Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Greatest Fear Regarding Agents

Agents are scary.
Funny story: every time I send my full manuscript to an agent, I always ask her to email me back to let me know she received it. That way, I don't stress for months over why I haven't heard back only to discover my book ended up in her spam box. 

Every time without fail, I see her response a day later and think she either stayed up all night reading the book because she loved it that much, or she couldn't get past the third chapter before deciding not to represent it. I get a heart attack every time.


Querying is about more than getting an agent; it's about getting the right agent. People say all the time a bad agent is worse than none at all, and I believe it. I'm terrified of signing on with someone who's completely wrong for me.

This fear stems from having so many beta readers. Of all the people I started to work with, only about 50% of them panned out. They'd get busy and stop responding to my emails, edit the book in ways I didn't like, I'd edit their book in ways they didn't like, they'd be thorough with the first chapter and get lazy with the rest, etc. 

I even had one beta reader refuse to work with me anymore because she straight-up hated the book. That one cut me pretty deeply.

With agents, I can't start working with a dozen of them and pick my favorite. I just have to hope I sign with the right one.

The whole system feels an awful lot like an arranged marriage. There's a show called "Outsourced" that takes place in India. There's a scene where a character goes through a pile of applications trying to decide from a man's education, family status, hobbies, and interests whether or not she wants to spend the rest of her life with him.

I can find out where an agent went to school, what genres he/she is interested in, what books he/she has represented, but are we emotionally compatible? Will we have the same opinions regarding my book? Will we butt heads all the time?

I might be making too much of it. Or maybe I'm not. Right now, I really wish I had more experience with all of this! I guess the only thing I can do is research each agent as best as I can and hope for the best.

NOTE: After writing this, a friend told me to ask the agent's clients about her. That's a great idea. I feel better now.


  1. The phone call is one of the biggest things that helped me with this. Being able to talk to the agent and hear their thoughts about my book and ideas for revisions helped me see which ones would be a good match. It also helped me get an idea if we clicked as people, which I think is important.

    I also agree that talking to clients is incredibly helpful. It's good to see how other people feel about working with the agent.

    You'll find the right one! Good luck. :)

  2. It IS a little (a lot) scary. Like Shallee said, talking to the agent really helps to alleviate a lot of those fears, as does talking to the agent's clients. When you get the call, it's completely appropriate and expected for you to reach out to their clients (ones they've both sold and haven't sold) for an impression of their experiences. Also google a lot lol.

    Good luck :)

  3. Typing from England there.... Yes, definitely phone call will help you figure out whether you're a good fit or not. Why not ask to Skype while you're at it? And talking to their clients. ;)

  4. Hi Teralyn, I've just come across your blog and I really like your style! I was thinking it could help you to get really clear on what you want/expect from an agent and then draft a list of questions to ask them (to check you are a good match) before you commit to anything. E.g. what's their communication style like?

  5. I 've had a bad agent. He was very lack luster, and more interested in having clients for his quota rahter than actually working. In fat a ot a book deal my self although he previewed the contract,but he was a lawyer so a contract should be easy.Anyway Teralyn have you tried an editor. That would probably solve the three chapter test. They can help you with the first three chapters, this will snag an agent.

  6. Agents are scary prospects. Telephone calls help, but as Yolanda pointed out: many are just interested in their own agenda more than yours. After all, you are just one source of income for them, while they are your only source of income from your book. Whoever wants the deal most usually gets the worst end of it. That is one of the reasons I decided to go the self-published route. I may be wrong, but it would not be the first time. And at least my fate is in my own hands. Great post, Roland

  7. Roland and yoland: that doesn't help! Those are fears I hadn't even considered :)

  8. Teralyn, finding the right agent is scary because it is, as you already know, terribly important. Finding the right one for you is a critical step in a writing career. That said, it is also important to understand that while it feels as though you are at the mercy of the process right now, when it comes right down to business, YOU are doing the hiring - not the other way around. It helps to remember that :). Agents, for the most part, are in need of good clients to maintain their livelihood, and most of them love what they do and care about their authors and their careers. It is just as important to them to find the right fit. Those looking-for-a-meal-ticket types are the exception, not the rule. The phone call is a huge help, checking references, looking at an agent's sales history via PW etc, are all practical. As Tina said, spend some time thinking about what matters to you and what you value in a working relationship. Talking to an agent's clients SOUNDS like a good idea, but realistically, unless you know them personally the odds of getting an honest, meaningful response (or any response at all) are not very high. One good tip is to look in the acknowledgments of books by authors who write in your genre and see what they say about their agents. Talk to authors you know and ask for a referral, attend conferences, research sales via PW's deals section, and just keep querying. It will all come together for you :).


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