Five Things I’ve Learned Working With Literary Agents

Dee Willson
Dee Willson

1. Agents are like Atlantis; hard to find and somewhat mythical. Sure, most have one-paragraph bios and mini selfies under ‘our team’ on agency websites. Some write a blog. A few keep their name in the spotlight with big-figure deals and best-seller client lists. But be forewarned. The bio hasn’t been updated since 1964, the blog was tossed with the dishwater, and the agent in the spotlight isn’t accepting new clients. Agents are out there, somewhere, but it’s not easy to discover what they want to see in a manuscript today.

2. Agents come from the Matrix. Okay, so they didn’t pop the blue pill, but few are in-the-know within all circles. The literary game is all about connections, who you know, and agents tend to wine-and-dine a specific list of editors. An agent who has built a list of spiritual (religion) authors, for example, is less likely to have a close relationship with the acquisitions editor for Playboy. This becomes an issue when you’re totally stoked about your latest WIP, but it’s outside your agent’s scope.

3. Agents are, in fact, human. I know, this sounds obvious, but for me, it wasn’t. I’d spent many years writing and honing my craft and had considered the next step, signing with an agent, to be almost magical, like catching the attention of a living-breathing unicorn. It wasn’t like this. And they aren’t unicorns. They are people with jobs, like everyone else. They have flaws, interests, a to-do list an arm long, and kids at daycare.

4. I will need more than one. Chances are, I will likely have several agents over the course of my writing career. I had this vision of me and my agent working together for decades, slogging over each WIP, maybe riding into the sunset together. I didn’t know agents jump from agency to agency. I hadn’t realized how many actually find it difficult to survive in this ever-changing book biz. It never occurred to me an author’s path would be so closely linked to his / her agent’s path. I discovered, it seems, why there are so many agents out there: authors eventually spread the love.

5. There is hope. I know a few authors who adore their agent, even after years of working together. I’ve also read author acknowledgments that contain nothing but praise for their agent. So, there are good ones out there. Great ones even. Keep searching. My next manuscript will be in the same slush pile, praying for a unicorn from the lost city of Atlantis.

Dee Willson
Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT (Gift of Travel)

© 2017, Dee Willson. All rights reserved.

8 Comments

  1. Good post, Dee! I’m on my second agent, and I know authors who are on their 4th. If I had to give one piece of advice it would be this: It is so important to get an agent who is excited by your book or series. They must be excited themselves, in order to promote it to publishers.

  2. Even though I’ve yet to sell a manuscript to a publisher, I feel pretty lucky. My agent and I were friends, and even critique partners, before we signed an agency agreement. But that really didn’t come about in any sort of magical way. I happened because I put myself and my work out there over a long period of time (next month it’ll be eight years since I finished my first draft of my first project, and I’ve known my agent for about six years).

    It sounds cliche, but in this, as in most things in publishing, perseverance pays. Good advice, Dee, and good luck with the next book!

    1. That’s a great way to find an agent, Vaughn. Personal relationships are always KING. And I’m so happy you persevered. I always say writing took the slowly marinated route to me. You too, huh? I’m in great company!
      Thanks for commenting.
      Dee

    1. Thanks for the wonderful compliment, Brian. I’ll never forget that first day in your class, many years ago, when we had to choose the one word that described our personality best. I honestly can’t recall the word I picked, but it had something to do with perseverance. I am quite resilient and stubborn! LOL
      Thanks for chiming in, Brian.

      Dee

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