Last night a bird (perhaps a swallow or wren, it was fairly small) flew into my window so hard that it broke its neck. It was startling and shocking and made me sad.
Over the weekend, I spent an early morning hour reading a book that I hadn’t read in probably 15 years. And it stood the test of time. The magic was still there. I get so very little time for re-reading anything (submissions or otherwise) that it was quite a nice treat. A few years ago, I’d picked up another childhood favorite and only made it about 1/3 of the way through the book before deciding it didn’t work for me anymore. Things that make you go hmmm.
Today’s random thought: what is the most important factor or element or characteristic considered when writers make their target list for finding a literary agent? Really, I want to know. What’s the most attractive quality an agent can shore up? And why?
ETA: What is the least important one?
ETA #2: So far I’m seeing many people say that previous sales and/or representation of books similar to the one the writer has written are the most important factors. What if the agent is new? Or if they want to branch out into another area (say, in addition to sf/f, they also want to get into mystery/thriller) — how would they get the attention of writers in that respect, then?
what is the most important factor or element or characteristic considered when writers make their target list for finding a literary agent?
and I considered several factors, but if I’m forced to chose just one…
That the agent represents writers I’ve actually heard of, and that some, at least, of those authors more-or-less write the same kind of stuff that we write.
By the way – you are #27:
The Top 50 Personal Blogs in SF/F,
Wow. That’s pretty neat. It looks like that was his draft version, so I wonder if I’ll stand the test of an update. I have no idea how one figures out one’s Technorati rating anyway.
Most important: Did the agent rep the author of the kind of book you just re-read?
Least important: How big (or small) is her agency?
Why is size of the agency a factor? And which one is better/worse? *curious*
The “blink” reaction is different when looking at an agent’s name halfway down a list of fifty people on the agency site, compared to somebody who owns her own place and has three employees. Speaking with a breathtaking lack of knowledge of the business, I would expect more negotiating power from a bigger house and a more personal touch from a boutique. Either could be a benefit (which is why I listed it as least important).
Most important: Sales. Sales of books similar to mine, to markets that I want to sell to.
Least important: I dunno. Hair color?
In response to the ETA 2:
If there aren’t actual sales yet, I’d like some information that would lead me to believe that the agent is capable of making sales — worked at one of the publishers that publishes books similar to mine, worked with an agent that has sold books similar to mine, and so on.
If it’s an agent with sales in other genres that’s trying to expand into the genres I write in, I’d want to see some indication that the agent understands those genres.
Might I ask you to elaborate on what would constitute an indication? Any examples?
I think the most convincing way for anyone, agent or otherwise, to show an understanding of a genre is to write or talk intelligently about books in that genre. Admittedly, writing about books isn’t necessarily easy, even for people with a deep and loving relationship with books.
Another, more subjective measure, could come from a short list of favorite authors in the field. It’s not just that an agent who likes authors I like clearly understands the genre better than an agent who likes authors I don’t (though that’s obviously true), it’s that a list of authors can signal an overly narrow range in the sort of story the agent likes, or that the agent hasn’t read much published in the genre in the last decade or two.
Weird, we also had a bird come crashing against the window off of my attic office last night. First time that’s happened (while I was sitting there). No body below, that I could find, so hopefully it was OK.
Most: Represents several writers who have careers I’d like to have.
Least: Quick response time.
Regarding ETA #2: I would query new agents or agents looking to get into a new genre only after I’d queried my other choices first. Maybe it’s ridiculous of me, but I think there should be only one newbie in any business venture.
I realize that replying to myself several times is kinda lame, but one more:
Looking over my list of queried and unqueried agents, the ones I put at the bottom of my list are the ones who ask for a synopsis. No, it’s not a great reason, but I really, really hate writing them.
The number of writers who have told me that they don’t hate the synopsis I can count on one hand. But. They are a necessary evil. And they still have to be used even after one has an agent. If an author is submitting an option proposal to their editor, for example. In any case, the advantage of being able to include one in a query, I would think, is that it gives the author more opportunity to detail their work.
I’ve got the opposite reaction: I feel that the chance to include more would increase my chances. Two paragraphs in a query letter isn’t much space to talk about a book. Ten pages of synopsis, even five pages would give me much more scope.
Personally, I’d rather include a couple-three pages from the start of the book, but that’s me.
The thing I’m shopping at the moment is the livejournal-type diary, and I really want to shove a whole chunk under a reader’s nose – I’m not sure whether it works if you only read three pages, but it sure as hell works when you read three chapters. Or the whole book.
I will definitely agree with the agent who represents authors I read, or at least have heard of.
Next to that, I’d probably say… reputation. Frex, if I have a friend who was represented by X-agent who looked awesome on paper (lots of sales, clients I drool over…), but warns me away from that agent, I’d probably take her advice. I want an agent I can count on to answer my emails within a week (that isn’t unreasonable, is it?) and not blow me off when I want to know where my stuff is.
Id probably take the same advice, actually, just based on a person who queried X-agent (not necessarily once represented) and X-agent behaved like that, because I want an agent who is considerate in all aspects of their job.
The least important? How snazzy their website is. Maybe. Or whether or not I like the company’s letterhead. I mean, those are _very important_ things (*grin*), but maybe not the best things to go on when deciding if I would be able to spend my career with this person.
“Is this person a real literary agent, or just a scammer claiming to be a literary agent?”
Assuming that the answer is the former, do they represent the sort of books I write?
This post was a useful prod in the backside for me, because once I’ve finished the current manuscript and sent it off to my editor, I must return to the agent hunt. 🙂
In response to ETA2: for me it’s not just whether you currently represent authors in a particular genre, but also whether you would be interested in representing that genre even if you don’t currently do so. All other things being equal, I’d rather query an agent who already has experience in selling cross-genre sf romance, but I’d also rather query an agent who would like to start selling it than query one who has zero interest in either sf or romance, never mind cross-genre.
gah. Hoping it wasn’t a wren. Me not like those sorts of things, for obvious reasons…. *wry g*
As for the target list: I wanted someone who was aggressive, but didn’t piss editors off with that aggressiveness.
Least important: who else was on their list.
Least encouraging recommendation
Some time ago, I was told that a particular agent was good because he had a reputation for lying on behalf of his clients. (I don’t remember the name, which makes not mentioning it simpler….)
Even assuming I would want that kind of representative:
I would prefer one good enough at lying that he didn’t have a reputation for it.
I would wonder about him also lying to me.
I would worry about creative bookkeeping.
Re: Least encouraging recommendation
Fascinating. And I would have to say that an agent that lies about anything would be right off my list if I were shopping for an agent. I just can’t see how that would ultimately be good. Lies have this tendency to come back and bite you.
I wouldn’t want a client that lies either. I saw somewhere online a writers site that advised writers to lie about multiple submissions. Why would you want to begin a potentially long-term relationship with a lie? And why would the agent want to represent you once they found out about it?
Re: Least encouraging recommendation
I can see the logic in lying about multiple submissions. It goes as follows: If you tell an agent that you’re submitting to them exclusively, they’ll pay more attention to you. If you don’t get any offers of representation, you’ve gotten as much attention as you could have hoped for, without any downside. If you get one and only one offer of representation, you get what you wanted, without any downside. If you get multiple offers of representation, you pick the agent you want. The other agent or agents will probably be able to figure out that you lied to them, but they don’t matter — the agent you signed with will never know that you lied.
It’s not a terribly sound bit of logic. In addition to the ethical problems, it relies on the assumption that agents don’t talk to one another.
Re: Least encouraging recommendation
I’m not sure it matters whether the agent ever knows that the client lied (whether about multiple submissions or not). One lie can so easily lead to a second. And falsehood is a terrible thing to bring to a relationship right from the get-go.
Also, I’m not sure that exclusivity actually does mean that an agent pays more attention to a submission. It could translate to that. But there are also so many other factors that effect how quickly one gets to reading things.
As for assuming that agents don’t talk to each other…. I must admit those AAR get-togethers are very awkward with everyone sitting around completely silent. Yep. And we avoid each other at conferences too. Absolutely.
#1 criteria was “does this agent represent books in both genres I want to write in?”
I basically just went through every market listing I could find, weeding out everyone who didn’t meet that criteria. 🙂 Then, armed with the (rather large) list of possible agents, I looked at their sales. If the clients they were avid about representing were writers whose stories just didn’t do it for me, odds were pretty good I wasn’t going to do it for that agent.
Least important? Where the agent went to school.
On the agent search:
The agent is looking for new clients, is willing to at least consider unpublished authors, and is looking for the type of fiction I write. Any miss on these issues makes a submission a waste of both our time.
AAR membership or (for a new agent) subscribes to the AAR code of ethics. I need to know I’m not getting ripped off; this is as good a metric for me as any.
Obvious experience with publishing contracts and sales. Prior sales indicate this, but so would experience from the purchasing end. I need to feel confident that I’m hiring an expert.
Wants to represent my type of book. Even within genre, tastes vary. Based on ETA#2, I’d say be specific about the types of books you want to represent; within the new genre what do you enjoy?
Nice, but not absolute requirements:
Clear subnmission guidelines that don’t assume enormous industry knowlege. If you’re looking for new authors, specific submission requirements are very helpful. Obviously, these have to be available, so I guess an up to date website is important – but only because I need to be able to find submission guidelines.
I don’t care about email queries. Snail mail still works. I don’t care about location.
I don’t know if it’s the most important, but is of high importance to me:
That the agent works with multiple genres, and represents writers who write in multiple genres.
As my two WIP are different genres (literary, and science fiction), this is important to me.
Most important: how are they regarded? This is one, big, grey, amorphous mass that’s really difficult to define, and possibly counts as more than one important point. What scuttlebutt have I heard, and have I heard it from more than one trusted source? We likely all have a list of Agents Who Look Great On Paper Who We Wouldn’t Touch With A Fork.
Least important: friendship. This isn’t the same thing as simpatico, or enjoying one another’s company, or having things in common. I could be completely wrong about this, but I think there’s a line between writer/agent, just as between editor/writer and editor/agent. It can be a fine, fuzzy line, but if it vanishes entirely, I think you’re asking for trouble.
What if the agent is new? Or if they want to branch out into another area (say, in addition to sf/f, they also want to get into mystery/thriller) — how would they get the attention of writers in that respect, then?
I doubt I would have a new agent on my list unless they had recently left an agency and formed their own, and that may not count as new for the purposes of this discussion. My preference was for an agent who was part of an agency. If they were seeking to branch out, I would look at what the other agents in the agency represented–do they already rep that Something New, so that my agent has access to that experience. If the agent wanted to expand on their own, I would need to trust that they had an ear for that new area and weren’t going into it simply because it was growing and they wanted to get in on the growth, or because a client had a book to sell and they needed to get it out there.
Re: random thoughts
The most important criterion in selecting an agent is that I believe we could work together as business partners.
To determine that, the best way is to meet in person. If if we didn’t click at the meeting, it would be a mistake to query.
I’ve made lists of wonderful agents who seemed like the perfect match, then torn the lists up after one look at the real person. I’ve submitted to a wonderful agent who didn’t click and could have saved some time because, if I’d listened to myself, I’d have known in advance we weren’t a match. I’ve worked for a wonderful agent and will never submit a word to her.
There’s one agent whom I recently met and she’s on my A list, though she hasn’t yet sold exactly what I write, and she is rather new and on her own. There’s another whose speaking engagements I checked, and I’ll be able to meet her in the fall.
To get the attention of writers, an agent should show up at conferences and meetings where writers go, and present her/himself as a potential business partner. In my experience, small conferences are more effective for the writer and for the agent than large ones.
Aside from the click, the agent must be:
A killer with contracts
Someone I’d leave my house keys with
Not a prima donna!!!
After doing a lot of research, I would submit to agents I hadn’t been able to meet, but they’d be on my B list.
Sally Jane Driscoll
Re: random thoughts
That is a really detailed answer – thanks.
That said, I’m a little surprised at your qualification that insists on meeting the agent in person before you even query. Not only are there very few authors on my client list that I’ve met prior to requesting a submission, but there are some that I have yet to meet and I’ve worked with them for years!
Have you really decided not to explore representation based on one look at the agent in question? How could you tell whether they were a good agent or not? I’m quite curious.
With respect to conferences, I used to go to a great many, and now I attend far fewer. Some of that is purely logistical in nature. If you’re away at conferences all the time, how do you then read submissions or do necessary things like review contracts and process royalty statements? (Yes, conferences are generally on the weekend, but they do tend to eat up time on either side with prep and recovery. Believe me, you run out of hours.) Also, I have to admit that I have rarely matched up with a new client at a conference. And usually not until some time later and after I’ve read a considerable amount of their material. It does happen, but percentage-wise, I’d say that the query approach has been far more effective for me. Add to this the numbers issue of hundreds, okay, thousands, of writers seeking to be published and meeting them all individually becomes a physical impossibility. So I certainly can’t make it a guarantee in reverse.
I’m sure some sort of personality synergy is very helpful in sustaining an author-agent relationship. After all, so many of them are long distance. It certainly makes sense to interview them (more likely on the phone than in person) once representation has been offered. But predicating that connection prior to even submitting leaves a lot of the field unexplored, doesn’t it?
Re: random thoughts
Excellent points, but:
OK, it’s not just one look at the agent (and this is assuming considerable previous research). It’s how the agent interacts with people, how focused she is, how strong, how much she seems to love her work. Whether she appears serious, confident but not self-absorbed, whether everything’s about her instead of the work when she answers a question, whether she sneers, has a quick temper or always has to make the wittiest remark. Whether it seems she’ll be a diva or a partner when we work together.
It’s not about personality synergy. My agent doesn’t have to have my politics or my sense of humor.
It’s not about whether she’s a good agent, just a good agent for me.
The agent my books make money for should be the kind of person I want to make money for. That’s not to belittle the agent’s contribution to the money-making—not at all—it’s considerable! So much so that this is too important to be left to a scattershot after consulting Jeff Herman’s guidebook, Preditors and Editors or even the websites of agents and their clients. Though this last is important, too.
The question isn’t only whether this is the right kind of agent, but do I seem like the right sort of client for that agent? Sometimes research says yes, all the facts are there, but face to face it’s clear the agent would rather represent a football player than someone like me, no matter what I write.
It’s not the agent’s job to make herself accessible to potential clients. It’s the writer’s job to figure out how to see the agent. Since the rejection by that wonderful but wrong agent, I’ve been able to go face to face with fifteen or so agents, making my total about twenty. It took only a little planning and a little budgeting, not too significant considering this is an investment in the career for the rest of my life.
There isn’t really too large a selection of agents, either, once the research has been done.
Agents’ blogs are an excellent resource, too, I’m finding. Thanks very much for your answer. Since I can’t make it to RWA National or the fantasy convention in Austin, this is almost as good as meeting you.
Sally Jane Driscoll
If I can’t meet the agent, then the most attractive thing they can offer is good sales (and working with a number of publishers). Of course, the most important thing is something none of us can know — we want an agent who LOVES our writing! Plus, I’m a prolific writer, and I want an agent who will take advantage of that as much as they can 🙂
(A bit long, in order to answer both the first question and the ETAs.)
Sales of books similar to mine would be great, but that’s not the most important thing to me.
More important to me is finding an agent who genuinely likes SF — I don’t want to waste my time submitting to someone who just doesn’t like the genre, and I don’t know how confident I’d feel in an agent who was willing to take on an SF project but didn’t personally like the genre.
Likewise, I’d want to find an agent who has an understanding of the YA market, and how it differs from adult and general children’s books — I’ve heard a few agents (often new ones, but not always) at cons say that they’ve never sold a YA book, but would be willing to take one on because it “really isn’t any different than selling an adult book”. Given the differences I’m aware of from my end of things, this doesn’t inspire me with much confidence. Yes, a lot *is* the same, regardless — but whatever category or genre I’m writing in, I want an agent who understands what’s “different” about working with that area.
And last, I want an agent who has sales across a variety of houses and editors. I know of several agents where the majority of their sales over the last few years are to one or two editors. I guess it’s entirely possible that those editors and houses were simply the best matches for each of the projects on hand, but it does raise that ‘red flag’ for me — does this agent just not have contacts or experience with other houses? Is this agent in the habit of always sending to editor A first, regardless of project, just because it’s the easiest way to go?
Some side issues I consider —
Undoubtedly superficial of me, but agents get a tiny bump up on my list if they have websites that a) showcase their authors and their books, b) list submission guidelines, and c) show signs of having been updated in the last year. If the website can show me that the agent meets the qualities above, then all the better — after all, if an agent who mainly reps romance and wants to branch out into SF has grown up loving to *read* SF, that would be a great thing to know.
For agents that are already somewhere on my list, I also pay attention to what happens after the book is initially sold. Do I come across announcements of subrights sales? Does the book end up with a great cover, good library sales, helpful reviews, etc? Not that an agent has anything to do with much of these last bits, but I can think of a few agents whose authors seem to consistently average above the norm in this regard, even with newer authors — which makes me think that the agents are doing an excellent job of matching the books up with editors/houses who are excited about the them.
Least important? Little things, like email vs. snail mail queries. Gender.
And after reading all the other responses, a good reputation is important — either for the agent him/herself, or for the agency as a whole. also, I read books written by clients of agents I’m especially interested in, and I’ve knocked two agents off my top ten list because I couldn’t stand the books they rep — and one of these I’ve met, and I really liked her, but her taste in literature (always subjective, of course) is blechhh!
One of my favorite agents, however, is Kristin Nelson — I’ve met her and chatted and I really like her. I’ve read many of the books she reps, and I like them…but so far, she doesn’t like what I write. And that reminds me that having an agent who adores my writing is truly the top priority:)
(Disregarding the obvious like requiring an agent who is actually an agent and not a scammer.) I want an agent who is both familiar with and likes the SF/F genre, and who can help me with strategy and career building in that context.
ETA (1): location
ETA (2): I would like to see either that they’re associated with an agency that has had a good sales record, or that they’ve sold well in their old specialty. It is also inspiring and helpful to see a list of the agent’s favorite (genre) authors.
My agent was an established mystery-genre agent, but wanted to expand into SF/F (I may well be her first client in the genre, or at least darn close to it). I learned through a mutual friend that she was looking to expand. I sent her a regular query (mentioning the mutual friend), she asked to see a partial, then a full, then offered suggestions for revision, then we signed the representation agreement.
I liked her very well when we talked on the phone, but what decided me was seeing her work the room at the SFWA Mill-n-Swill (this was concurrent with me doing the rewrite). She had the brilliant combination of charming and forwardness; it was clear that she was extremely likable, and knew how to find out what editors were looking for and to speak with them intelligently about manuscripts she might have that were approprate for them.
(It didn’t hurt that she kept introducing me to people as “a brilliant writer.” When I modestly begged off that moniker, she said, “Hush, I’m your agent, this is my job.” I hushed. 🙂
In short, I watched her doing the agenting thing, and she impressed me. Her ability as an agent in general was shown with her previous years in another genre. Her ability to branch into the new genre was my only concern, and she blew the doors off that one.
Also: she really “got” my stuff. The suggestions she made for changes to that first version were spot-on, and really helped me make the book better, and more what I wanted it to be. I think that’s equally as important as her being a great agent in other respects. I made those changes without yet being signed because they were great suggestions.
I would think this would vary between newbie-hopeful writer, newbie-jaded writer, and published writer. With the agent search for my first book, I had many similar qualities in mind. Covered more than one genre as I’d written in more than one, had represented a few authors I had heard of or at least could locate in the bookstore. Worked with several publishing houses. Versatile. Smart. Kick-ass negotiator.
A futile year later: someone with a pulse. Could be weak and thready, that was all right. Just a pulse. (And that can be a very dangerous place to find oneself.)
After selling two books, I lucked into an agent who matched up with the first laundry list perfectly (the pulse was just gravy), and even better, my current publisher spoke very highly of her (after the fact of course…ethics and all.) So…I’m just curious, what size kick-ass boots do you wear?
The most attractive quality: outside of having a huge dorsal fin? (shark!shark!shark!) I ask myself one question, “Is this the kind of person I want to work with over the next 15-20-30+ years (industry gods willing)?”
I look for agents that have client names I either know or at the very least recognize. Agents that are selling books with similar marketing platforms to what I am writing. Agents who have been with the same clients over multiple sales for several years.
For newer(ish) agents I look at the reputation of the agency they are involved with. If I have the opportunity to meet with them in person I ask myself that same question above. If they are not a junior agent but rather held a different position within the industry and are hanging up the shingle for the first time I generally do a bit of research as to who/what they are about outside of ‘accepts electronic submissions’. Most of the time it takes an email or two to the right person/people to get a feel for the agent in question.
I’m sorry about the bird.
Most important I want to know the agent’s character. Do I want to work with this person for years and years? I can get along with a wide variety of people, but I want someone who has integrity, passion and a good reputation. I know when someone’s very excited about my writing. I expect my agent to convey that excitement and enthusiasm to me and to others, but combine it with hard-nosed business sense about the publishing world and markets for my books.
If the agent is new, I look for their experience in other areas. Many have experience in publishing. If they are going into a new field, I look for the other authors they represent. Mystery/thriller has some crossover with sf/f. Some of your authors write mystery/thrillerish type novels even if they’re classified as SF. I think it would be harder for an sf/f agent to say branch out into the writing area of my first book — parenting.
Least important, previous sales. I’d actually go with a new agent who had come from publishing if they had good contacts in publishing or were new in their agency. Everyone was new once, even me. 🙂 But I’d really have to look at their contacts and colleagues. As my mom says “Everything has its advantages and disadvantages.” A new agent would have more time to devote to me and more to prove.
Most important qualification for agents on my list is definitely reputation. This means both the reputation they have with publishing houses–i.e., sales–and the reputation they have with their authors. Even if someone makes the big sales, I’m not going to want to work with them if they’re non-responsive to authors, or if I hear negative things about them from ex-authors.
A close second would be professionalism, which covers the whole range of business behavior towards both editors and authors.
Least important? Age. I suspect many top agents are younger than me, and I don’t care about that at all.
Too bad about the bird. Tough on the gut, for anyone with a conscience, when we’re shown just how much we trample, even without meaning to.
As for agents, I’m still in the pre-finished-book stage, investigating just for genre at the moment. So far though, I’ve been drawn to agents who show a sincere interest in their work. (Many thanks owed to the advent of internet journals.) The most daunting obstacle in the approach to publishing is impersonality. I’d take a sincere, passionate agent over one with a crack sales record, any day.
The most attractive agents are those who love what they do as much as I love what I do. They enjoy finding good work and they enjoy getting it published and maintaining strong relationships with their writers. That approach to their profession suggests (to me) that if they do take me on, my work will be in good hands.
Also important: sales, a client list with authors I recognize, reputation.
What’s least important? Gender.
ETA #2. I would give a new agent a shot, especially if they are at an established agency, but also if my research tells me this is someone who 1) genuinely loves the type of fiction I write and 2) has some fire in the belly. I think a web presence is most helpful for new agents in terms of communicating their availability, likes and successes. Just like with new writers, getting on the radar is half the battle.
At the moment, I’m trying to query just about everyone reputable who handles SF/F and accepts queries, that I can find.
I think I passed over one or two that were legit but “flaky” (ie, something about the website, the agency history, or the buzz gave me pause), and I have these stupid attacks of nerves whenever I submit to male agents (possibly because all the hardboiled Eebil agent stereotypes involve men).
If I have to pick one important factor: the agent knows, and likes my genre. Or rather, ‘books like the one I write’ because someone who is very much into, and has all the contacts for, cutting-edge urban fantasy isn’t necessarily the one might not be enthusiastic my mostly traditional high fantasy.
If I can pick a second it’s a professional attitude.
Least important? Location. At the moment, I’m looking in both UK and US, I’m *really* not bothered about a NY address.
Turnoff, other than ‘no sales’? A noticable gap in enthusiasm between what I write (either my person or my genre) and other writers/genres.
After making sure my A-list of agents has people in it with competence (either sales or if they are new–industry contacts) I would say the most important thing is something that can’t be easily measured.
I want an agent who will push me for my best work, but who will be honest with me and encourage me to expand my skills and give guidance on future projects. That means more than high-profile sales.
Another big plus: web-site and blog. Agents who are tech-savvy will be more able to promote their authors and will be aware of the importance of a web presence.
I’ll throw in my two cents.
The first thing has to be similar sales, or client list similar to what I do. That is the one thing I think everyone probably agrees on. Their submission guidelines already say what they accept or what they are looking for. If they want to branch out, I suggest they simply say they want to branch out. I think any writer will take a chance and query an agent to at least gauge their interest, to know if they love the genre.
The second thing, and EQUALLY IMPORTANT: AAR credentials. It is an absolute must. I don’t think I could query a non-AAR agent.
According to Miss Snark, there are some reputable agents who are *not* members of the AAR. Which means that I’ve amended my opinion somewhat – if everything else checks out – agent with long-term record, bonafide, watertight & all that – I _might_ consider a non AAR agent.
So far, everyone I’ve queried were AAR members, but I don’t know anything about genres other than my own. One is complicated enough.
There are two things I would say tie for most important factor:
The coarse filter is the agent’s interest in the kind of work I do–lots of people have already commented on how they think about that, so all I’ll add is that I read Locus faithfully, mark up my issues extensively, and Google agents whose names appear more than once in those pages as having sold books in my genre. Any agent can throw fantasy into the laundry list of things s/he wants to see, but not everybody has demonstrable commitment to my genre.
The fine filter is the agent’s reputation among knowledgeable pros for integrity and efficacy. Mostly I seek that kind of information by shutting up and listening, and having a keen memory for praise.
It’s hard to say what the least important factor would be. I keep coming up with less important ones, but then some circumstance comes to mind in which that minor factor could matter. All I’m left with for an answer is gender. It’s the only agent-selecting factor I can come up with about which I absolutely don’t care.
About new agents, well, how new is new? Are we imagining an agent who put in at least a couple of years in an established agency and is now starting a new agency of his/her own? I would be happy to work with someone like that, if s/he had developed a reputation as a straight shooter by selling some books in my genre. But someone new to the business altogether? No power on earth could move me to sign on as an agent’s first client, not even if s/he had worked in some other part of the publishing industry.
A personal appearance at a conference or con certainly gets attention. One agent who caught my attention, even though her home genre is several steps sideways from mine, did it by speaking at Philcon. She was on the usual do-you-need-an-agent panel, and I found her to be articulate about her business, gracious to her audience and fellow panelists in all her exchanges, and enthusiastic about being a fantasy reader. I’m looking forward to the day I see her name in Locus. I don’t need to see her name there more than once to know she’s serious about fantasy–I just want to know she’s effective.
In response to random thought of a few days ago (I am chronically slow), may I add whether they accept e-queries. Does that sound lazy? Maybe writers are lazy? What the crap do I know. Second, though, would be sales. Third, which I have learned recently, is whether they can spell your name. Very important. Trust me…
Competency and honesty.Period.
-Bernita ( An Innocent A-Blog)
Most/least important factors
Sure, someone with proven sales and representation is nice, but being a struggling author myself, I wouldn’t hold the lack of either against an agent right off the bat. I’d say its definitely one of the least considerations for me.
My greatest consideration in choosing my agent? I want to know, do I like the PERSON who is to be representing me? Do we have a chemistry/connection? Is this someone who shares my vision? Who believes in me and my story? Do we share values? Is this someone I can trust to have my best interest at heart?
THOSE are the things I want to know. My agent is my representation, a reflection of me. If I can say yes to those items, or at least MOST of those items, then that’s a person I can truly consider putting on my list of potential agents. I would rather find someone who was brand new in the field/genre who I connected with and I respected. I would take a chance together with that person if they were willing to believe in me and take a chance on me and know that together, we could make a name for ourselves. I want someone to build a personal and professional relationship with me and in return, to share in theirs.
I came across you elsewhere and wondered if you’d like to be friends?