I like to think of authors like modern-day Conquistadors. Only, instead of searching for El Dorado, we're on an expedition to find the perfect agent.
We've all heard rumors that there are good agents out there, and we've maybe even done a bit of exploring, only to be rebuffed or rejected. But unlike the search for a lost city of gold, the search for an agent can lead to vast riches.
Beginning the Search
Fortunately, you are a member of RWA, an organization with vast resources and knowledgeable members. That puts you one step ahead of all the writers who aren't members of a professional writing organization.
Your first step in finding the right agent for you is to check out RWA's list of recognized agents. You can see this at the RWA website in the Member's Only section, under Industry resources. RWA lists all the recognized agents, their contact info, how to query, response time, and what they are looking for. It's a great place to start.
But only to start.
Believe it or not, RWA does recognize some agents who aren't so great. I'm not naming names, but we've all heard the stories (and if you haven't, once you start searching, you will).
Doing Your Research
So your next step is to find out what agent is a good fit for you. Start narrowing down your list. Talk to agented writers about their agents. Look at the dedication and acknowledgement pages in books by your favorite authors. Who are their agents? Subscribe to Publisher's Lunch, which lists deals made by agents each week (though not all agents list their deals in PL -- mine doesn't). Browse your RWR. Check out which agents are judging contests and appearing at conferences. These agents are probably looking for new clients.
Next, make your A, B, and C lists. Submit to your A-list agents first, then move onto your B, and then your C. Rejoice whenever you receive anything more than a form rejection. If an agent asks to see something else, by all means send something else! Agents are not just being nice.
Beyond submitting the old-fashioned way (query letter and/or synopsis and sample chapters), there are other ways to get an agent's attention. Enter some of those contests you were browsing in RWR. Especially if an agent on one of your lists is the final judge. Contests are a great way to get your work in front of a prospective agent. Go to conferences where your target agents are taking appointments. Register early to get an appointment to pitch. Agents will almost always request that you send a partial. Now, you're not doing a cold query, but you are sending something with REQUESTED on the envelope.
Closing the Deal
Okay, so finally, finally, finally, you get the call. An agent is interested in representing you. It's awesome; it's spectacular; it's time to sit down, take a deep breath, and think.
The old adage that no agent is better than a bad agent has never been truer. Agents have so much power in steering a new writer's career that you do not want to make a mistake.
Before you accept an agent's offer of representation, ask lots of questions. There's a great list you can refer to at the Association of Authors' Representatives website (www.aaronline.org). Also, consider what's important to you. I don't like a lot of editorial feedback, and it's important to me that when I call or email, my agent gets back to me quickly. I made sure that I chose an agent who could meet those needs. Spend some time talking to a prospective agent about what s/he likes about your work, where s/he sees your career going, and what s/he expects from you. If your gut is telling you that you won't work well with this person, then politely decline representation.
Right! Who would ever decline agent representation? Well, I did. Twice. And not because I already had another agent interested. It's okay to decline representation if you do so professionally and politely. Always leave the door open because one never knows what the future holds.
On the other hand, if this agent seems like your perfect match, go for it. If there's an author/agent contract, read it carefully and discuss it with your agent before signing (you may even want a lawyer to look at it first).
And then congratulations! You've found your El Dorado. You're one step closer to that dream of publication.
© Shana Galen