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Describe Your 'Dream Agent'
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 9:59 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

Given complete druthers, what kind of agent is your "perfect match?"


* Strong background in marketing and advertising (<-- really want this. Really, really, really.)
* A legal background wouldn't hurt, either.
* Assesses manuscripts objectively -- that is to say, looks for what has the potential to sell, not what he/she personally wants to read.
* Doesn't soft-peddle the point; is brutal when it comes to criticism. (Hey, I started in a newsroom; I'm used to being yelled at by editors and higher-ups).
* Tells me in great specificity what revisions need to be done, gives me a deadline, and then leaves me alone.
* Doesn't talk about my personal life or hers/his; keeps it strictly business.

What about the rest of you? What is your "dream agent" like?

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 10:58 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Hmmm...I'd say that your dream agent list of requirements is rather steep and a little impractical.

An advertising background would serve no purpose, as most advertising doesn't actually sell books. (This is true. Many big advertisements for books are placed to assuage an author's ego or to placate an agent. But they really don't sell books.)

A more useful background for your dream agent would be 10+ years working at a commercial publishing house either in editorial or sales OR several years working as an assistant and junior agent at a well-established literary agency where she or he received a lot of mentoring from the senior staff.

Additionally, you're better off with an agent who genuinely loves what you write instead of an agent who tries to shop a project he or she really doesn't like.

Passion for a project coupled with a strong understanding of how the publishing marketplace works makes for a very good agent.

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 11:44 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

Colleen, industry experience is a definite a requisite -- I'm just adding on the "perks!"

The reason why a marketing background is so imperative, IMHO, is that it takes into consideration first what people both can and want to read. It's being able to take America's pulse. Many people don't really get the whole "Twilight" craze ... hey, I *totally* understand why there was a huge market for this, just looking at the demographics.

Genuinely loves my work and feels that it's marketable is my first choice. Feels that it's marketable is my second. Lastly would be the agent who loves my work and *tries* to create a niche based on what could be a nonexistent market.

I actually have a lot of questions about how the publishing industry works in terms of how it chooses which books make it to market. For example, are focus groups used? Polls? Does the publishing industry conduct studies? But that's a completely different topic.
Tara Kollas
Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 7:28 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 19

A perk would be an agent who represents the books I love to read, which are the same genre as the MS I'm querying at the moment.

Of the two agents who had my full, one has been an agent longer, but doesn't represent the genre as a general rule. The other agent is newer, but works for an established agency. When the second agent emailed me requesting the full, she said she started reading it the night before, loved it, and couldn't put it down. That email made my day (maybe my month), and I just hope she loves the rest of it, too.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 3:36 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

I write material that's wide-ranging and 'special snowflake' genre-mash-y enough that my main dream agent quality, outside the standard skills that are make an agent excel would be a wide weird palate, so that they'd not only tolerate but be excited to stay with me as I range around the world of SF/F.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:42 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

My dream agent is anyone who can deal with me without downing half a bottle of wine beforehand.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:42 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Sorry, the delete post button is broken, this was a duplicate.
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 8:33 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


"My dream agent is anyone who can deal with me without downing half a bottle of wine beforehand."

My dream agent is anyone I can deal with without feeling the need to down a beer or two!

I think that if I sum it up, my dream agent simply has integrity. Some might call it character. Integrity umbrellas all of the other swell leadership qualities: candor, confidence, work ethic, compassion, fairness, loyalty, sound judgment, etc. I had the rare privilege of working with someone like this, and I've never forgotten it. I've never found it again, either.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 1:18 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

This post is really interesting, I haven't yet tried to get an agent so I'm a rank greenie when it comes to agent hunting. I have a manuscript finished but I keep wimping out on the idea of sending a query or agent hunting. A few agents have contacted me through my blog but...eh. It's like I'm standing on the edge of a really cold pool of water and dipping my toe in, afraid to take that plunge.
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 8:26 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

@ Ivoidwarrenties

Oh, honey, querying is when the “fun” actually begins. I sat on my hands forever before I started, and I’ve only targeted a small group of agents thus far. I have three partials out. Other than that, there’s a lot of … well …

::Sound of water dripping::

I think I’m going to place querying on hold for a while, enter a bunch of writing contests and see where things go in the publishing industry. Could be that the current way of doing business will change a lot in the future.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 6:35 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Other than advertising your book to various houses, I fail to see where the agent being an advertiser would be good. That sounds like a job for the publisher/editor.

Honestly, that list sounds more like what I'd like to see in an editor.
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 10:12 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


You're probably right! I've only worked with editors -- never intermediaries to editors. So I don't know what that's like.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 3:45 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

Re: Alexander's point.

The publisher should take the lead in advertising/marketing, especially in terms of arranging interviews, reviews, tours, but having an agent with marketing/publicity background can't hurt. I'd just put that lower on my preferences list than an agent with editorial experience and/or strong contacts.
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 9:56 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 21

I have to say that I pretty much have my dream agent in that she sells what I like to write, knows the market, is great about communicating, and can be critical in the extreme when necessary.

Has she sold my work yet? Nope. And she's been my agent for a few years. But that's the way it works sometimes. She still has faith in me and I know that if I can provide her with a good enough product, a product that suits the market, she will be able to sell it for me.

So I have to say that the things are are extremely important to me are:

1) Good communication (this is an absolute must - I've had an agent who didn't communicate with me and won't do it again no matter what her track record is)
2) Good contacts with editors in the fields in which I write
3) Willingness to read and help with revision
4) Interested in growing my career, not just selling my book

Annabelle R Charbit
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 5:21 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 55

Good lord, right now my dream agent would be someone who would give me the time of day.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 4:27 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@Annabelle - Keep the faith! Keep honing your craft and your query, and you'll get responses.

As for *my* perfect agent, I'm a little biased, in that I found someone I really wanted as an agent, but she's no longer an agent. Life is like that sometimes. I suppose if I get an offer from a big publishing company, I'll see if she can recommend someone.

As to a list of 'dream agent qualities'? Assuming the basics of industry knowledge, experience, and networking skills, I'd say:
- Quirky sense of humor
- Enjoyment of weird fiction. By that I mean both the genre Weird Fiction *and* things that are just plain weird.
Those two are the core of it, since they'd need those to really *love* my books, and loving the books is, as Colleen says, a dead on requirement for an agent. Other than that? Near-requirements would be:
- Willing to tolerate my FredGallager-esque bouts of self-doubt.
- Able to tolerate massive amounts of celebratory alcohol when my novel(s) sell.

Yeah, that'll do.
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 3:20 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

My number one quality in an agent is someone who just really loves and believes in my work.

I don't care about the marketing/advertising stuff. I am more than willing to take that on myself. Given a decent advance to pay for it, I have some fabulous marketing ideas and a good friend with even fabulouser ones and an embryonic book marketing company that is already garnering all kinds of success. I'll pay him and pass him the job.

I'm probably going to need an agent with some vision, who is willing to take risks/persuade others to take risks. I want to be a mainstream writer who happens to have a lot of queer characters and content in her work. Not a GLBT-niche (ghetto) writer just because my main characters are lesbians. They (the publishing/entertainment industry) get this in the UK. The U.S. is still lagging a bit. Maybe I need a London agent.

I suppose if I could dream up a perfect agent s/he would also be someone who has worked a lot with writers who have the kind of career I want to have--a rarer and rarer beast these days. I aspire to a solid, mid-list, don't-quit-your-day-job career. I'm probably never going to write a blockbuster. Fact. But I'd love to write a $20K advance book per year for the next 15 years.

Not sure how to actually find that, though.

My strategy is to query as many people as possible and see what happens. I've had a couple of full manuscript requests based on sample chapters, and that is encouraging. I think it's just a matter of time and persistence once you get to that point.
Alison Brantley
Posted: Saturday, June 11, 2011 6:08 PM
Joined: 6/11/2011
Posts: 1

I think I am going to have to agree with Lisa's original point.

Marketing is much more important than people seem to think. This is not because the agent does it, but because the agent takes it into account when deciding which books to rep.

Agents who just pick their favorites are, let's just say, not very likely to get far, unless by coincidence their favorites reflect what the world actually wants to read. And anybody who thinks an agent can't skillfully rep a book that isn't a personal favorite is, iMHO, underestimating human potential and the agent's desire for a successful career.

Besides that topic, my own wishlist includes this:

1. A grownup. For instance, I don't want to be represented to the publishing world by someone who uses multiple exclamation points or frequent emoticons in her Twitter updates. These have the effect of making her appear to be about 17.

2. Someone with a skilled command of language. Again, this isn't because the agent herself needs to edit my work, but in representing me to the world, an agent who can write capably is going to seem more professional to editors. My odds of a career therefore go up. Unfortunately, I frequently read agent blogs that strike me as just... mediocre, conversational, and predictable writing in nearly every respect.

3. Someone who understands that fiction works or doesn't work because of how well it fulfills very basic human interests/needs... not because of fashion-worldish, hot-or-not trends. If I read an interview in which an agent says "X is hot right now," or "editors want to see Y right now," as if novels were Prada shoes or Thai fusion cuisine, I scratch that agent off my list.

4. Someone who has real connections from a real publishing career, and who therefore probably lives and/or works in Manhattan and actually interacts with editors on a frequent basis.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2011 6:55 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Alison -

I'll repeat my earlier point to Lisa: it's not an agent's job to market or promote an author. It is an agent's job to sell your manuscripts and manage your subright sales. Marketing and promotion is a an entirely different job and you should probably expect to pay a professional for those skills in the same way that you would expect to pay a copyeditor or developmental editor.

Also, whether or not an agent lives in Manhattan has no bearing at all on whether or not that agent is competent and maintains good relationships with editors. There are a LOT of excellent agents who live in Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, etc...

If you discount agents who live outside of NYC, you'll be depriving yourself of the chance to be repped by some of the best agents in the business.
Skytale Writer
Posted: Monday, July 11, 2011 5:04 AM
Joined: 7/10/2011
Posts: 7

Lately, my dream agent would be someone representing all the black books, not the pink ones in the YA book section.


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