Aaand I’m home.
I’m also motivated, energized and a whole lot smarter about what’s going in the children’s lit biz. But that comes later. What I wanted to share today is the agent/writer connection.
Conferences can be expensive and time consuming. For me, living in the very, prairie corner of Minnesota where Iowa meets South Dakota, writer’s conferences are few and far between. Not to mention I typically have to drive, drive and drive some more. While I have been all shades of green over the Iowa chapter of SCBWI, I’ve never been able to justify the time (three days away from my fam), the travel (fourteen hours round-trip) and the money ($175 for the conference, three tanks of gas and hotel) to actually register and attend.
Yet this year, I noted my agent was going to be a speaker and HAD to go.
Some writers are lucky enough to meet with their agents before signing or on a fairly regular basis after their working relationship begins. But, being from the interior of the earth, this is not a likely scenario for me or many Midwestern writers, for that matter. So when the opportunity arose, I nabbed it.
It was the single most amazing moment in my career to date.
Even better than receiving an offer for representation was actually holding a conversation with my partner in crime, my biggest cheerleader and my strongest advocate in the business—face to face.
Before querying agents, I researched heavily. I didn’t just check out Preditors & Editors. Nor did I simply read a blurb or two online—an agent data base and agency websites. My research took months. It started with the Agent Query data base then moved to a print copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. If there’s a writer’s site with agent info, I hit it. Blog commentary? Read it. Articles? I checked them all.
By the time I started querying I had narrowed down my search to those who fit my “musts” and my “wants”. They also had to want what I had to offer. Needless to say, my A list was very small. My B list slightly smaller and my C list added just enough to include a total of about 20 agents. What can I say? I’m picky.
I guess I figured that if I was going to partner with somebody, I wanted to be compatible. And yet, paper doesn’t tell all. Even a phone conversation can be misleading. Think about it in terms of friendships. Some friends are casual, others close. Some friends are for the moment and others are life-long. They all have their place in our lives and they are all important, yet we don’t always get a sense of this the first time we meet them.
What I had done during my search was to distill the qualities that mattered to me as a writer and applied them to my agent search. No point in finding a casual friendship if what I really needed was life-long connections.
And I got lucky. My offer came from a TOP agent on my A list. Okay, I only subbed to my A’s with a B or two thrown in to satisfy conventional wisdom. But my thought was this: “I know I have a solid query. It’s unique and breaks every rule in the book, but it works—for my manuscript. So why target agents who had only some of my musts and wants when I could target agents who had everything I wanted?”
But it wasn’t until I actually met Agent Awesome this weekend that I realized just how lucky I got. We share the same quirky sense of humor—trust me, this is important. It’s why I married my DH. He’s a gentleman through and through—a consummate professional. Our visions for my career align so nicely and the enthusiasm he shows for my writing is astounding. In its totality, this does not come across on paper, during the research period or even during the offer stage.
Like I told my licensing social worker for my preschool, “I could be the worst person in the world to work with kids, but if I know how to play the game, I can come across looking like Mary Poppins.”
The same goes for your agent search. Dig deep. Deeper than you believe is possible to find all the dirt, not just the raves. Nobody wants to be fooled into an artistic partnership with someone who is Jeffery Dahmer in disguise.
Don’t settle for an agent who only reps picture books when the bulk of your work is YA. It will be difficult to build career relationships this way. Don’t accept an offer from an editorial agent when all you want is a therapist to support your journey, not help change your destiny. But above all, don’t even query if you feel the fit won’t be right.
While some writers believe that snagging an agent is a numbers game—the more I send out, the bigger the odds—I come at if from an entirely different angle. If you do your research and write the best query and best manuscript you are capable of, the stars will align and provide you with your dream agent. Because in reality, you won’t sub to any who aren’t.
And above all else, if you have the chance to meet your agent in person, do. No matter the cost or time. It is the single best thing you can do to ensure your partnership is exactly what you want and need it to be.
How do you research your potential agents? How do you define your wants versus your needs? What is important to you in an agent?