There’s plenty of advice out there on how to get an agent. But with all the focus on getting an agent, many writers lose sight of a more important goal: getting the right one.
As a writer and freelance editor, I’ve coached many people through the agent-finding process and have gone through it myself. Here are the top three myths that prevent writers from getting the best possible agent—and ways to avoid making those mistakes.
Myth #1: Finding an agent is a grueling and near-impossible feat that takes months or even years.
Fact: Sometimes finding an agent takes months. Sometimes it’s grueling. But it can also happen much faster than you expected, and in that event you need to be prepared.
As a freelance editor, I’ve gotten panicked e-mailed from clients who sent out queries, got requests for full manuscripts, and suddenly found themselves scrambling to whip their manuscript into shape—all because they assumed they would have months to perfect it while they were waiting to hear back from agents.
Lesson: Make sure your entire manuscript is really, truly polished before you send a single query. Not just the first chapter, not just the first three chapters—the whole thing. You never know when you’re going to get that request, and hasty last-minute revisions are not going to show you off in the best possible light.
Myth #2: You should query some “practice” agents first to test the waters before querying the agents you really want.
Fact: Querying “practice” agents can actually damage your chances of getting the agent you really want. For one thing, it can be tempting to take an offer, any offer, just because you want an agent. If you query “practice” agents, you’re more likely to accept an offer from a “practice” agent instead of holding out for the best possible fit.
For another thing, an offer from a “practice” agent will force you to rush your decision—because you’ll naturally want to get back to that agent in a reasonable amount of time. If you query the agents you really want, telling them “Hurry, I need to get back to this other agent in a week,” there’s a chance they’ll be more excited to read your manuscript. But there’s also a chance they’ll say “Well, I’m just too busy this week to consider your project. Congrats on your other offer.”
Lesson: Never, ever, ever query an agent you wouldn’t be thrilled to have representing you. Always start at the top of your wish-list and work down—not the other way around.
Myth #3: All that matters is finding the right agent for this project.
Fact: Ideally, your partnership with your agent should span your whole career. Therefore, you should seek an agent who represents the types of books you plan to write not just this year, but over the next decade. If you sign with an agent who specializes in business books and you decide you want to write a thriller, you might have to start the agent-hunting process all over again.
When an agent calls to offer representation, one of the first things she’ll say is “Tell me about your other projects.” If you’ve done your homework, the agent in question will be compatible with your vision for your writing career.
Lesson: Look for an agent who represents the kinds of books you want to write. Think about who you want for the long term, not just for the project you’re querying.