Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

You’ve done your homework, including:

  • visiting agency web sites
  • talking to author friends about their agents
  • interacting casually with agents on social media
  • reading agents’ blogs
  • attending writers conferences as your time and budget allow

This is part of the process in helping you choose the agent you most feel you want to work with.

When deciding, think about:

  • agency’s reputation
  • agent’s reputation
  • authors the agent represents (demonstrated success with work similar to yours)
  • personality (this is where social media helps)

Reputable agents welcome being researched because we stand on our record. Of course, every agent and agency who has been in business more than a day and a half has a few detractors. Most of the time, detractors are made either because the client and agent were a mismatch from the start and/or because of an unhappy situation complicated by misunderstanding. Good agents conduct themselves in an ethical manner and your research should reveal that the overarching agreement in the writing community is that their clients are well served.

Once you have decided which agent you think you want to pursue most, the best action you can take is to send the best possible query letter and proposal (following the guidelines found on that agency’s website). In the query letter, you may say that the agent is your first choice and you really want to work with her. If, considering that fact, the submission is exclusive to the agent, let her know.

As you wait, keep up your casual interaction, if any, with the agent online. This will not only keep your name in front of her without asking about your submission, but will demonstrate genuine interest in the agent. Still, time will drag because an agent’s first job is to take care of matters for current clients and even exciting proposals such as yours may have to wait. (See my earlier post “What is the Agent Doing While I Wait?“) So, it is fine to ask about an exclusive submission after three or four weeks.

When the agent is reminded she’s been given an exclusive, that fact should spur her to try to move forward with a decision. Or at least say why there must be a delay, at which time you can either choose to stay put or move forward to query your other choices. They don’t have to know they aren’t your first choice! But if someone else makes an offer of representation, you can in good conscience let your first choice know and let her respond accordingly. Please know that as much as agents love being an author’s first choice, sometimes we still have to decline. The factors in each of these decisions is always complicated and never personal.

Your turn:

Are you researching agents? What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered?

Why do you want to work with an agent?

What do you think an agent can do for you?

34 Responses to Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

  1. Lisa November 1, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    I have learned so much following agents blogs! I appreciate how personable they are and how much they invest in teaching new writers how to move forward.

    I know, without a doubt, that I would not want to move forward as a writer without an agent. I hope that will become a reality for me in the future!

  2. Diana Harkness November 1, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    I research everything extensively, especially people that I want to have a working relationship with. I need an agent because I already run 2 businesses and I cannot handle marketing, contract negotiations, and the finer points of selling a book. I utilize the services of attorneys, web designers, accountants, printers and a host of other people for my other businesses simply because I cannot do it all and do it well. In addition, a good agent will improve my writing, even as that agent improves my book’s opportunity for success.

  3. Lindsay Harrel November 1, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    I want an agent who will stand in my corner, offer solid career advice, care about me as a person, and share my faith. Since it would be a career-long relationship (hopefully), I would most definitely want to feel comfortable with and get along with my agent.

  4. Kathryn Elliott November 1, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    I began researching agents in 2010 after a colleague suggested self-publishing, but like many first time authors, “going it alone” overwhelmed me. One pleasant surprise I found along the path – the amount of agents offering one-on-one help through blogs, webinars, and email. Mistakenly, I had preconceived notions of all agents based on the reputation of a few…ahem…strong personalities. Turns out you don’t all eat newbies for breakfast!

  5. Robin Patchen November 1, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Great post, Tamela. When I was offered a contract this summer, I tried to find an agent. It was midsummer, and time was short, and it didn’t work out like I’d hoped. One of my fears was that an agent would offer representation because there was money on the table, not because he or she truly liked my work.

    When I secure an agent, I want him or her to love what I write, to be a champion of my work, and to honestly tell me what doesn’t work.

    However, having negotiated these unfamiliar waters of working with an editor, I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a professional in my corner. I love my publisher and my editor, but it’s been stressful at times not knowing exactly what I’m doing. Next contract, God-willing, I’ll have an agent on my side.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

      Robin, the best thing to do is keep up the search while you are meeting your current deadline. Send your next ideas to prospective agents and ask for advice. Talk to them on the phone to get an idea about how they feel about your work. Wishing God’s best for you!

  6. Terri Weldon November 1, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    I have been researching agents. I want to work with an agent because there are so many dynamics in the publishing world that they understand and can maneuver where I would be clueless. I attended agent workshops at ACFW and I follow the blogs of the agents I respect and admire.

  7. Meghan Carver November 1, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    I so much appreciate blogs like this one, where we newbies can learn about agents and publishing in general as well as get to know each other. When I first started writing seriously with an eye to publication, I figured I could negotiate for myself. I mean, I graduated law school, so how hard could it be? But as much as I loved the study of law, I love writing more, and I just would rather not spend my time negotiating contracts. I’ve also learned that they can be quite detailed, and agents have a lot more experience with them than I do. Other reasons to work with an agent? Encouragement and knowledgeable guidance with my writing and career. Relationships with industry professionals – editors, publishers, other writers. I would hope, however, that I could add value to the agent as well, not just remuneration but also excellent reading material and relationship.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Meghan, I’m so glad you made this point! I hope any author doubting the value of an agent will listen to your wisdom.

  8. Jeanne November 1, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Great post, Tamela. I appreciate the various factors unagented, but want-an-agent writers should consider. I am informally researching agents. I’m not quite ready to query yet, but I hope to be in the near future.

    I want to work with an agent for a number of reasons. My hope is that when I have an agent, that person will help me understand and make good decisions regarding contrtacts, that he/she will be able to help refine my stories and my writing, that he/she will help me with the business side of things.

  9. Heather Day Gilbert November 1, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    I do agree that you should be picky with that first query, but setting all your hopes exclusively on one agent often leads to huge disappointment. Despite what we know about agents’ online personalities, they might not be a match for OUR WRITING.

    I still think the most effective (and time-efficient) thing is to query in batches of maybe 10 at a time. That way you haven’t shot 3-5 months down the drain, waiting for one reply that might not even come. God knows the best agent match for us–and just like our spouses, it might not be the one we saw coming!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Heather, I agree that you don’t want years to go by while you wait for replies, but I’d recommend querying no more than three to five agents at a time, giving each batch three months to respond. Ten would be a bit hard to handle should you get lots of positive responses at once, and by going for quantity, you may be tempted to jump on the first agency contracted offered — which may not be the best idea for your career. If you go with three to five, you will query twelve to fifteen agents in a year. If that many turn you down, you may want to rethink your proposal. Just a thought. 🙂

  10. Rebecca DeMarino November 1, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you for the helpful post, Tamela! Having an agent to navigate my career path is so very important to me. And to do that, it would need to be someone that loves what I write and be a champion for my books. Someone who not only knows the world of publishing, but understands it. Someone who can cheerlead my successes and rein me in when I’m chasing a rabbit trail!

  11. Carol Moncado November 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Excellent blog, as always, Tamela! I’ve been researching agents off and on for several years. One of the best ways is through friends. I’m not saying to befriend people because of who their agent is, but as I’ve become more involved in the writing community [specifically ACFW], I’ve learned a lot about different agents. Enough to know that just because this agent is a very good agent, we likely aren’t a good match personality wise. Or that this other agent likely isn’t the kind of agent I want, though it may work well for someone else, etc.

    As for why? Because I know I don’t know anything about publishing contracts. Because agents have connections and contacts I don’t. Because an agent can help me learn from others’ mistakes rather than make them myself. And so on. 🙂

  12. carol mcclain November 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Tamela, it ‘s really okay to friend agents I’m interested in? I always feared they’d see me as a stalked.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Carol, as long as you don’t truly stalk an agent (and since you are worried about that, then you are the very type of author who knows how to handle Facebook so you won’t seem like a stalker!), I see no reason not to send a friend request. Hope to see you on Facebook and Twitter soon! 🙂

  13. Bethany Kaczmarek November 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    This was so insightful and informative! I’m in the throes of agent-studying now, and I appreciate the advice. The passion for my unique book/message/voice is such an important facet of the hunt. I met an agent awhile ago who–on the blog and agency website–seemed a perfect match. When we met, it was clear to both of us that it was a no-go, but I still respect her immensely. I’m excited to find someone who believes in what I do, and someone with whom I can work well. I’m in this for the long haul, so I’m trying to be painstakingly careful. I’d love to find an agent who’ll help me set wise goals for my career.

  14. Penny McGinnis November 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Tamela, You’ve written on a topic that I wondered about. Thank you. As someone else said, I was a bit afraid to friend agents for fear they’d think I was trying too hard. I enjoy following the blogs on agent sites because they are so insightful. I’ve researched agents and have a list of several more to look at. Thanks for sharing such useful information with those of us pursuing our writing careers.

  15. Catherine Leggitt November 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Here’s the problem, IMHO. We wannabee writers spend lots of time and money at workshops and conferences learning all the reasons why we need an agent. Until we are totally convinced. The publication process works much better if our needs are represented. THEN, we try to get an agent interested in our writing.

    As one who, after 10 years of writing, now has 3 books published, but has been unable to interest an agent in taking me on, I can say–getting representation is largely a matter of personality and the way you present yourself. Agents seem to be looking for that person who is just like all the other writers they work with.

    Maybe there is an agent out there who would take me as a client. I’m not sure I will ever find him or her because I am a shy person who doesn’t make a good first impression. I doubt that I will ever present my book to an agent as it should be presented. I simply do not have skill in that arena. Perhaps I sound bitter, but I think it’s more disappointment and frustration coming through. However, I am becoming a better writer with every book I complete and someday, when one of my books hits that right market and starts to sell well, agents will come looking for me.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      Catherine, keep trying! I know God has a plan for you. Sounds as though it’s already in motion.

  16. Deborah K. Anderson November 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    I am researching agents/publishers. After querying a few, I stopped to revise my MS. Truthfully, I think I got in too big of a hurry.

    During this time, a publisher requested a full. Although this MS didn’t work for her, she asked me to sub other work and gave me wonderful feedback on the one I submitted. I took her advice to heart, making all the necessary changes. I think that’s what surprised me. I never expected such a great response, for someone to be so helpful. It meant a lot, especially after all the hard work I’ve done.

    Then I realized something. What if she would have offered me a contract? I would have had no clue what to do. An agent would.

    But it’s more than this. I also want someone who will go to bat for me, believes in my writing, who knows far more about this industry than I do. In turn, I have things to offer as well. I’m in this for the long haul. I will do what I can to make the relationship work. I think it’s important to be a part of a team.

    Great post.

  17. Angie Breidenbach November 1, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I love this blog and share it on MT Pages and with other writer friends often. You have so much good information.
    Angie (who loves her agent) 🙂

  18. Stephen Myers November 2, 2012 at 12:13 am #


    Another great blog. Since the 2012 DFW ACFW Conference I’ve really looked forward to the posts on this blog. As a pre-published writer it sure is great to be able to interact with comments and contact with you and the agency as well.

    I believe I am doing the right things to cultivate a relationship with the Agent and Agency I hope will represent me not just on my first book but in a career path towards decades of writing and being published.

    What I believe prepublished writers miss is how important it is to have one completed manuscript targeted and networked for a specific publisher and one that is a major publisher at that.

    Genre or category is also part of that process (in which agent or agency represents or prefers). Its not that difficult with the internet and web sites to be able to research and target specific agent(s) of choice and interact with them keeping your name fresh.

    My greatest challenge (at present) is wanting to run faster than I can walk, meaning planning faster than what is the completion target of my WIP Manuscript. That and completing others (as having a stable of work ready to propose).

    Again, Thanks for a great blog post and pass the same to your two partners. I’ve enjoyed commenting on one of Steve’s blogs and look forward to the weekly updates.

  19. renae bowman November 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Tamela, is it proper etiquette to send an agent a message, via twitter or FB, asking the status of a submitted query/proposal? At time of submission, the agency’s website has the disclaimer of “don’t call us, we’ll call you” but I have followed the specific agent on social media, as I’ve learned much from her sites. Your opinion?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

      Renae, I think that however you sent the query is the safest and most acceptable way to contact an agent with business questions. For instance, if you sent the proposal via hard copy, a letter is the best way to follow up. If you used email, try that same email address for a status. That way, you should be reaching the person who knows about your submission. If the agent has an assistant using that address, you may have a better chance of finding out the status by asking the assistant instead of the agent, who may not have even seen your submission yet.

      However, if you have the type of relationship where contacting the agent via Twitter or FB seems natural, that could make sense in your case. Note the word “relationship” in this context. If you have never interacted directly with the agent over social media, but are simply following her, I don’t recommend starting interactions with a status request.

      Hope you get an answer soon, but patience is king! 🙂

      • renae bowman November 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

        Thank you Tamela, I appreciate the insight and advice.
        Patience is certainly a lesson to be mastered in the publishing process.

  20. Morgan Tarpley November 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Great post, Tamela! I appreciate the advice. I’m currently sending our my first queries. yikes! It’s nerve-wrecking! 🙂

    • Morgan Tarpley November 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      oops…”nerve-racking.” See, I’m just nervous typing about it. lol


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