What I’m Looking for in an Agent

Now that I’ve received a partial and two full manuscript requests, it’s probably time for me to start considering what kind of agent I want to work with just in case I do get an offer or–jackpot!–multiple offers of representation.

The obvious answer is, to any unagented writer, “any agent that wants to represent me.” This sounds great, but for the sake of my writing career and the career of any agent that wishes to spend time selling my work, it’s a bit oversimplified. There are a lot of things to consider–from both sides–when deciding whether an agent and a writer will work together. I believe it’s very similar to what I encounter when I interview applicants in my “day job” as a manager of a retail store. I tell anyone I interview that while I talk to people to figure out if they will work well in the environment I have created in the store, he or she should also be decided whether I will fill their needs as a manager. I encourage my applicants to ask a lot of questions because it shows interest beyond just receiving a paycheck–it shows interest, curiosity, and planning for the future. I know I ask my potential new hires a lot of questions, sometimes ones that are completely off the wall and silly, but there is always a method to my madness. I can learn more about people from the questions they don’t expect than I can from the tired, old questions you hear in every interview and, should the need arise, I’m prepared to use the same tactic to determine how well I’ll work with a potential agent.

Now, there are a few things I know right now that I’m looking for:

Optimism and interest in my book—I would seem to go without saying that any agent offering to represent my work would be optimistic about his or her chances to sell it and, moreover, interested in it. Still, one of the traits I have always looked for in potential employees is unflappable optimism. I have not come this far without feeling pretty darn good about my chances to be published some day and I want my agent to have as much faith in me as I have in myself. Sometimes, I have moments of doubt, sure, but I want an agent who understands where I am emotionally and can say the right things to keep my chin up.

Understanding–I’m probably never going to sell like Stephen King. I’m probably going to have to keep a regular job with a regular paycheck to support my family, and I want an agent who understands those facts. I feel comfortable saying that I can do one pretty decent book per year without killing myself. Amidst all the requirements of work, family, and other interests, I have less time to write than a lot of other people trying to be published. I am a workaholic, yes, but I do have my limits, mostly dictated by physical exhaustion. I may not be prolific, but I can produce one, maybe two, full manuscripts a year and that will have to be enough unless I turn out to be better than I thought.

Willingness to let me reach–A lot of writers get pigeon-holed into a particular genre–some by choice, others not. Even if Dead and Dying does sell and I produce another book or two along the same lines, I want an agent who will let me try something different. I have a lot of stories I want to write and they don’t all fall into the fantasy fiction and literary horror groups. On my way home tonight, I was thinking of a wonderful literary story that has been begging to be written for some time, one that I keep pushing back until I can clear my current projects off my slate. I also have ideas in the suspense genre that I would love to explore further down the line. Hopefully, my potential agent will encourage me to try new things and hope, like I will, that it will be worth the effort and risk.

Good communications skills–I’m not a very needy person. I have moments where I might seek my wife’s approval on something I’ve done, but I certainly don’t want an agent to email or call me with every step he or she is taking with my book. If I agree to let someone represent my work, then that is a sign of trust on my part, a trust that the agent will do what they do and I, in turn, will do what I do–write more stories. An occasional update on the progress of submissions would be great, but I don’t have time to sit by my email or phone waiting to hear about the latest rejection from Whatever Publishing. Keep me updated, sure, but unless the book has sold, I’m not that eager for news.

Perhaps a blog–I’m addicted to publishing blogs. I read several agent and writer blogs every day, usually when I should be writing. It’s great how so many people who appreciate books can come together and learn from one another, particularly those of us looking to break into the business. Also, it’s a great forum for promotion–both for the agent and the authors they represent. When I go onto a blog and read a congratulatory post on an agent’s blog praising a clients accomplishments, I want to go out and read the praised book and see what the fuss is about. I’m sure there are many others like me, making a good blog an important marketing tool for the writers. Granted, a blog is not a necessity, but it’s good to have that public means of keeping up with news.

For the most part, that’s it. Just like with the interviews I conduct at work, looking for the best person for the job I’m hiring for, I want to speak to anyone offering to represent my work to get a sense of how the person thinks and speaks. I have learned through long years of interviewing how to read what is behind the words a person speaks. Most of all, I want to feel comfortable with the person I’ll be working with. There is an intangible link that I form with my best employees, an unspoken and vague bond that seems to form out of nowhere, but actually comes from understanding exactly where the other person is coming from. That “certain something” is what I hope to find in my agent hunt, that indefinable quality that speaks to my subconscious and says, “Yep, this is the one.”

Anyway, inventory preparation at the store is killing me. Less than two weeks to go and we are nowhere near ready. I’ve been working on other projects in addition to Superhero and will hopefully have another chapter of Golden Sepulcher by the weekend. I also came up with another idea that will have to sit in the back of my mind until I get some of these other projects finished. If the lineup of stories in there now was a line at a register, I’d be calling for more cashiers. Unfortunately, there’s only one of me to write them.

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