Pub Rants

How Do You Know If An Agent Is A Good Agent?

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STATUS: Today I crushed many a sensitive soul during my crafting your query pitch workshop. Just kidding. They all said it was great and learned a lot. I’ll take them at their word.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LET’S GET IT ON by Marvin Gaye

This evening, a writer sat down next to me and asked if I knew XYZ agent and what I thought of her. I actually didn’t recognize the agent’s name and so I couldn’t help her by sharing an opinion. Certainly I know a lot of agents in the biz but it’s simply not possible to know ALL the agents practicing out there–especially a lot of the newer agents who are just starting out.

She then wanted to know how she could tell whether an agent is a good agent.

This is definitely a question that has been tackled on Absolute Write and and any search could probably bring up hundreds of forum posts regarding it.

For me, it’s simple. What is an agent’s track record of sales? If solid, then it’s probably just going to be a matter of whether you also connect with the agent as a person. By the way, whether an agent with a good track record is a good fit for you as an author is actually a whole different question than whether an agent is a good agent. One agent might be fantastic for one kind of client and disaster for another client who has different needs.

If the agent is new, how new? Are they with an established agency or agent with a good history of sales so the newbie has a mentor for questions? If an agency is brand new, did the agent work for an established firm before going out solo (so even though the sales record might be small at the moment, it’s understood that the agent comes with a solid background in the field).

Trust your common sense and what your gut tells you. Make sure you’re not wearing blinders when it comes to your publishing dream. The idea that any agent is better than no agent is most often not true.

13 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I’m glad you addressed this. There’s really no way at all for a writer to find out whether an agent is “good”. Any online chatter tends to be about the quality of her rejection slips.

    Even the prior sales need a caveat– my former agent listed some of my books as sales of hers, even though I’d sold them before I signed with her.

  2. Anonymous said:

    My previous agent had a solid sales record in non-fiction but had no clue how to sell fiction and was unwilling to learn (despite asking ME for guidance! No, really.) As a result, my book was badly mishandled. Eventually the agent got out of fiction, with the explanation that it was SO much harder to sell.

    So…in addition to sales, make sure they’re sales of books that are kinda-sorta similar to yours.

  3. Steven J. Wangsness said:

    What Adam said. With seemingly fewer and fewer traditional publishing opportunities, many of us are going the ebook route anyway. But reluctantly. It’s nice to have nice reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and all, but it would have been nicer still to have an agent….

  4. Brent Stratford said:

    I disagree with Adam and Steve (sorry guys). I don’t want just any agent. I want an agent who knows what they are doing and can help me avoid the pitfalls of the publishing industry. I don’t want to work with someone who’s such a jerk I dread their calls. I want to be excited when I see the agents number on my phone. I don’t want an agent who does everything I say. I want someone who will tell me when I’m wrong.

    Who wants to be locked into a contract for representation with an agent who isn’t actively helping you improve your writing career. Not me. I’d take self publication over that any day.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Although some good points are considered, I must say it was difficult to take this seriously. I had a hard time getting past the opening statement. I assume the one writing this blog represents writers, and when the basic fundamentals of writing are not followed, I wonder how serious the blogger really is. The statement “asked if I new XYZ agent, threw me. Should it not be “knew XYZ agent”? But hey, I am probably just being anal, after all – I’m only a writer!

  6. Anonymous said:

    I notice quite a few instances of writers not staying with their original agents and securing new ones. Looks like there’s a lot of uncomfortable matches out there, for whatever reason. One really has to do their homework before accepting representation.

  7. Anonymous said:

    I’m told that new agents are “golden opportunities” for writers. I say beware! My previous agent left the business after only 6 months. Just because your agent is part of a reputable agency, it doesn’t guarantee another agent there will take you on. My book had been submitted to a total of 3 editors, which became a big headache for me. Finding an agent is difficult enough; finding someone after your book has been submitted to publishers is practically impossible. Lesson: New agents are a big risk.

  8. another anonymous author said:

    Established agents with hotshot reputations are a big risk too. I got the shaft from one of those, as have other writers I know. The agenting business lacks quality control and it lacks any system for writers to find out an agent’s real track record. And too many writers are like the two gentlemen above, thinking that any agent will do.

  9. S.D. Bullard said:

    I agree with Brent’s (and some others’) statements. However, would it not be a little difficult to know how one is going to relate to or “click with” an agent based on initial contact alone? Is in not necessary to kind of go on a “gut feeling” and hope you work well together (and then not work together again if the relationship is not good)? How does one determine from initial contact whether an agent is a good fit? Where’s the discerning line between jumping at the opportunity to work with someone who is willing to work with me and making sure I get the “right” agent? How am I supposed to know if I don’t try it out? Do you not, at times, have to go with your instincts and hope for the best? (Disclaimer – These are honest questions, not just Devil’s Advocate).

    To commenter #8 (Anonymous): Yes, Kristin Nelson is a well-known, and from all I have seen and read, well-respected and highly recommended agent. She is kind enough to offer tips and insights to searching writers, who all make basic fundamental mistakes at some point.

  10. Jen Daiker said:

    This was such a fabulous post. I think the best advice I received was know their sales, make sure they know their sales, and make sure you like the way they fit.

    I suppose it’s a lot like finding that perfect pair of comfy shoes. You plan on using them for quite sometime… don’t you want to make sure they make you look your best?

  11. Cholisose said:

    This is solid, useful information. It seems this would be a difficult, but very important decision to make. With enough research, I hope I’ll be able to tell which agent is best for me! (One day…)