When you receive multiple offers from agents, how do you choose?
Too Stressed To Be Excited
Dear Too Stressed To Be Excited,
What a good problem to have! Firstly, congratulations on attracting the interest of not one, but multiple agents. This is a very important relationship you’re embarking on and it pays to be choosey. There are a few things I would do right away if you haven’t already:
- Check their recent sales and existing clients at Publisher’s Marketplace.
- Stalk them on social media.
- Ask for a couple of their current authors as references.
- Schedule a telephone call to talk about your project and their vision for it.
To expand a little on number 2, social media is a mere glimpse into a person’s personality, but the more important thing, is to be on the watch for red flags—Are they professional? Do they keep author information confidential? Do they seem to have a good online reputation? Are they a “good” person?
Along a similar vein for number 3, you want to ask their references about their working relationships—Are they respectful? Do they give good feedback? Are they timely and transparent in their communications?
For your telephone interview, I would ask some in-depth questions focused more on your story and their long-term vision for your career. Some agents have a short-term view of “I can sell this story” and some agents are more focused on building your career over time. It may seem far into the future, but I would challenge you to take a long-term perspective on this, and ask yourself where you’d like to be in ten years. You might also ask the agent for a couple of examples of their authors’ trajectories to get a glimpse into how committed the agent is to helping their authors build a base over time. Another way to put this, is that it’s easy for an agent to point to their shiny bestseller success stories, but you might learn more from how they manage an author with a slow build.
Some other things to consider are the agent’s experience, years they’ve been in the business, whether they are full-time or part-time agents, and whether their agency has added bonuses like foreign sub-rights or connections with film studios.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both seasoned and baby agents. A seasoned agent will likely have built a solid reputation and long-standing relationships with editors, but they might also have a full list of clients and not a lot of time for one-on-one attention. A baby agent may still be elbowing their way into a crowded room, but they are likely hungrier and more willing to invest the time and attention in your career because their success is more closely linked with your own.
These are generalizations, of course, and there are certainly veteran agents who stay hungry and baby agents who have connections, but these trends may help you in thinking about how to frame your questions: How much feedback do you tend to give to authors? What do you do if a project doesn’t sell?
This is a bit of a tangent, but something I wish that I had asked my agent: in looking at the story I sent you, how would you try and shape my career and build my readership over time? If your debut novel is successful, likely the publisher will want more of the same, only a little different. So if, for instance, you are a genre jumper, it would benefit you to have that conversation with your prospective agent at the outset. The more you know about yourself as an artist, the better equipped you will be to find an agent that suits you.
I would also impart as a last bit of advice, to go with your gut. This is perhaps harder to quantify, but in reflecting on your conversation with a prospective agent and the email exchanges you might have had, do you feel like you can trust them? Do you feel safe? Do they seem to be responsive to your needs? Of course sales matter, but so does personality, and if something the agent said or did rubbed you the wrong way, the two of you might not be the best fit for this kind of long-term partnership.
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Laura Lascarso is the author of several young adult novels including THE BRAVEST THING, which won a 2017 Rainbow Award for best gay contemporary romance and COUNTING BACKWARDS, which won a 2012 Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. If you have a burning question about writing or publishing, please tweet @lauralascarso and include the tag #dearlaura
Learn more at www.lauralascarso.com