Agents aren’t just signing your first book

Most agents aren’t looking to sign your first book, we’re looking to work with you for your career. We look to your first book (and need to love it) to fall for your writing and take that as a precursor for what’s to come.

What we expect/hope for

We want you to connect with your editor and find a home in your publishing house.

We want you to grow over the course of each book.

We want you to find a core audience.

We want you to find success.

We want you to keep writing.

How the partnership gets started

This is the ideal situation and why we invest our time. We want to be the ones to help you kick-start your career and help you navigate through it while working on some fantastic books! Now, sometimes it gets complicated (the first book doesn’t get picked up, an author takes their career into a new genre, trust starts to erode) and not every client is the success story we both hoped for when we signed on together, but getting an agent is incredibly hard because we’re looking for more than what’s on the page.

We first get interested in you based on the work you submit. Then we check out your social media pages, website, and other online sources. If you’ve been published in magazines, journals, or a previous book we’ll search those. Then we’ll ask some questions via email and/or by phone trying to get a) if we can work together and b) if our ideas for your career match.

Things start with that first query and manuscript–that’s what gets our attention. But, we’re looking for so much more than that to ensure that this can be a long-term partnership that is best for both parties.

This is why agents always say to ask all the questions you need from us and think about your decision before jumping to say *yes*. We want to be the person you expect in an agent and the one that meets your needs as a writer. Because, if we’re not the best fit the facade will quickly erode. We choose our clients carefully, and you need to choose your agent carefully too. There is a lot of blind faith involved, but there is an implicit trust that both parties will deliver what they set out to do–and have a successful and fun time doing it!

I know that the ‘finding an agent’ hurdle seems to get higher and higher, but you want the champion of your work to be there for you and the be the right one to sell, negotiate, project manage, and problem solve on your behalf.

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20 thoughts on “Agents aren’t just signing your first book

  1. What a great, informative post. Aspiring writers can fixate so much in just getting the foot in the door that we don’t look too closely at where it will lead — and where we hope it will lead. For such an important professional relationship, we should be taking the long view, as you point out!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by David! You have to think about the big picture and where you see your career headed. That’s why you need to query agents who represent your genre, and work with authors you respect/admire.

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      1. I’m seeing that more and more, and also to think really big about where I want to go with my writing. It really puts the process of querying into perspective (ie., how specific to be when looking for agents, how much slush-pile rejection that might be avoided that way) as well as understanding more about the way agents approach it. Not many beginning writers are writers full-time, but I suspect most agents are.

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  2. What you posted, Carly, makes a lot of sense. The ideal author for a literary agent is a young author (someone like Kody Keplinger who go her book THE DUFF published at age 17) who has the potential to write 20-30 books producing a stream of royalties for the partnership of author-agent for many years to come. Every good book by the author has already a market of loyal readers, as long as the author comes up with new exciting plots for future novels. Just being an master of the craft of writing will not be enough to sustain the loyalty of readers again and again. An alternative approach that the agent can pursue, while also pursuing the approach above, is to look for someone like Stephenie Meyer will might write only one huge best seller TWILIGHT and no more. This one book provides the agent with a one time huge success that will overshadow her/his more stable clients. It’s easier said than done, ofcourse, like winning a lottery ticket. But an agent might want to explore both approaches at the same time. The publishing industry is risky and uncertain, so best wishes to you and all your clients.

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    1. Not necessarily true! I’m happy for my clients to write in the genres that they wish, but if you are building a really strong fan base in one area over the course of multiple books then switch it can be confusing to readers so it has to be done with great care and consideration.

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  3. I am so glad Laura shared the link. Great advice which I found applicable as a children’s book illustrator. On this side it is also important to find an agent who is willing to help you groom and grow as the stylistic likes of the industry shift.

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  4. When you are trying to get your foot in the door and it’s getting slammed back in your face, it can be hard to imagine there’s a forest beyond the tree that the door is made of.

    Hmmm… maybe if I stop mixing crappy metaphors I’d have better luck getting published? (I’m just kidding!)

    Now I’m trying to get up the nerve to make a run at querying. It’s pretty duanting so it IS tough to think there is a “beyond” beyond that. We do need reminders like this – thanks, Carly!

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      1. Great informative post Carly. I have a question, I’ve read that when sending queries I should not mention I have a second book planned. But after reading what you’ve posted here, that makes no sense. I mean if agents are looking for the long term relationship it would seem I should mention my next project. All the conflicting information is so confusing sometimes.

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      2. You just have to be smart about how you mention the second book. Depends if it’s in a series or if you are just trying to convey that you are already writing your next work and serious about a writing career.

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