Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a really brilliant un-agented, unpublished writer and you’ve recently finished final edits on a truly brilliant novel. Yesterday you queried a bunch of agents and today you got five “The Call” calls. Don’t laugh. We’re playing “let’s pretend,” remember?
How do you decide which agent will share 15 percent of your inevitable Very Nice Deal?
By gleaning great wisdom from this handy-dandy agent guide, that’s how.*
A Good Agent…will have some difficulty managing her excitement about representing you, occasionally letting slip words like “amazing” or “lyrical” or “compelling” in the course of her comments about your novel. She will talk about your novel’s main character, Gabrielle, so eloquently you’ll forget for a moment that you made her up.
A Bad Agent…will talk mostly about all the money the two of you will make and will refer to your novel in generic terms until she’s skimmed enough of the manuscript on the card table in front of her to declare your post-apocalyptic novel of spiritual re-birth “better than Dickens and Nicholas Sparks combined!”
A Good Agent…will tell you the truth about how hard it is to make it as a new author, then describe in detail how she tackles that challenge with as-yet-unpublished authors she chooses to represent.
A Bad Agent…will either a) tell you your book is perfect as is and pooh-pooh the idea of spending any more time on it, or b) tell you you’re “almost there” except for a bit of editing that she’d be happy to help you with for $2000.
A Good Agent…will invite your questions and answer every one unless he doesn’t know the answer. In that case, he’ll say “I don’t know,” research the answer, and then call you back.
A Bad Agent…will answer every question that makes him uncomfortable with the nauseatingly hyperbolic details of his most recent spectacular author deal (which he doesn’t reveal actually happened back in the ’80s).
A Good Agent…will return all of your calls within a day or two, or will shoot you an email letting you know when she can get back to you if she’s currently focused on meeting a critical deadline. But she also won’t hesitate to tell you if you’re calling too often. She’ll say it nicely.
A Bad Agent…will use the following excuses to explain why she didn’t return your last six calls: my cell phone died; my grandmother died; I was busy negotiating a huge deal for you and it was taking forever and I didn’t want to jinx it…but it fell through anyway; my cell phone died again; my other grandmother died.
A Good Agent…will graciously accept gifts of chocolate or Starbucks gift cards from current clients only.
A Bad Agent…will require gifts of chocolate or Starbucks gift cards before deciding to offer representation.
A Good Agent…will custom-select publishers for each book proposal, matching the books and authors to the publishers’ needs and interests.
A Bad Agent…will load proposals into a shotgun and fire it in the general direction of a zillion publishers, regardless of “fit,” just so she can say “hey, I sent it off to 25 publishers” when you ask for a status update.
A Good Agent…will not give up on an author he believes in just because the first round of submissions doesn’t net any offers.
A Bad Agent…will tell you no one is interested in your book after getting just one rejection.
A Good Agent…will be a cheerleader, a coach, an advocate, a negotiator, and a shoulder to cry on, sometimes all in the same day.
A Bad Agent…will do as little as possible to earn his 15 percent.
A Good Agent…will share a bottle of fine wine with you when celebrating the signing of your contract.
A Bad Agent…will share a bottle of fine wine with you when celebrating the signing of your contract…then deduct the cost of that wine from your first royalty check.
A Good Agent…will know when to make the difficult decision of tabling a current project due to publisher disinterest. Then she’ll help you turn your attention to the next one.
A Bad Agent…will keep re-submitting the current un-sold project until editors around the globe start to refer to you as “that annoying author.”
A Good Agent…will still make mistakes. You can count on it.