Choosing The Right Agent Is Even More Important Than Choosing The Right Spouse

Patricia V. Davis on choosing the right agentWritten by Patricia V. Davis

There’s a saying we’re all familiar with in publishing: Having a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I’m here to tell you that a truer maxim never existed.

Good literary agents do more than just get your manuscript placed with a publisher. They negotiate your publishing contract as well as additional rights—such as foreign rights, audio rights, film rights, and more—that can substantially add to an author’s income from his manuscript. Good agents will keep you in mind for other opportunities too, such as speaking engagements, or additional publishing opportunities. They’ll answer your questions, help with your promo and networking, offer writing advice and a sounding board. In short, for a mere fifteen percent of what you earn, your literary agent is your partner in the business of selling your work.

So, how does a would-be author find these paragons? For my novel, Cooking for Ghosts, I finally did find the perfect representation, but believe me—it wasn’t easy. Maybe one day, we’ll meet at a writers’ conference; you’ll buy me a drink, and I’ll spill all the gory details. (Only one would be needed; alcohol goes to my head easily.) But in a 750-word essay, it’s much better if I just list some tips:

  1. Before signing with an interested agent, if you can, contact other authors the agent represents and ask them what their experience with the agent has been like.
  2. If a new agent who has very few clients asks to represent you, before turning this agent down for one who seems more experienced, learn as much as you can about the literary agency where he or she is employed. If the new agent is supported by a team of more experienced agents at an agency that has a good reputation, take that into consideration. You might be getting two for the price of one, and new agents can often be enthusiastic and attentive.
  3. As for those more experienced agents, before you jump on that bandwagon, it’s worth the cost of a Publishers Marketplace membership to investigate an agent’s past sales. What were the last titles they sold? To whom? Despite numerous sales, if the experienced agent isn’t selling your category of manuscript on a regular basis, they might not have enough contacts with the right editors for your particular work.
  4. During your interview with the agent, listen carefully to what he or she has to say. Do they seem impatient, or willing to have a discussion? Do they address your concerns? Do you get the feeling that you’d fit together, in terms of personality and methodology? Are you clear on what the agent will do and won’t, and on what the agent expects you to do? Does he think your manuscript is ready as is, or does he request revisions?
    If revisions, is he asking you to “edit” (e.g., add more place description), or is he asking you for a total rewrite, such as, change the main character from a firefighter to a farmer and move the locale from Greenwich Village to Nanjing? Do these suggestions “feel right” to you, or do you suddenly feel insecure about your work? (Note: Disregard this last if you are already insecure about your work, in general. If that’s the case, try to determine if the anxiety you’re feeling when you’re talking to this potential agent is usual for you, or in some way, unusual.)

I was remarkably fortunate that I had a choice of representation from three agencies for Cooking for Ghosts. Fortunate and panic-stricken at the same time. How to choose? I’m so happy I chose to be with Fuse Literary, (formerly Foreword Literary). The key word for me with them is “innovative.” With all the changes that are taking place in publishing, it feels wonderful to be working with professionals who adapt easily, utilizing these changes as catalysts for new ideas and approaches. Writing can be a lonely business, but Laurie McLean and Gordon Warnock, the partners at Fuse, have somehow managed to make their agents and clients feel as though they are all one big team, a team that cheers each other on, and uses social media on each other’s behalf to promote every agent and author. And that’s the bottom line: Do you feel good when working with your agent, or not so good?

Cooking For Ghosts cover Patricia V. Davis is the author of Cooking for Ghosts: Book I in The Secret Spice Café Trilogy. (HD Media Press, October 7, 2016). She is also the author of The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know, and the bestselling Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece. For more information about Patricia’s books, visit her website

Meet Patricia V. Davis at the event Ghosts, Bones, and Dust: Novels of Life and Death on October 8, where she will be one of the five panelists. Follow the link to read the details.

Meet literary agent Andy Ross at the WNBA-SF mixer on September 24, where he will talk about Pitches: Hilarious, Horrible, SuccessfulFollow the link to read the details.

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