I’ve stumbled across a few blog posts and tweets recently that have been both flattering and troubling. The posts come from writers who are either querying agents or preparing to query agents, and have very nicely named me as their “dream agent.” When I say “a few” posts I mean just that. I’m not implying I have legions of fans or anything. But a few posts – and really even if it was just one post – are too many. Here’s why.
Resting all of your hopes and dreams on one person is dangerous. This is true for life in general, but let’s stick with talking about publishing. If you’re a writer and you’re querying agents, you should have a healthy list of agents (say 10-20) whom you deem the best fit for your work. If they all say no, find 20 more. And if they all say no, OK well maybe you need to revise. The point is, there is never just one agent to query. The number of websites devoted to curating lists of literary agents is staggering, so no one with Internet access has an excuse for not doing research.
What’s more troubling about the “dream agent” is that when I see writers use this phrase, whether about me or someone else, I worry it may be for more personal reasons than professional. The Internet has eliminated the great divide between Writer and Gatekeeper. Agents aren’t just mysterious figures in their New York City Ivory Towers who crush the dreams of writers at will. Now writers can see that we’re just regular people who love books and happen to have the right connections to get their books published by major publishers. This has been great for publishing for several reasons: Stronger relationships, built-in marketing networks, and being able to directly tell writers what I like and am looking for has made my slush pile a much more pleasant place to spend time. But, sometimes I worry the personal connections writers feel to certain agents can overshadow the real task at hand – selling books. Liking me on a personal level is great, but please research me on a professional level.
The agent-author relationship is first and foremost a business partnership. If you’re querying agents, writing is probably more than just a hobby for you. This is your career. It’s not something to take lightly or “pass off to a friend.” You should want a professional who will know exactly how to sell your work. Being liked is a nice feeling, and it lets me know the advice I give to the writing community on Twitter hasn’t gone unnoticed. But if you’re a writer seeking an agent, I hope you’re not just querying me because we both watch Doctor Who or because one time I made a joke you found funny. I have a good personal relationship with all of my clients, which I think enhances any business relationship, but that part of our relationship is a fun added bonus. I didn’t only love their books or think they were cool people – even though I did, and they are – I also knew I could help them get their work published.
Before querying, ask yourself the following questions:
– Is this agent taking on new clients?
– Does this agent represent my genre?
– Has this agent ever stated whether they specifically are or aren’t considering certain sub-genres?
– What type of success has this agent had with my genre specifically?
– What type of sales does this agent have overall? Will they have good connections even if my genre is new to them?
– What agency does this agent work for? Are they legit? What’s their reputation like in the industry?
– Does this agent share the same vision for my work that I have? If they don’t, why not?
– Will I get along with this agent on a personal level? Will this be an enjoyable relationship, as well as a successful business partnership?
You won’t know who your dream agent is until you receive that offer of representation and realize that someone saw something brilliant in your manuscript. If your pre-determined dream agent turns you down, then they weren’t the best fit to begin with. The person you need to work with is the person who needs to work with you. Don’t pretend this person exists before you even query them. Writing is hard enough, let alone querying. Take one solace where you can and know that your dream agent is out there, but it’s not up to you to decide who that is until he or she reads your work. They will come to you.