So you wrote a compelling query letter. Sent out your partials and fulls. You got one offer, told the other agents, drummed up some excitement -- and ended up with multiple offers.
Congrats!!! This a great, great place to be. I know you’ve spent a lot of time being the desperate one saying, “Pick me, pick me!” -- and there will be plenty of times you will be in that position again -- but now you are in control of this realm of your destiny. It's a biggie.
To start, your agent is your voice and champion. The publishing world will learn about you and your book through this one person. You need to trust her (or him) 100%. If you don’t, you’re done for. Seriously. There are so many things to worry about in the publishing process, and worrying about your agent should not be one of them. That's like worrying about your spouse or your babysitter or your therapist. In the best case, you lean on them without hesitation.
The agent-author relationship last years and relies on great communication, mutual respect, and a shared vision. How do you get there? Well, here are the things I’d think about:
Check their record -- both them personally and their agency. Dig deep in the company website. If you haven’t already, get a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace and look at all their deals in the past couple of years. Google them and look at five pages of results -- at least. Ask yourself: are these books similar to mine? Is this agent/agency respected in the industry? Would I be proud to say I am represented by XYZ or does it make me feel uneasy?
What’s their vision? Take my book. It can go a lot of ways. Young adult, new adult, women’s contemporary fiction, chick lit. It can be romance and maybe you can make the case that it’s literary. It can be a pitched as a young woman’s story of ambition in NYC, or the story of a mixed-race woman trying to find her place in the world. When an agent extends an offer to you, they have at least a loose gameplan in mind. But does that gameplan match up with what you want for your book?
This is a bit of a balance. The agent knows more than you’ll ever know about the publishing industry. Her opinion counts for a lot. But there can be numerous -- and equally valid -- interpretations of a work. Make sure her interpretation is cool with you.
Personal chemistry. I met with every agent who gave me an offer, a somewhat unusual request. But I’m glad I did it. For me, emails and phone only tell you so much. If you’re in NYC or live close to your offering agents, you might want to meet them in person. I wasn’t judging their vision or credentials -- you can get that more concisely elsewhere. I was looking for the intangibles. Could this person be my friend? Are they good listeners? Do they seem “with it”? Do they glow when they talk about my book or is it just another widget to sell? Again, you want to be 100% comfortable with your agent, so if meeting them face-to-face gives you peace-of-mind -- do it. (PS: All of the agents I met with were great in person.)
How close are you to submitting? Does the agent think the manuscript is good-to-go? Will it need one month of revisions… three… five? Will she give you detailed notes in a timely manner or is she backlogged and won’t get around to it for another two months? I’m not saying what the “right” answer is here -- that’s for you to decide. Maybe a year of revisions prior to submission is the best thing. Maybe waiting two months for your agent’s time is worth it because she’s the frontrunner in every other respect.
Shorter and faster isn’t always better. The important thing is to look out for a level of care. Will this agent work with you to give your manuscript the best possible shot?
Experienced/busier or younger/hungrier. Another case where there’s no clear answer. There are pros and cons to both. However, if I had to pick, I’d younger/hungrier… and at a good agency. I’ve heard many horror stories of authors who went with splashy agencies and agents, only to be sidelined by the agents’ bigger, “more important” clients. A young agent at a great agency has time, tenacity, and -- if need be -- the expertise of her more experienced colleagues.
Is she a decision maker? An extension of the above. If you choose to go with someone who is younger/hungrier, see if she is a decision maker. Can she accept books on her own and negotiate deals? You want an agent who can be nimble and decisive. Otherwise, you might have to rely on two levels -- the agent and her boss -- and that can lead to lag time and potentially missed opportunities.
Responsiveness and professional polish. This is my deal maker and breaker. Assuming you're not bombarding her with emails, does the agent reply promptly during this pre-signing time? I’m not talking anything crazy -- maybe 24-36 hours (and nothing on the weekends). And if they’re slammed, a “hey, I’m swamped now, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can” totally works.
If they’re not responsive now -- during the time when they’re supposed to be wooing you -- then that’s a bad sign. If there are typos or a general flakiness about deliverables or calls -- that’s a bad sign. Look, we all make typos or get late on emails or whatever -- but if the emails read as unprofessional to you, then they’ll read the same way to editors.
And, last... an author-agent relationship is a very close and specific partnership. Many agents are smart, professional, and experienced. But if you're lucky enough to have a choice -- make sure you find the right fit with your particular work, style, and goals.