Sunday, May 16, 2010

The "Dream" Agent

Last week literary agent Kristin Nelson posted about agent submission etiquette, saying that when an author gets an offer of representation it's courteous to let all agents reading the full manuscript know that an offer has been made and give them a chance to offer as well.

I thought this was pretty common knowledge, but the comment section proved otherwise. Almost half of the commenters felt that an author should be able to take the first offer when it's given and just inform the other agents that the manuscript is no longer available. A few of the commenters made valid points, but most used this argument: If the first agent to offer is the author's "dream agent" then why should the author even talk to the other agents? It will just waste everyone's time.

How does one determine who their "dream agent" is?

I admit, I used the term when I was first querying. There were a few agents who had fantastic blogs that I'd read for months. They were cool. I liked them. Then there were a few agents who represented authors I loved. They were on my "dream agent" list too.

  • At the time I didn't have a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, so I didn't know about any of their sales histories, and I'd never met them in person or talked to them on the telephone.

  • I didn't know anything about their communication styles. Would they let me know what was happening with my submission every week or just when there was news or just when there was good news?

  • I had no idea if they were hands on editorially and I didn't know if they'd want a major rewrite or just a few edits.

  • When the project was ready I didn't know whether they would submit to 5 editors and be done or whether they would see the project through until every option was exhausted.

  • I didn't know how they'd feel if I got tired of writing MG and decided to write YA or picture books--would they still represent me?

I knew almost nothing about them, so how could I know they were my "dream agent?"

When Sara offered representation I asked her about all of these things and many more. Her answers fit with what I wanted in an agent. But one of the coolest things about Sara was that when she was done answering my questions she asked, "Do you have other fulls out right now?"
I told her I had two. She encouraged me to let both of them know I'd received an offer and give them a chance to respond.

I was so excited about her offer I would have jumped right into signing if she'd been pushy about it, but she wasn't. She told me that she loved my book and she really wanted to work with me, but I needed to make a decision I felt good about. In the end one of the other agents offered too. She was lovely and it was a difficult choice, but I felt like Sara was the right one for me.

Having choices is not a bad thing. You'll have to work with your agent for a long time. You should like him or her. You should work well together. You should know what to expect. How will you know if you've made the right choice if you go with the first person to ask you?

So yeah. There may be a good reason to accept the first offer you get, but an offer from a "dream agent" isn't that reason. When you all have agents fighting over you I hope you'll take the chance to talk to all of them, weigh their pros and cons, and make the choice that's right for you.

Do you have a "dream agent?" If he or she offered would you accept on the spot or would you talk to other interested agents first?

For the agented: What are the things you love about your agent that you never would have known before you talked to them?

34 comments:

Thomas Taylor said...

This is an excellent question. I often hear the term 'dream agent' used, and can't help thinking what it really means is 'agent who seems the best'. Of course, the only way to know if someone is your dream agent or not is to work with them on a few projects.

Sometimes the very best agent is someone who'll stand by you shoulder to shoulder when the poo hits the fan, and unfortunately there's only one way you can find out about that.

Tess said...

Natalie, this is so very important. I, too, remember thinking there might be a 'dream agent' out there for me, but after doing a little research and forcing myself to be objective, I realized that we need to know all of the things you talk about here and mostly, we need to remember that there is more to a person than their online persona.

The sales records on Pub Mktplce is a huge thing that we should look at (though not all agents post their sales).... the concept of 'can I change genres' is also really important.

I think people jump at 'online' agents and overlook 'non online agents' too quickly. almost as if having a blog makes that agent a fit for no other reason than their online presence, you know?

okay, I'll step off the soapbox now (can you tell I have an opinion about this?) haha

thanks.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I think finding a dream agent is like finding the person you're going to marry. There are probably several people out there that might be "the one," but you have to talk to them and get to know them before you decide whether it's a long-term fit.

An online persona is one thing- and can be a great thing- but it shouldn't be the only criteria on the list.

Keri said...

Yeah, I have a couple of dream agents - but you're right, they're just ones I fantasize to be perfect. I've not really thought too much into the agent seeking process so it's nice to see someone who has sharing their experiences. I knew about letting other agents know that you've been given an offer but there are a lot of good questions there to mull over that I'd never even considered asking an agent to see if they are the right one. Thanks for sharing, I feel much better informed.♥

Jemi Fraser said...

My dream agent will be someone who loves my story and who is willing to work with a newbie :)

Diane said...

Did not know all the nuances that occur. Thanks for telling your story and how it happened for you. :O)

Jade said...

I don't have a 'dream agent' as such but there are a few that I'd LOVE to work with. This is based on sales, internet presence, clients etc. but when the time comes, I plan to ask a stack of questions and go with my gut.

I think it's helpful to have at least a couple of agents you really admire because then you can envision how 'the call' will sound which is helpful when you're in editing hell and could do with all the help you can get!!

Amy Tate said...

Thank you for this post, Natalie. I'm not there yet. I put querying on hold until I've made further revisions so this is very insightful for me! I've heard from other authors about their agent experiences and I'm with you. I'd rather work with someone who has the same vision as I do for my current WIP and for the future. Thank you so much for this post!

Adam Heine said...

Great post, Natalie. I think you're right that, in many cases, we can't really know who our dream agent is because for most agents we can't answer all of your bullet points.

As excited as I would be for an offer, I wouldn't say yes to any agent right away, even the ones on my A-list.

Natalie said...

Well said everyone. Thomas, I especially liked your comment. I think we all hope that after the agent comes along it will be smooth sailing, but that's not often the case. There will be rejections. There will be bad days. A great agent will stick with us and believe in us even when our books don't sell quickly and our advances aren't amazing.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

wise advice. I've heard an agent at a conference say it's like a marriage, so make sure it's right! I also think a dream agent depends on the writer's personality. Do you need an agent with a light touch, or one that has a bigger personality than yours?
I'm still looking, so think this is a great post.

Sandy Shin said...

Thank you for this awesome post. I do have several agents on my list of "dream agents" (because it is difficult not to subsconsciously preferring certain agents) based on both their interactions online and client lists. However, it ia absolutely true that I won't know who's the best fit for me until I have talked to them and worked with them.

Indigo said...

I think the integrity your agent showed by the advise she gave, would have been a deciding factor for me. Sara was looking out for your best interest, whether you choose her or not at that time. (Hugs)Indigo

storyqueen said...

There is something to be said for the "conversation" and if there is a click...you know? When my agent arranged a time to call by e-mail, I just wasn't sure yet...I had a couple of fulls out there...but when we spoke, I felt like this was the person I wanted to represent me. There was an ease in our interaction, which was very important to me.

In addition, she only knew me from my words on paper, we'd never met at a conference or anything....and the fact that our first connection was the fact that she loved my manuscript, well....I felt very fortunate.

Shelley

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Natalie! Thanks for following my blog, and I'm a follower of yours too.
I don't have a dream agent per se. I'd love someone with a great track record of sales and someone committed to working with me throughout my career. And I guess it does come down to who falls in love with my work and "gets" it.
We'll see!

Girl with One Eye said...

Natalie, I don't have a dream agent yet. I haven't even made my list of agents. Right now I am focusing on finishing this book. But I love all of your questions. I have not really sat down and thought out what I want from my agent but you have given me a great list of questions for when I do sit down and figure these things out.

Great post.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

My dream agent is the one who will love my story and feel like the right fit for me as an author. I don't know who that person is yet because like you said, they have to answer some important questions before I'll know.

Fabulous post--as always. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Listen to the agent offering representation very carefully. How does she/he talk of other agents, other writers she handles, and of her past sales -- and the industry itself.

Tne comparison to a marriage I would say is apt. That said -- I would imagine that after trying to get an agent interested for so long that it would be hard to keep your head. Roland

Trisha Leaver said...

Great post Natalie. I also had a list of agents that I admired, hoped, prayed would like my book -- my "dream agent" list so to speak. For me it came down the phone conversation, the ease with which I could talk to her

Interestingly enough, my agent was not on my ORIGINAL list of prospects -- she was one that was recommended to me by a trusted beta reader who felt our personalties would match.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Natalie, finding an agent is something that has eluded me, but I also recognize I have not tried nearly as hard as I need to. And there are reasons why that I need to respect. Still, I look forward to the day when I can read posts like this and really understand why these things are so important. From the outside looking in, despite having been published twice, it's still a world that seems "over there" to me, so I don't feel I can be as involved in the conversation as I would otherwise. This has given me some great thoughts, though, for when I'm closer.

A Pen In Neverland said...

I agree. Never overlook your options. Seek out the best! Good, clear and open communication is better for both parties when deciding who you want for an agent. Putting all the cards on the table is anyones best bet, not to mention it is the decent and polite thing to do.

www.a-pen-in-neverland.blogspot.com

Tabitha Bird said...

Gosh. It is hard to imagine what I would say or do. Cause right now, just having someone offer would be all I would need to propel that agent to the top of my favorite list. No doubt I will get a bit wiser when the time to query gets closer.

Heather Sunseri said...

I love all the questions you asked Sara before deciding she was your "dream agent." Gread advice, Natalie.

DL Hammons said...

My "Dream Agent" is the one that still exists when I wake up. :) I've bookmarked this post for future reference, thanks for the insight.

Terri Tiffany said...

Great post Natalie! I'd heard that if we get an offer, we need to let other know who have a full first before accepting. I have some dream agents but until I really talk to them, I guess it is really hard to tell, isn't it?

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post! (and thanks for checking out my blog...)

The first person I queried was my "dream agent." He is my literary heros agent. I didn't think I had a shot, and was sure I'd just get a form letter/email, but instead I got a personal rejection from him (not an assistant) with a referral of an editor he thought would like my book. I was pleasantly pleased, epecially when on querytracker I saw all the comments about people getting repsonses from his assistant. :) It gave me a bit of hope that just maybe I'm not wasting my time...

Caroline Starr Rose said...

You Wise Soul, You.

Aubrie said...

My dream agent would totally support me and love my work.

Lori Robinett said...

Excellent post - very thought provoking!

CKHB said...

Yes! I've read other bloggers say that they jumped at an offer from their "dream agent" without giving other agents a chance to make an offer on outstanding fulls, and I'm thrilled that these writers got an agent who makes them happy, but I read those stories and think, HOW DO YOU KNOW? If it's working out, that's lovely, but these people have NO IDEA what they passed up, because they didn't make a couple calls and wait a week or so. That first offer wasn't going to go away. I don't understand why they wouldn't want to at least ask their questions to the other agents...

Jackee said...

So wise! I agree about the dream agent thing. I always hesitate to explain to people that one of the agents who has my manuscript is my "dream agent". Instead I give some long, incoherent explanation about how she's the agent I wanted to sub to for years and how I finally got my foot in the door and yeah... it's boring. But at least I'm not calling her my "dream agent" because I consider a dream agent the one who loves my work the most.

Have a great week!

Jana said...

Natalie~ Thanks for your comment on my blog. I have been meaning to call you for months to see how your book is coming! From your blog I gather you're waiting on a publisher now? You are so inspiring!!

Marybeth Poppins said...

My dream agent has my partial. Ahhhhh...but I'd totally ask questions and make sure no one else was right for me.

paulgreci said...

Great post, Natalie. I think it's important to talk to everyone interested and don't rush into a decision. I think 2 1/2 weeks went by between getting my first offer, and then accepting an offer. I went with the person who I felt the strongest connection with.