Agents are often referred to as business managers for authors, which is fairly accurate. I prefer to think of myself as a partner in your writing business, helping to maximize the business end of things so you can concentrate more on the creative part of being an author. Let’s look at a few things a prospective client can do to make me want to sign onto that partnership (and that ultimately help me do my job more effectively).
Be open and honest. When folks ask me for query advice, one of the most common questions goes something like this: “I’ve self-published a book…,” “I write in two different genres…,” “I’m xx years old…,” “I’ve never published a book before…,” etc. “should I tell the agent or not?” My answer is always, “Yes. You want the person charged with managing your career to be properly informed of what they’re dealing with.” In each of these cases, there’s a way of handling the info that can harm your career and a way of handling it that can help you out. You want your agent making informed decisions that boost your career rather than scrambling to try to fix mistakes due to things they weren’t aware of. Such things can’t always be fixed, and in the end, this is your career we’re talking about. It appears that most people ask this out of fear that it will make the agent not want to work with them. Remember, you don’t just want an agent; you want the right agent for you. You want someone who will represent you passionately, not begrudgingly. Even then, if an agent signs a writer who ends up not being who the agent thought they were, chances are, the writer won’t stay signed for long.
Have a plan. It helps me a great deal if you have an overall vision for your work, whether it’s a defined brand or a goal you’re looking to achieve as an author. This makes me feel better about working with you at the outset because it allows me to make calculations up front, and it conveys that you’ll hold up your end of this partnership. It also lets me focus on maximizing your effectiveness as we move forward rather than building it up from square one. Think of it like the revision process. If you spend hours working on your manuscript before bringing it to your CP or editor, it’s likely that they’ll spend the time pointing out what you’re doing well, what still needs tweaking, and what can be done to take it from good to amazing. On the other hand, if you bring them a rough draft or a blank page, it’s a bit more difficult for them to gauge your strengths and help you get to an elite level.
Always keep producing. Whenever I make that initial, “OMG, I LOVED YOUR MANUSCRIPT” call, I always ask the writer what else they’re working on. Not only does that give me a better idea of your potential career path, but it helps me predict what working with you will be like. If you don’t have anything else in the works, that tells me you’re putting all your eggs in this one basket, which is cause for concern. First, I don’t sign the manuscript; I sign the author for their body of work so I can help build their career. If you consider your career to be this one manuscript, it doesn’t let me do the part of my job that can ultimately be the most rewarding. Also, if that manuscript doesn’t sell, which happens in this business, there’s nowhere to go, no Plan B, and my efforts to build your presence as an author are wasted. But if you do have another manuscript (or a few) in the works, I know that I have tools at my disposal. Plan B aside, maybe your WiP is a better concept for your debut. It’s great to have that option. Furthermore, it gives me hope that, during the often protracted processes of pitching and negotiating, you’ll be working on something that will further your career, rather than asking repeatedly from the back seat, “Are we there yet?”
Communicate well and with purpose. Another thing I always ask during that initial call is what the writer’s preferred method of communication is. Communication is by far the most important part of the author/agent relationship. If I know what you’re writing, what ideas you have, what your goals are, what kind of major publicity opportunities you have, etc., it helps me get the most out of my efforts. So, make sure you communicate well with your prospective agent. Err on the side of giving them too much information, rather than not enough. Also, always seek to provide the agent with useful information that is well organized and has a purpose. And if you really want to be an attractive client, discuss and bear in mind how the agent likes to communicate. It goes both ways, and as long as we’re on the same page, we can really make things happen for you.
These all point to one thing: This is a business partnership. Treat it as such. We’ll get much further with two people carrying this thing in the same direction at the same rate than if one is left trying to drag it (or worse yet, we’re locked in an inadvertent tug-of-war).