Three Questions About Agents

In meeting with writers on the cusp of their careers or flush with new success, we find that three big questions come to the forefront. Today, Tamela shares her answers:

How do I find a literary agent?

1)      First and foremost, visit the Agency web sites to see which ones are actively seeking the type of work you write.

2)      Talk to your agented friends to learn about their agents. Referrals are a big part of our business.

3)      If time and finances allow, attend a conference or meeting where your preferred agent will be appearing and meet the agent.

4)      Make sure to abide by the Agency guidelines when submitting your proposal. Attention to details can distinguish your submission from less professional offerings.

5)      If you don’t hear from the agent after a couple months, follow up with a respectful email.


When do I need an agent?

1)      You have completed a manuscript and it is, without a doubt, ready to be submitted to agents.

2)      In non-fiction, you have established an outstanding platform of significance. For example an ongoing speaking ministry, a strong Internet following, and a demonstrable fan base – that will help convince an agent (and later, a publisher) your book will sell.

3)      In fiction, your book is written to the current market. Contest awards of national significance demonstrate that industry professionals recognize your talent.

4)      Through conferences and/or contests, editors have asked to see more of your work; this is a plus, though not essential.

5)      You have been offered a book contract. (Just don’t accept the offer until you talk to an agent.)


Once I start working with an agent, how do I enhance the relationship?

1)      Don’t be afraid of your agent. If you are, you will never have the ideal working relationship. When you need your agent, make contact. No exceptions. (We really don’t bite. At least not very often.)

2)      Know yourself. If you want to trust an agent with secrets and be a personal friend, choose someone with the accompanying personality. If you are an “all business” type, choose accordingly.

3)      If you feel your agent is ignoring you, let that feeling be known. When you do, the relationship will become stronger. As in any relationship, communication is a key.

4)      Publishing is small industry. Never burn a bridge. The associate copy editor you scream at today will be the vice president of acquisitions tomorrow.

5)      Always abide by the Lord’s guidelines known as The Golden Rule (Luke 6:31).






17 Responses to Three Questions About Agents

  1. Avatar
    Sharon A Lavy July 14, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    Good reminders Tamela. I am looking forward to seeing your smiling face in St. Louis.

  2. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan July 14, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    In reading your list of when you need an agent, I don’t feel that I yet meet any of the conditions. However, at the writing conferences I attend, the speakers who I meet with keep encouraging me to query agents.

    Are they giving me bad advice or am I missing something?

  3. Avatar
    Richard Mabry July 14, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    Tamela, Great information, and answers to questions published authors get asked from time to time. Speaking from my own experience, I’d like to emphasize one thing you said:be certain the completed manuscript is, without a doubt, ready to be submitted. There’s this thing inside all of us that says, “Get it out there.” What’s often missing, until it’s too late, is the other voice, saying, “You only get one shot at it.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Avatar
    V.V. Denman July 14, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    For me, the hard part is knowing when it’s without-a-doubt ready. Regretfully, I already queried when the manuscript wasn’t ready. Now I’m working working working on it. While I know it’s still not ready, I’m not positive I’ll recognize when it is. I guess I’m gun shy now.

  5. Avatar
    Andrea Boeshaar July 14, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    Great post.

  6. Avatar
    Louanne Peterson Dietrich July 14, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks for sharing. It was TERRIFIC to meet you and Steve at ICRS.

  7. Avatar
    Marji Laine July 14, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    Thank-you for the pointers. Patience seems to be key in this industry and your article just confirms that I’m still on the right path.

  8. Avatar
    Liz Tolsma July 14, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    Great advice, Tamela! I got my first agent because I met her at a conference and we hit it off. My MS was complete and I sent it to her as soon as I got home. I think it’s so important to be professional, yet at the same time to have an agent who “gets” you and who you get along with.

  9. Avatar
    Ann Shorey July 14, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Great information, Tamela! I echo what Richard Mabry said: Be certain the completed manuscript is ready to be submitted.

    I still remember the day you called me offering representation! I smile just thinking about it.

    Hugs, Ann

  10. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray July 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    Peter, without seeing your work, I can’t assess any advice you are being given. Your question might be, how do you feel about your work? Is it ready? Is it your very best work? As for meeting the conditions, have you researched agents to see which ones might be interested in your work? Obviously you are attending conferences and getting advice. Ask the speakers why they are encouraging you to seek an agent. Perhaps that will help you decide what to do.

  11. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray July 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    V.V., keep trying. You can always explain to agents you’re interested in that your manuscript wasn’t ready but now it is. I’m sure you’ll earn many second chances with your honesty.

    • Avatar
      V.V. Denman July 15, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      Wow. That is very encouraging, Tamela. I was under the impression it was taboo to approach an agent with the same book twice. I imagine much would need to be taken into account before doing so. And the manuscript would need to be near flawless.

      Thanks for the advice, but especially for the encouragement.

  12. Avatar
    Lisa Grace August 3, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Thanks for posting the link to the ACFW loop. I’m going to repost a link to Your article answers quite a few questions new writers (and experienced ones) have posed in the forums.

  13. Avatar
    Martha Ramirez August 3, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Awesome post, Tamela!

  14. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore August 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Very helpful post, Tamela. Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

  15. Avatar
    TC Avey October 13, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    Wonderful advice, thank you!

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