Choosing a Literary Agent is a Lot Like Dating

25 April, 2014

It’s often said that it is harder to get literary representation than to get published.  And it may be true!  But as many of you know, I think it is essential for writers to be well represented.  This ensures not only a better chance of getting published, but also provide20140101_115820_resizeds a writer with a seasoned guide throughout the entire publishing process, indeed, throughout the life of a book.

Writers get understandably discouraged by the lack of response or negative response from agents to their queries.  But one key reason for that is that you may not be targeting the right agents.  I’m always amazed, for example, at the letters I receive from writers who have clearly not checked in advance to see if I am accepting queries for the category of project they are submitting.  I don’t handle screenplays, picture books, or Westerns, for example.  Anyone visiting this website, or checking out the agency Facebook page, or following me on Twitter, or looking at Google entries or listings for me or the agency at the AAR Association of Author’s Representatives) website, reading a profile in Jeff Herman’s annual guide to publishers and literary agents among many places that contain information about the agency would know that.   It’s a guaranteed non-starter.

Just as you have preferences in choosing a mate:  you like tall men, or literate women, or someone athletic or who shares your passion for skydiving, so, too, your literary agent needs to be a fit–a fit in terms of having similar taste and interests, and also in style of conducting business.  Once you have ascertained that an agent will be receptive to the kind of book you are writing, and if you are fortunate enough to enter into a conversation with that agent, you may want to ask:  How do you see my book fitting into your list?  How do you work with your clients?  How might you approach selling my book?  How do you like to communicate with your clients? Similar to the dreaded “first date” questions, the answers will not only be informative but also give you a feel for whether there is the right chemistry.  Follow your gut.  You may find eternal love and happiness or heartbreak, but it’s a start.  Without taking a risk–a calculated one–nothing happens.

–Joelle Delbourgo