What Getting an Agent Is and Isn’t.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, getting an agent was the single most exciting thing that happened to me in 2014. It’s an amazing validation of all the hard work it takes to get to that point, and it lets you know that someone else believes in your work. That’s all wonderful. But what getting an agent isn’t is a golden ticket to BestsellerTown. I spend a lot of time talking to querying writers, and I see a lot of misconceptions about what getting an agent means. So I thought I’d take a moment to dispel some of the more common myths.

  1. An agent is not a book contract. You’re not going to sign with an agent on Wednesday and find a book deal waiting for you on Thursday. Publication is a long journey, and signing with an agent is just the first signpost on the road to Being Traditionally Published. There are a lot of things that still need to happen. Celebrate your good news, because it’s awesome, but know that there’s a lot of work ahead.
  2. Your agent’s job is not to fix your book or help you write it. Your agent’s job is to sell your book. That means it has to be pretty darn good before they sign you. Yes, some agents are editorial and will help you polish and revise before going out on submission. Some agents don’t. If you want an editorial agent, do your research. But your book still has to be polished and excellent before an editorial agent will sign it. An agent isn’t a shortcut so someone else will edit the book for you.
  3. An agent will not agree with you on everything. Yes, it’s good to have things in common with your agent. My agent and I love many of the same authors. But your agent isn’t your brain twin, just like your spouse or your best friend isn’t a brain twin. You will have different opinions on things. A good agent will push you to become a better writer, not merely sign off on whatever it is you send them.
  4. Not all agents work the same way. What you’ve heard from your CP or that best-seller you met at a signing ten years ago or your Aunt Val is not necessarily the way your agent will work with you. It’s almost like different agents are different people. Before signing, talk with a prospective agent about your expectations and ask them to give you an idea of how they work to see if you’re a good fit. Some agents communicate daily. Some only email when they have news. Some will want to hear ideas before you start writing a new book and approve it. Some won’t. My ideas make zero sense until I start writing them down, so I wouldn’t get very far with an agent who wanted to approve everything I do in advance. “This book has an Elvis impersonator, a road trip across Canada, pole dancing, murder, and… lawyers?”
    No. No, you can’t write that.
  5. You still have to edit manuscripts before sending them to your agent. Just like your agent will only sign polished and complete drafts, they don’t want to see rough drafts of your later manuscripts. You can’t just type “THE END,” then email it out five minutes later. I wouldn’t blame my agent if she fired me for doing that – my first drafts only slightly resemble English. I actually have more critique partners than I did before signing, each helping me with different things. Look at it this way—Do you want your agent to spent all of his/her time reading multiple drafts of manuscripts for each of multiple clients? Or do you want your agent to have time to sell your book? Also consider that your agent will wind up reading your drafts several times before publication. You don’t want to make him or her sick of the book before it’s even ready for submission.
  6. You still have to write the synopsis. I really hate to burst your bubble, but a lot of people seem to think they can write the synopsis to get the agent, then toss it aside and never do it again. Nope! Plenty of editors want to have a synopsis when they get your manuscript. And who’s the best person to write that? (I’ll give you a hint: It’s the person who should’ve already written many, many drafts and could explain the plot of the book while passed out in a drunken stupor). Before I signed with an agent, I’d written one synopsis. A year later, I’ve written seven—and I only have four completed manuscripts. Lean to love the synopsis, because it’s not going anywhere.
  7. Everyone’s journey is different. Some people may be very vocal about having the best agent ever, for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean your relationship will be the same, or that your relationship is any better or worse than the other writer’s. Don’t judge yourself by what other people are putting out there to the public—it may not be the entire story, and even if it is, it doesn’t mean that writer’s agent would be the best fit for you and your book. One of my CPs has an agent who is very vocal on Twitter and chats with her all the time. Another has an agent who hasn’t tweeted in months. And that has zero to do with their agent/writer relationships or how effective the agent is at agenting. We all have different personality types. Find the agent that is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Questions about having an agent? Post them in the comments, and I’ll answer them.

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  1. Thank you for this post! I was wondering if agents consider writers from foreign countries (like Sweden) for representation? This question is probably best suited for an agent, but please share what you know. 🙂

    • Most of the agents I know are in the US, Canada, or the UK, and they accept submissions from writers in foreign countries. As long as you write in a language they read/speak, you're probably OK, but always check the submission guidelines on the agency's website. 🙂

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