July 17th, 2008

books

the right agent, the right author

Let's say you wrote an excellent query.
And sent it to an agent.
And the agent liked it and asked for a submission.
And then the agent calls and offers representation.
You accept.
Regrefully, some while later, you discover you and the agent are not a good match after all.
And it's really no one's fault - no one has been unprofessional.
You just aren't meant to be together.
Hopefully this is a minority situation but there are enough stories told to suggest it's not uncommon.

The question is -- could you have figured that out beforehand? And how would you go about doing that?

I do a workshop about choosing the agent who is right for you, based on a variety of qualities (level of editorial feedback, size of the agency, etc.). At the last conference I attended it got wildly differing responses (the conference in question actually provides anonymous attendee commentary, which I found really interesting as I'd never seen those feedback sheets at previous conferences). Several people really liked it and said it got them thinking. Which is what it's designed to do. Words like "helpful, informative, great" were applied. But at least one person found it "lacking direction" and not useful. I'm not entirely sure why they had that reaction. Maybe they were just having a bad day. Or maybe they had different expectations based on the description I gave for the program.

Expectations. It should be a four letter word. Sometimes I think it's behind many of the situations in the above sceneario, where either the author or the agent doesn't make clear what they want out of the relationship. Or one of them wants things that aren't realistic within the contraints of publishing. And somehow none of this seems to come out in that part of the story that happens between an offer of representation and the acceptance thereof.

Or maybe there are other things that contribute. As an agent, I find my evaluation is based largely, and necessarily, on the manuscript. Which is at it should be since that is what will also be the project to sell. But how much can be assessed from the small amount of correspondence and the one, maybe two, phone calls that occur before representation is offered about the person behind the writing? Or, phrased another way, when you apply for a job, how do you know you're a good fit for the company environment?

What's it look like from the author side? What do you think you need or want to know before you sign up with an agent in order to avoid this potential pitfall?