I’m talking marriages today. Not literal ones, but the kind of marriage a writer has with her agent. “Don’t be silly,” you might be thinking. “It’s a business relationship where the agent works for the writer; nothing like a marriage!” And you’d be right in some ways, (I’ve never shared a bed with an agent, nor taken him/her home for Rosh Hashannah dinner) but in others, well, just bear with me.
Trust me when I say you need to find a great match in an agent, because chances are, once you get on the publishing roller coaster, you’re going to need the support of a cheerleader/negotiator/hand-holder/shoulder to cry on. Even the most stoic and pragmatic of writers need an objective business partner who can not only negotiate on her behalf, but also reel her in when she’s put on her crazypants and can’t be objective and smart about important businessy stuff.
But before you can get married, you need to do some online dating when you’re looking for an agent. Online dating is scary for the same reason online grocery-shopping is scary—you want to squeeze the bread and knock the melons before you make your choices and commit. But there are some tools to help your online agent dating be as painless as possible. You first want to weed out all the scammers. You know, those slick guys who wine you and dine you and then find themselves in Greece and their wallet has been stolen and can you just loan them your life savings to get them home where they’ll pay you back with interest? Yeah, you don’t want to end up with one of those guys. So I suggest you stick to known and recommended resources like Querytracker.net – a great website where you can cross-reference all your information. You can also vet out scammers at Writer Beware.
So when you have a few suitors, how will you choose? Like a mate, you need ask questions and see if you’re going to be a good match. And, just like in the real dating world, if you’re honest with yourself and know upfront what you really want in your suitor, you’ll save yourself from choosing the wrong one. And like dating, you want to ask around to see how other people feel about their relationships with the agent (polygamy is okay here!) and are there any exes who may have some things to say. Don’t be afraid to do your due diligence. This is an important, potentially career-making or breaking thing—you want to do it right.
And then you need to talk to the agent to get a feel for them and how they work. Like spouses, every agent is different. Do you want one who will help you editorially or are you looking for more of a salesperson who will leave the nitty-gritty editing to you and your editor once you sell the book? Are you looking for a fling (where the agent signs you on one book) or a long-term relationship (are they signing you, the author with the hope of sticking it out through your career). Do they have editors in mind already? Are they chomping at the bit to get your book on submission? You want them to love your work this much—it’s sometimes a long haul and you do not want to get in deep and have your agent lose interest. Use your gut on this one—if something feels wrong, step back and figure out why. If it feels right, still take some time to mull it over. Important decisions are always best made with a little thought and distance.
Like good marriages, agent-author relationships can be very satisfying and filled with good times and mutual respect. There’s nothing quite like getting that call from someone you really admire when she has an offer on your book and SHE is as excited as you are. Sure, she’ll get paid from that sale, but maybe she’s an agent because she loves books and wants to see authors make more of them. It’s not inconceivable—you probably don’t write just for the money, do you? You want to find someone who is in it for the love and the money and who you can work with well with. Someone who will sit on the roller coaster beside you and hold your hand and scream and laugh along with you. And then, when you get off the ride, she’ll hold your hair while you chuck in the bushes. And THAT’s what makes for a great marriage.