An author-friend signed with a big agency.
His agent sold his novel within two months.
To an indie press.
Now, this particular independent publisher has an excellent reputation. His novel might have ended up there eventually. But he will never know, and his is the story I tell most often when writers ask me for advice in searching for an agent.
From what I understand, this agent submitted the manuscript to several large houses at once. And the author's novel was rejected by all of them.
His agent immediately argued that the same scenario would play out if they continued to submit to larger imprints. Why waste time? The author had misgivings. But his agent persuaded him that the indie presses were the best option, even though the novel was well-received by the big publishing houses.
It just was not what those particular editors were searching for.
He finally agreed.
Then along came novel number two.
The agent submitted the manuscript to only one publisher: the same independent press that published the first book. The author was thrilled because he has developed a good relationship with the folks at the indie press.
All is well.
But is it?
Was his agent really looking out for his best interests as a career novelist?
Or did he quickly realize that selling this novel would be hard work, and did he "sell him out" for the sake of a quick commission?
My own agent has been submitting my novel for four months. He is moving slowly, submitting only to editors he knows and respects. He has kept me informed, telling who has passed and why; who still has the manuscript; and who he will submit to next.
At the very least, I am confident that wherever my manuscript eventually lands, he will have found the best fit. I know that because I trust my agent and because, well, I like the guy.
You have to like and trust your agent.
So often, writers start the query process with the biggest agencies, believing that bigger is better. But people are people no matter where you go. The big agencies have great agents and lousy agents. The small agencies, or the loners, might take a great personal interest in their clients, or they might take on too much and "sell out" a few for a quick buck.
My point is this:
Lots of books and Web sites explain the mechanics of finding an agent.
But there are two things many will not tell you.
First, educate yourself. Know how the submission process should work and then talk to your potential agent about how he/she does things. If something doesn't feel right or if she/he is too vague, trust your instincts.
Second, sign with someone you like.
Why would you put your career in the hands of someone who rubs you the wrong way?
Your agent is your connection to the publishing world, your representative with the people who might buy your book. Your choice in agent is reflective of you and your work. Your agent doesn't have to become your best buddy, but don't selective a representative whose personality hasn't even impressed you.
Sure there's more:
Choose an agent who represents your genre, find someone who is well-established the literary world, who has continually represents the same clients (If all the agent's other clients ditch him/her after the first book and find someone else, that's not a good sign.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
There's all that.
But there is so much to be said for intuition.
Go with your gut.