Publishing Essentials: The Goldilocks Agent

Every writer wants the perfect agent for their work and their career. The author-agent relationship is a marriage of sorts—a long-term, committed partnership based on common interests, communication, and trust—and “fit” is everything. What you want in an agent is individual, based on your work, your goals, and your professional preferences. There are countless variables to consider: Not too big, or not too small? Not too firm, or not too soft? How do you find that “Goldilocks” agent that is just right for you?

The first thing to do is identify your needs. What would make your ideal agent? Your “author self-awareness” is a key aspect in determining the appropriate path forward. Here are some questions to help you define your author-self, publishing goals, and agent preferences:

  • Where are you in your career? Are you an aspiring writer, an emerging author, or a publishing veteran? Is this your first completed manuscript, or are you the author of award-winning bestsellers?
  • Have you been previously published? Self-publishing or traditional publishing?
  • What are your publishing objectives, in both the short- and long-term? Are you hoping to be published for the first time? Are you looking for a new publishing home? Are you aiming for a specific type of publishing agreement, such as a multi-book deal, or film/TV tie-in?
  • What do you write? Literary science fiction for adults? Romantic comedy for young adults? What is your audience and genre? Do you write for multiple audiences and genres?
  • Would you prefer an agency in your home territory or another territory? Do you want an agent who handles domestic or international rights, or both?
  • Would you prefer a boutique or corporate agency? Do you want a new agent or a veteran agent?
  • What agency culture are you looking for? Casual and friendly, or strictly business?
  • What aspects of agency are important to you? Personal attention? Negotiating power? International reputation?
  • Do you want an agent who is a specialist or a generalist?
  • Would you prefer to be on a small list or a large list?

Some writers insist on a local agent or inversely an agent in a big market like New York, but as long as your agent is actively cultivating connections across the territories relevant to you, where they are physically based shouldn’t be the most prominent factor in your decision.

Once you’ve established your priorities, you can start your Great Agent Search by doing your research. Agency websites should give you a clear indication of the company vibe, clients, books, and submission guidelines. How do you see your work fitting on an agent’s list? Will you be a big name draw or a potential breakout debut? One of the best places to look for the agent of your dreams is by reading the acknowledgments at the back of your favourite books. Do you write like E. Lockhart? Flip to the back of Genuine Fraud to find agent Elizabeth Kaplan. Think you are the next Leigh Bardugo? She thanks her entire team at New Leaf Literary in the acknowledgements of King of Scars, but especially Joanna Volpe.

Now that you have a curated list of agents, be sure to tailor your approach. In your query letter, mention the clients and their work that you admire on a particular agent’s list, and how you compare. Pro tip: Model your pitch after the book copy on the agency’s website!

Have questions about finding the perfect agent? Please do get in touch!

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