Your Agent’s Brand (And Why You Should Care)

I’ve been privileged to have a career as a literary agent for many years now, and early on, I developed a brand and stuck with it. No, I didn’t hire a consultant to sit down and figure out what my “brand” is. And it’s not a tag line I put on business cards, or even anything I say aloud or post on social media. But most people who study agents have an idea about me — that I’m warm (I’ve been told this many times), most of the books I represent are targeted to women and the fiction I represent is highly romantic. This brand developed because of my interests, particular talents, knowledge, and contacts.

My guess? Other agents can tell similar stories about their careers, and you can look at their client lists and get an idea of their greatest strengths from the type of clients and books they represent. It takes time for an agent to develop a career, and that agent’s success with one type of book is likely to mean success with a similar book. Over time, editors will expect to see certain types of books from their favorite agents. This doesn’t mean that an agent who usually represents romance can’t and won’t be successful with a political book or science fiction, or won’t try it. What it does mean is that if an agent has worked hard to establish contacts in one or two realms, that is where that agent’s greatest strength will lie.

Perhaps you made a connection at a conference, secured a recommendation from an agent’s client, or for some other reason, are considering an agent whose primary focus is not on what you write, but he’s still interested. Perhaps he’s looking to expand into that type of book, or has a passion for your particular topic. I recommend you ask the agent about his marketing plan for your work before signing.

As an author, it’s your job to consider your possibilities when contacting agents. I recommend not contacting a bunch of agents in hopes someone — anyone — will respond. Believe me, I realize how hard it is to secure excellent representation. This is as it should be. Just be sure that you’re doing everything you can to put your career in the hands of the agent who’s right for you.

Your turn:

What tips can you offer a writer looking for an agent?

What attracted you to the agent you are working with now?

If you’re looking for an agent, what qualities are you seeking?


17 Responses to Your Agent’s Brand (And Why You Should Care)

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton August 6, 2015 at 5:13 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    I pitched a story to you a few years ago at ACFW, and you told me it was not something you could work with. I thought it was romance, and you said it was women’s fiction. Then you asked what else I had.

    I appreciated your honesty and your openness to hear what other stories I had written.


  2. Avatar
    Ane Mulligan August 6, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    I never thought about an agent’s brand, but just knowing you, Tamela, I’d have answered that question with exactly what you said. It fits you! You are your brand. 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 6, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Since I write romance that appeals more to women than to men (though the guys in my Beta group fro ‘Emerald Isle’ liked it a lot), I would probably look for someone with your qualities. That’s not apple-polishing; but having read your posts here for quite awhile, I surmise that the qualities you mentioned are certainly there. Those are the qualities that are important to me; personal warmth, and a strong connection with the intended audience.

    I might add to that a committed belief in my core mission statement – that love is the greatest adventure in life, and that marriage is indeed a sacrament.

    I am not represented (‘Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart’ was picked up by a vanity publisher on a standard royalty agreement, after it had been SP’d under another name and noticed…which was really weird), but I’d offer this suggestion to other writers –

    Be careful about signing with someone with whom you aren’t comfortable in your initial conversation. As people, we’re kind of like gears – sometimes we mesh, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we mesh but conflicting harmonics can set up a vibration that’s disconcerting and, in the long-term, destructive. (That’s why one always tries to avoid an exact 2:1 gear ratio, in case you were wondering.)

    But all that said, I’m not actively looking for representation. I’d feel a bit funny about it, because I don’t know if I’ll even be here next year. I hope so, God knows, but somehow it seems wrong to ask someone to work on spec under those circumstances.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 6, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

      Andrew, I have delayed responding to you because I have been thinking. I just feel I have to say that if you want an agent, you should submit to agents. Not saying that because of the kind things you said about me, but thank you. No one knows when the Lord will call any of us home. If someone in the industry can help you, reach out to that person. You may well be the very writer who beats all the odds.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 6, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

        Tamela, thank you for addressing that; it was a hard thought to frame; not really something one wants to face.

        You’re right, that one never knows – and reaching out, reaching forward into the future in hope can make a material difference. Hope floats; it’s my lifejacket that has helped me see far more tomorrows than ‘they’ thought I would.

        I certainly would like to be represented, for two reasons –

        1) Agents know the business far better than I ever will, and TradPub is still the Holy Grail for an author. I want my message to reach the widest possible audience, and TradPub is the best avenue for that.

        2) It would be fun. Teamwork’s important for our souls, and I played a lot of rugby when I was healthy. It’s way more fun than golf.

  4. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 6, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    Thought-provoking post, as usual.

    You can turn never-been-cultivated soil with a shovel, but it’s a lot easier with a spading fork. It’s very much faster and almost no work at all with a rototiller. The best technologist I ever worked with had a tool box filled with odd specialty tools. He more than saved the cost of those tools with the lower labor charges for the greatly reduced time it took to do a job with exactly the right tool, but sometimes he still had to settle for standard wrenches and screwdrivers.

    Later this year, after I create my mandatory author web presence, I’ll begin looking for that kindred-spirit agent to represent my historical romances that are also stories of spiritual transformation. The optimist in me tells me that I’ll find someone who will be a great teammate for getting my work out, someone who will be professionally gifted and a delight to work with. The realist in me warns that I might have to settle for whatever I can find, if I can find anyone. Just how picky can an unagented writer afford to be? Can unknown writers afford to turn down the first interested agent when there seems to be a major risk that no other agent will want them? I dream of working with a rototiller, but maybe only a square-blade shovel will want to work with me.

  5. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray August 6, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    Carol, I understand where you are coming from as a new author. Just as it is difficult for a new author to break in with a publisher, it’s difficult for a new author to break in with an agent, especially a top agent. I think the best strategy is to make your work so very compelling that you attract the attention of your dream agent. With work that compelling, you are likely to attract the attention of your dream publisher.

  6. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka August 6, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    I never really thought about an agent having a brand, but after reading your post, this makes perfect sense.

    Understanding an agent’s brand helps writers to fine-tune those whom might be a good fit for working with them on this publishing journey. I’ve thought about agents’ personalities, but never considered their “brands.”

    Thanks for good food for thought.

  7. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield August 6, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    Timely information for me, Tamela. Thanks. I recently attended my first conference and received invitations to submit full book proposals from several agents and several publishers. I had done very thorough research, enlisted the support of my women’s prayer group, and planned my pitches strategically; but I was still “blown away” by the multiple responses, and didn’t know the best approach to take. Even before I went, I thought one agency/agent there appeared to be an excellent fit for me, and that was one of the invitations, so I submitted that proposal, but no others, yet. I’m waiting for a response before submitting a proposal to the agent who appeared to be the next-best fit, from my perspective. Is that a wise choice, or is that being presumptuous, when I should be maximizing the opportunity and interest with simultaneous submissions to all the potential good fits? I’m fully aware of what a rare opportunity this is!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 6, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      Linda, you are submitting in the way that feels comfortable to you. You are not presuming that the first agent will accept your work. You are just waiting for the agent you truly want to work with. That said, I would be vigilant in checking in with the agent, letting the agent know this is not a simultaneous submission, so that your career isn’t put on hold any longer than necessary.

      • Avatar
        Linda Riggs Mayfield August 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

        Thank you, Tamela. I’m more than surprised by your advice to be vigilant in following up with the agent: from my research, I thought writers were supposed to just wait and hope (and pray), and that initiating contact about the progress of a proposal was strongly frowned upon. My proposal submission package included a cover letter that stated that it MIGHT be a simultaneous submission. I subsequently decided to just wait. The agent’s web site states that a response will normally require 6-8 weeks. This is week 7. Is a follow-up email appropriate before the 8 weeks have passed? Would a follow-up email indicating that I had decided to not make it a simultaneous submission be appropriate at this point? Ah, the complexities! 😉 Thanks again.

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray August 6, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

          I’d just say it’s week 7 and how’s it going? The agent can give you a definitive answer as a result. Or the agent can ask for another week, or even say, “Great, but I’m getting ready to set sail on a five-week cruise.” If the answer is to ask for more time, then you can decide to wait or you are within bounds to say, “Thank you for letting me know. A couple of other agents expressed interest at the conference, so while you are my first choice, I feel it is best for me to go ahead and submit to them as well. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you.”

          • Avatar
            Linda Riggs Mayfield August 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

            Perfect! I’d be quite comfortable making a contact like that. Thanks again.

  8. Avatar
    Warren Johnson August 6, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    Hi, Tamela.

    Interesting take on an agent. I was in sales and marketing toward the end of my career and began to learn a bit about brand. You alluded to some of the things people think a brand is, but it’s really more about what your promise is to your customers. You did a nice job explaining the concept. Your brand is presenting the best possible venue for romance writers. Awesome. I’m focused on writing intrigue, with a little love. See you on the road!

  9. Avatar
    Terrance L.Austin August 7, 2015 at 5:09 am #

    Wow, Thanks Tamela. Your answer to Andrew is what I was looking for. But of course, your feedback to everyone who commented helped me greatly. Thanks you so much. And hi Andrew. I sorta browsed the entire post and comments before deciding to post a comment myself. Pardon me Sir.
    Thanks again Tamela, Andrew, and all of you wonderful writers. Bless you.

  10. Avatar
    Hannah Currie August 8, 2015 at 2:11 am #

    Thanks so much for all this – and all the comments. I’ve been a bit confused about how often (or if at all) an author can follow up a proposal. It’s nice to know it’s okay 🙂 Love learning all this!

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