Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The agent dating game

I just got back from a mind expanding couple of days up in Los Angeles, the Romantic Times BookLover’s Convention. Along with the great chances to see folks I either only know online or see very rarely and take great workshops, there’s the chance to see agents in person. Today is about that- agents in a controlled environment, but still wild and unpredictable.

At least one agent compared the relationship between writer and agent as a marriage- if so then events like RT are dating groups. Some agents have great online presence, they have active blogs, do webinars, have a ton of exposure. Kristin Nelson is a great example; you get a very good feel of who she is as an agent and as a person from all of her online activities.

But for many agents, there really isn’t that level of interaction.
I think writers get so caught up in the great search they forget to make sure the searchie is someone they can live with. For hopefully a VERY VERY long and successful time. We need to find an agent with a great track record-yes- but they also need to be someone who loves our work. Who gets it and gets us. The best agent in the world is useless for a writing career if they don't love the work and get along with the author.

Events like RT are wonderful in that you get to see a variety of agents roaming about. They are in panels, they do workshops, they take pitches, they are hanging out at the bar drinking just like you. And the writer gets to understand them, see who might be right- or wrong- for them. There are a few agents that upon meeting them, seeing them, or even in one case dealing with them online, whom I have taken off my list. All are successful- but there were personality differences that just told me even if that person totally loved my work- we would be heading for divorce court very quickly. Again, the writer has to decide if they are just going for a quickie one-book shot or a career. I’m looking for a career and I want someone who wants that as well.

This year a couple of agents really stood out as “keepers” just by the way they interacted in panels and socially. And one of them really got my work. I mean he totally got it. The fact that this was a very successful, talented, and well respected agent was just icing on the cake- HE GOT IT!

Now this agent was on my list, but until I saw him speak he hadn’t climbed head and shoulders above the crowd- he has now. Not only did he get my work, but the things he said about working with clients and the field in general really grabbed my attention. He’s a very cool guy.

Now, do I think you have to have a cool agent? No. But you do need someone you like. The agents I’ve taken off my list were removed because I really didn’t like them. They aren’t bad folks- it’s just we wouldn’t get along. Can you imagine being in a marriage where you didn’t LIKE the person? Why would you want to work with an agent you don’t like?

This agent who got my stuff was so good he made me change my mind about synopsis (if you missed it here’s my tirade on the subject over at Castles & Guns Well, he modified my opinion of them anyway- I still don’t like them. But I have a better grasp of their reason for being, and thanks to his workshop I hopefully will write better ones ;).

So my long rambling point is that writers NEED to go meet agents. Not just to pitch, or network, but just to see who they are. See which ones will just chat with folks, and which ones build a barrier between them and the great unwashed masses (to which I do wonder WHY are they there?).

See who you might want to ask out on a date.

So save your pennies and find a conference to go to. RT has agents, RWA Nationals has agents, SDSU writer’s conference has LOTS of agents. The Guide to Literary Agents blog often posts conferences with- you guessed it- agent appearances (just sign up and have the blog sent to you-much easier). Don’t just look at their track record- also look at their personality.


  1. I agree--all things being equal (as in successful, understands your particular niche in the market, professional), I knew I wanted an agent I was comfortable talking to about my dreams, my goals, my finances, etc. As you said, it needed to be someone who not only liked my genre, but specifically my writing.
    When I was agent hunting, I also got the CD's from RWA National and listened to every talk given by an agent. Not as good as meeting them in person, of course, but it still gave me an idea about their style and what they were looking for.

  2. Great blog Marie!!!

    And you're right about conferences!!! Meeting your potential future agent is super important...

    Good luck with your "date" I hope he's a keeper!!!


    Lisa :)

  3. Excellent blog. You made some wonderful points. I can't imagine building a career with someone whom I couldn't hang out in the same room with for more than 5 min. But that's my need. Every author's mileage varies.

  4. Great blog. That's one of the reasons I love conferences - meeting agents in person tells you so much about them. Personally I can't tell much from online presence - no matter what an agent says, I still can't tell if they will respond positively to my book or be a person who I will be likely to get along with. Five minutes in person often answers those questions!

    Hope things work out with your guy - it is great to meet someone who feels like a good fit for your work!

  5. Thanks for the feedback ladies :). And that is a great idea Alexis- other conferences tape their sessions as well- finding agent ones would be a great way to find out more about them :).
    Lisa and Janet- thanks! There were other very cool agents there as well. Nina- hopefully other authors are smart enough to want an agent they can get along with too ;).

  6. Great blog, Marie! I'm also on the hunt for an agent. I love when agents have twitter accounts that they use regularly. Then you get a chance to hear their voice and style, similar to their blog entries and such. Most of all, I agree with you that it's important for the agent to 'get' your work. GET it and LOVE it!

  7. Thanks for the great comments Darcy :). A hunting we shall go!! :)