didn’t want to invest in my swampland in Florida.

    I could always change the title.

  2. Avatar Hazel Keats says:

    An agent being an investor has never occurred to me. It makes me raise the bar for my writing. Great pep talk, thanks!

  3. I've never looked at the agent/author relationship quite this way. Thank you for the post!

  4. This is a fantastic way to re-frame the role of an agent and, in turn, the agent query process. Certainly waves off the hint of neediness on to outright desperation many writers, including myself, get bogged down with as they look for representation. I'm all for creative people feeling empowered – gets us in the right mindset to keep the words flowing. Thanks, Jessica.

  5. Avatar Lisa says:

    I really like the way you put that; had never considered it quite like that before. Thanks!

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:


    So why aren't agents starting their own eBook publishing firms with lower overhead than traditional publishing?

    I ask because with Borders closing and hardback sales pretty much plunging like the DOW today, I wonder what the best investment is today. Do publishers have any clue how many books to print after Borders closed? Are their editors freezing acquisitions until they figure out their new supply chains?

    If you used to print for two major bookstores and one goes away, then you still have all that overhead for printing twice the volume. And what happens to all those books that Borders has? Barnes and Noble and Amazon can't and probably don't want them all. And what's happening to returns in this quarter and the next quarter statements for authors?

    So taking your post to the next logical step, what's a good investment in this new book economy?

  7. Genius. Never thought of it that way but you are very right.

  8. Thanks for this different POV. It makes so much sense.

    And it's more empowering.

    I don't always read other comments, but I have to say I agree with Hazel. It's time to raise the bar.

  9. Avatar ryan field says:

    I never looked at it this way, but it makes sense.

  10. Avatar Meghan says:

    Great analogy!

    Jessica (on a slightly unrelated note) when an agent likes the query and wants to request a full or partial, how will they typically contact the author?

  11. I would never have thought of an author/agent relationship this way- great analogy.

  12. Avatar John says:

    I like the analogy that finding a literary agent is like finding a literary agent. I don't know that there's anything quite like it.

    (The closest that comes to mind is finding a trainer for an olympic sport.)

    Anyone can invest, authors need expertise.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It costs too much money to shop a new author, and there is no return and in most cases just big loss and wast of time. Agents who bad mouth other agents in order to get the better authors are the worst agents around and unfortunately there are too many con artists like Kristen Nelson and Janet Reid.

  14. Avatar Angie says:

    This applies well to the artist gallery relationship.

    @anonymous it is hard to imagine Janet Reid as con artist, she seem bone honest to me and if I wrote what she represented I'd do flips to work with her

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    You should have acknowledged Natalie Whipple in this post. This is basically a rehash of a post she did yesterday which has been widely circulated on twitter by writers and agents.

    Shame on you for blatant copying.

  16. Thank you for the post. I agree; it does give a fresh way of looking at the querying activity.

  17. Avatar jfaust says:

    Anon 3:54:

    It's too bad you seem unwilling to identify yourself. Thank you for letting me know about Natalie's blog. In fact, I've never read her blog, but was pleased to see we had similar viewpoints. In order to share the wealth I thought I'd provide a link so all of my readers could see her insights as well


  18. Avatar J.S. Schley says:

    Oooh, thank you, Jessica. What a sound analogy.

    I'm going to keep this one front and center.

  19. Avatar wordsofhart says:

    That's another interesting way of thinking about it.

    It's funny, you put so much effort into your query letter to snag a literary agent. Yet you're actually the one who's hiring them, but they're the ones rejecting you.

  20. Avatar Lauren Ruth says:

    Jessica, I was thinking hiring an agent is akin to hiring a lawyer, who may choose to take on a case or not.

    Your agent-as-investor comparison was much better! I'd never thought about it in quite that way.

    Brilliant post!

  21. Very interesting perspective because I've always thought the job seeking analogy was a little off. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Great analogy, and much better a correspondence to our reality than job-seeking. Thanks–I can tell this will be a useful one in the future!

  23. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    This is such a great way to think about it. And i believe agents might want to look at it this way, too. A writer's career is not just a single book, so it's very sad when an agent gives up on an author if their book doesn't get a publishing contract within 6 months. That's never happened to me, but i know several writers who have had that experience. Very sad. 🙁

  24. Good observations, Jessica! I love "business of writing" blogs that are practical and down to earth.

    This one was spot on.

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions

  25. Excellent analogy. Bookmarked yours and the link you provided to share with those who contact me asking how to get an agent. Neither whiny neediness nor hostility impress possible investors (or in the old analogy, employers.)

    Worth noting that a good business plan can impress an investor who doesn't choose your project to mention another investor he/she knows for whom it might be a better fit.