Tale of two agents

  • Swoon over Agent 1: “I love my agent. She is so nice, always answers my email quickly, and makes me feel good about myself. She makes me less scared about this whole publishing endeavor.”
  • Swoon over Agent 2: “I love my agent. She got me a great book deal.”

Agent 1 is new. She has no selling experience yet, but she sure is nice. Great. So what? Are we in this business to feel good or get a deal?


Agent 1 claims to have a lot of publishing experience, which, at first blush, thrills the Vickie Secrets off many writers. She claims to have sold books with a large publisher, or was a bookseller for many years.  This means she knows how books are sold. This is nice, but it’s not necessary for the agenting business. She knows what books are selling, so she may have a nose for what’s hot, which is a good thing, but she’s hampered by what kind of authors she’ll attract.

Disadvantage 1

Since Agent 1 is new and untried, she won’t attract the best writers because they know a good book deal won’t happen with an inexperienced, untried agent. This basically limits Agent 1’s lineup, and she’ll end up accepting the best of the lesser works.

Disadvantage 2

Agent 1 has to start somewhere, so she’ll have a stable of authors that she wouldn’t dream of accepting if she had a solid reputation and sales under her belt. And she must try to sell them. So right out of the shoot, she’s staring at an uphill battle because competition is tough. I’ve seen many of these agents struggle for years trying to make solid sales. Those sales are twofold; they keep her in business AND they increase her street cred. If she becomes known for making good sales, she’ll attract bigger authors and probably thin out the older clients she signed at the very beginning. In a word, she no longer needs the older clients because she has bigger fish to fry.

Disadvantage 3

Since Agent 1 is new, she doesn’t have established relationships with editors. Her publishing experience lies elsewhere. Booksellers have no exposure to editors. Our job is done when the book ships off to our distributor. They take care of sales. This means that Agent 1 knows a lot of distributors, buyers (both indie and chain), and fellow booksellers. But they don’t know the very people who are responsible for buying a manuscript.

Since Agent 1 has no creds for this side of the business, they will have a harder time getting editors to look at their queries. Even a small fry like me pushes the new agent queries to the bottom of my agented-query list because I’ve investigated them and realize the quality of their authors isn’t nearly as good as experienced agents.

So while it may be thrilling to say that you have an agent, you really need to look at things from an editor’s perspective. It’s not about how nice your agent is – most are lovely – and it’s not about having them be your cheerleader. If you need propping up that badly, you’re not ready for the Big Show.

New Is As New Does

If your new agent used to be an editor for Random House, that’s a whole different story. It’s vital that your agent has experience in the editorial side of things because they have established relationships with other editors AND they know what editors are buying right now.

Consider You In This Mix

If you are accepted by an Agent 1, you need to take all these elements into consideration before accepting a contract from them. It could be the difference between wandering aimlessly with an agent who’s working to get her foot in the door and getting a book deal.

Keep two thoughts in mind:

  1. It’s better to unpublished than published badly.
  2. It’s better to be unrepresented than represented badly.

Oh, what about Agent 2? Simple. She sells book deals like I eat Twinkies. End of story.

2 Responses to Tale of two agents

  1. Hi Lynn
    This looks like sound advice. As a debut author with a three book deal, whose first book was reprinted two months after it launched due to volume of sales, I need to look for an agent.
    I have one question – where can I contact Agent 2 ???

    Leigh Russell

  2. Leigh, if you attained a three book deal and massive sales, I’d say you’re doing pretty great on your own.

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