Content corner: How to choose the right agent

In this week's Jericho Writers newsletter, we look at those all-important author/agent relationships. 

So - do you have any tips for writers on how to choose the right agent? Perhaps you have an agent yourself and want to offer tips on how you went about choosing the right one for your book. Perhaps you've gotten close a few times before realising that agent wasn't for you. 

Share your tips and experiences below. 

Replies (22)
  • Hi Benedict, I also followed the five Agent's at a time rule. I wanted to be respectful, and as many of them say, "if you don't hear back within two to four to six months take it as a no," I was starting to lose the will, all the while counting down!  With many of them not even sending a 'not for me email' I was left in limbo, so recently I decided to follow a different route and I also sent out to ten! I don't think it is unreasonable for us to do this, especially as we run the risk of them not even reading any further than our first page. We are after all up against hundreds of submissions and in a blink of an eye the year has gone while we have been waiting patiently. Wise words of yours though, I have put my MG story aside unless an Agent jumps out at me, and started writing a totally different book for adult readers. I won't give up, and maybe one day the stars will line up for me and my story and I will submit to the right Agent at the right time. I do think a little bit of luck has to come into it too. Good luck to you too! 😊 

    • Hi all, the thing is we all think our book is perfect, the bees knees. Why wouldn't we we've poured out heart, soul and lots of other ethereal bits and pieces into it. Then we send it out and people don't see it the way we do. Agents/publishers don't look at the hours and hours of hope and love we've devoted to it. They look for two things,

      1. Is it well written and finished (by finished I mean polished to the point where it's sparkling)

      2. Can I/we sell this?

      That's it. If you've written an incredible book about something amazing BUT an agent can't see where they could place it then they won't take it on. Agents need to make a living and the only way they can do this is by selling books to publishers and picking up their 15-20%. I know that's obvious but when I started out trying to get an agent I lost sight of this.

      Once upon a time I was lucky enough to get agent representation, my novel so nearly sold - was under consideration with two big publishers, who in the end both passed. My agent and I parted ways soon afterwards - I wasn't sellable - it's tough getting published BUT not impossible - what we write needs to be polished and commercial. Commercial is so subjective and there is the rub.

      If I presented agents with the elevator pitch: This book is about a dysfunctional woman with mental health issues, a mother complex and no social skills. Who's have thought it would sell millions of copies? (Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine).

      In terms of numbers - pitch to as many agents as you can find that want your genre of book - this will self-limit the number of agents you can approach - ignore the 5 or 10 number rule - it's business. One thing to watch out for - don't pitch to two agents in the same agency. This is easier to do that you might think as it's not always clear.

      • Following advice I’m gearing myself up for the first 100 rejections and then the next 100. Remember Agatha Christie was rejected for 5 years. I send in batches of 12 at a time but only submit to agents interested in my genre - women’s commercial fiction. I begrudgingly accept that some agents will never reply at all but some have taken the time to give encouragement. It is such a subjective business. At the Winchester Writers Festival recently several people I spoke to had polar opposite reactions to the same book in their 1-1 meetings. One writer was asked by the agent to submit the full manuscript and the other agent rubbished it. Remember rejection does not mean your book is no good. Just smile and keep going 😀

        • Two rejections in two days here, <sigh>

          Chin up, it just hasn't found the right heart yet...

          • I really hate to see so many writers becoming discouraged and feeling unnecessary pain over the phenomenon of rejection.   Perhaps the following words will help put rejection into perspective.

            In brief, you have to be really careful what type of feedback and rejection you take seriously, or you will seriously lose your mind. If you lose your mind, you are done for.

            There is an old saying that too many cooks spoil the soup.  This applies to writing as well—and your brain.  You can spoil your writing and spoil your brain by caring too much what others say.   It takes a profound amount of courage and self-confidence to be a writer. Feedback is fine—but it is your book. It is quite possible that the person who just rejected you is a clueless dodo.  You may have to send it to a thousand people to find one intelligent person who actually read it. Seriously.

            That being said, here are some insights into self-care during the submission and revision process. These insights are based on my discussions with trusted pros and mentors and as a person who made it through all the crazy hoops in one piece, and lived to tell the tale.

            There are two things you need to do in order:

            1. Stare at your screen and keep typing until YOU know it is a masterpiece.  NO ONE else can help you do this.  This is between you and you.   Write from your heart. Don’t read five million posts on everything you absolutely positively must do.  You will go crazy. Education is fine, but the only thing you absolutely must do is write every day and be yourself.  Anything that distracts you from that mission of originality will dilute your personality and make you weak. Write from your heart. It will take a while.  You will be dissatisfied with versions one through twenty and that is good. If you are an artist you do not need a single soul to tell you when that final rewrite moment arrives and you have a masterpiece.

            YOU will know deep down inside if in fact you are an artist.  At that point you are done and it is a postal exercise. (This does not apply if you are still learning how to write.  It also doesn't mean there's anything wrong with hiring a good editor if you need the help.)

            2. When you are done, send it to every one of the 1,998 agents on the Jericho Writers list who work in your genre and are legitimate agents. (However many there are.)

            It does not make sense not to. This is a numbers game.

            Please do not let rejection phase you people. So many of these people simply are not reading.   They are in no position to judge your writing because they have not read it. Not all of them—but many.  They may have given it to an assistant and he/she may still be in university training and not have a clue. You never know.

            It is a crazy, crazy world out there and you absolutely cannot take rejection to heart.  Words cannot fully express the nature and depth of the sheer and utter chaos out there—and the level of self-absorption and bad choices—coupled with the lack of reading and thinking.

            Do your absolute best.

            Then send it to 2,000 people.

            Be a machine or go insane.



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