Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Makes an Agent Great?

As I get started in this new venture of being a literary agent, I'm wondering what writers really want in an agent? Someone to give you career guidance? Someone to negotiate the best possible deal? Someone to be a first reader for your work? A cheerleader? A kick in the pants?

So tell me, all you writers out there...

What qualities do you think are most important in an agent?

Can't wait to read your thoughts.



Jane said...

Every writer will have a different ideal agent, but personally, I would want someone to have my back. I'd want an advocate who would pick up the phone and make the difficult calls. Someone who, when I needed help or advice, would roll up the sleeves and figure out what needed to be done and either do it or else guide me through doing it myself.

I'd want to be able to email my agent with casual silliness and not be afraid I was an annoyance. (Keeping in mind that my casual silliness might rightly go unanswered because the agent is doing important work for other clients.)

I wouldn't want passive-aggressive maneuvering. If the agent has a problem with the manuscript or with me, say so. If I'm being an idiot, I'd rather hear about it from my agent than from editors six months later. :-)

Business sense. The ability to know when to push the writer and when to give the writer free rein. And return contact when necessary, even if it's just an email saying "I'll get back to this tomorrow/Tuesday/in July."

(In the interests of full disclosure, I'm agented. I just described her. When I'm working with my agent, she makes me feel as if I'm her only client.)

Karen B. said...

Great stuff, Jane! Thanks.

Valerie Comer said...

Like Jane, I'm agented. Here's what I wanted most: an advocate. Someone who believed in me and my stories and was willing to go to bat for me. I needed somebody who 'got' my ideas and themes.

Beyond that, I know my writing weaknesses and needed an agent who was willing and able to help me in those areas.

Specifically, someone who answers emails promptly, lets me know the status of submissions, clearly tells me what I need to do next, etc. Communication.

I love knowing my agent prays for me.

Keli Gwyn said...

My agent can spot promising work, comes alongside her clients, giving us editorial assistance to take our stories from promising to publishable, keeps us informed, gets back to us quickly, helps promote us on Facebook and Twitter, believes in us, and is just plain fun.

With your strong editorial background, years of experience, and dynamic personality, I'm sure you're destined to be a hit with your clients.

(No, you don't know me, but I "met" you at Mount Hermon in 2008 when I was a florescent green newbie writer and you were leading worship in the mornings. I'm now repped by Rachelle Gardner, who sold my debut novel. Can you say happy? =D )

Katherine Hyde said...

Everything you said. I want someone to be in my corner. I don't need my hand held, but I want career advice, encouragement, the hard truth when I need to hear it, a guide through the publishing maze. I want help making the most I can from my work financially, though that's not the top priority. I want help finding my sweet spot in which I can become the best writer I can possibly be. Essentially, I want a mentor. I hope that's not too much to ask!

I'm agented also, but just recently, so we're still feeling our way in this.

Lisa Jordan said...

First, congrats on your new career, Karen. I'm sure you will be a great success as an agent because you're a writer and you've been an editor. You know what editors want to see and you know how to resonate with writers.

Second, I agree with Jane about different writers needing different characteristics in agents.

I have an incredible agent--Rachelle Gardner. Before I signed with her, I followed her blog for 2 years to make sure I understood what she was looking for and to see if I thought I'd be a good fit with her agency.

What I love about Rachelle is our partnership. We're a team. We rely on each other to make my writing career work. She has been honest, straight forward and encouraging every step of the way. She believes in me and my work. She is quick to answer my questions, even my newbie ones when I don't understand some element of the publishing world.

Being a mom with a full time career, she understands my writing schedule (I'm also a stay at home work at home mom) and doesn't pressure for more.

I'm so blessed I've been a client of hers for over a year now. And this year, we will celebrate the release of my first novel in November.

So, I'd say a great agent is one who listens, cares, knows the industry, and can be an encouraging butt kicker, if necessary.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Congrats on your new move, Karen.

The main reason I need an agent is to negotiate the best possible deal and handle the legal end of things because that isn't my forte at all.

I like Jane's list of what she wants from an agent. Especially this part: I'd want to be able to email my agent with casual silliness and not be afraid I was an annoyance. (Keeping in mind that my casual silliness might rightly go unanswered because the agent is doing important work for other clients.)'

Communication in both directions is so very important to me. Which brings up the kick in the pants idea... I need an agent who will recognize that when I'm silent for longer than normal, it's probably because I'm procrastinating and will need the kick in the pants. An agent who only tends to his/her more vocal clients does both of us a disservice.

I like the rest of your list, too. Not the first reader part because by the time my ms gets to an agent it will have been read by 2 or 3 critique partners and possibly a beta reader.

A cheerleader sounds good, but only if warranted. I prefer honesty.

Thank you for asking, Karen.

Anita Mae.

James L. Rubart said...

Passion. Humor. Vast experience in the publishing industry. The ability to be firm and compassionate--often in the same conversation.

Editing background. Follower of Jesus. Excellent ledge talker for those times when their author feels like jumping.

Talk to Karen Ball. She has all these qualities.

Karen B. said...

Love your comments, friends. Thanks!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

What am I looking for in an agent? Someone willing to represent fantasy! ;-)

Aside from that, I'd like someone who will lend editorial expertise so that my work can be top notch when it reaches an editor's desk.

The others mentioned good things that I want too. I'm not sure on a priority list what I'd say is most important. Trustworthy, comes to mind. I like to let the expert do what the expert does, and that's easy to do with someone you trust.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

In addition to all the great stuff mentioned above, I think it's important for agents to be familiar with the lines/genres their clients are actively contracted in.

More importantly, to keep a strong pulse on the industry in general/as a whole. Tough I know since publishing has changed more in the last year probably than in the last 25 years combined, thanks to the digitization of books, etc.

Super congrats, Karen! I know you will be a tremendous asset to all of your clients.


Nicole said...

Someone who gets me and isn't afraid of what/who I am in my writing. Someone who knows exactly where my work will fit because they see the passion and purpose for it.

Someone who knows the Lord intimately and will share that closeness with Him and me in decision making.

Someone who actually wants to communicate with me.

Someone who loves my writing regardless of where it does or doesn't belong. Someone who respects who I am in the Lord and who I desire to be as a writer.

Cara Putman said...

Love what I've read -- especially Jim's. My agent is a good fit because she knows the market, has vision for where I fit. Pushes and prods me by telling me to slow down -- the last thing I need is an agent who wants more from me. She also makes me aware of opportunities. She pays attention to feedback we get from editors and will push something back if it needs more.

The only thing I'd like a little more of is a first read. That little push to make things even better. But my agent does a great job keeping me on track, being honest with me and encouraging me at the same time. And she will go to bat for me when needed.