10 Things to Expect from an Agent

(The Real Deal This Time)

1. Expect them to have a strong track record of selling books to legitimate publishers and/or experience in the publishing industry.
→ Check Publisher’s Marketplace
→ Ask around, ask other authors, ask others in the biz. Find out what books they’ve represented and check the acknowledgements page of those books.
→ If they haven’t been an agent for long, make sure they’ve been in publishing for awhile. Check references. Google them.

2. Expect they have access to the right publishers and editors.
→ The “right ones” are the ones you need for your book.
→ The agent should know which publishers are likely to be interested in your proposal.
→ Agents have relationships with editors and publishers, something that most unagented writers don’t have, which is one reason to have an agent.

3. Expect them to understand books, literature, and the power of words.
→ You may not want someone who is strictly a business & contracts person (or you might, it’s up to you).
→ Many agents edit, revise, critique and otherwise help shape and polish proposals, chapters and even complete manuscripts before submitting to publishers, thereby giving your work the best chance of selling.
→ You want them to understand what you do, and recognize good projects.

4. Expect them to be ethical and abide by the ethics guidelines of the AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) whether or not they are members.
→ No secret profits.
→ Can’t profit from reading or evaluating client’s work.
→ Don’t charge for “consultations.”

5. Expect them to handle the business aspects of your career.
→ This frees you to concentrate on your writing.
→ The agent is your business representative and protects your best interests, secures advances, settles contract disputes, collects money, reviews royalty statements, ensures that publishers meet their contractual obligations, and host of other activities.
→ Agents negotiate all the points in your contract and help you understand it.

6. Expect them to be an ongoing source of support and to intervene with your publisher when necessary.
→ A good literary agent is in your corner at all times.
→ An agent is a go-between for you and your editor on all business matters, which could potentially put a crimp in your relationship with your editor.
→ Late contracts? Late checks? Faulty accounting? Bad cover copy? Atrocious cover art? Unreasonable deadlines? Your agent will step in on your behalf, so you can go back to doing what you do best: writing.

7. Expect them to be responsive and communicative.
→ They should return calls or emails within a reasonable amount of time.
→ They should keep clients informed of the status of submissions.

8. Expect them to offer guidance, tell you the truth, and give an informed opinion when you need it.
→ A literary agent gets paid for her opinion, because it is necessarily well-informed, pertinent, influenced by her in-depth knowledge of the industry, and it’s one of the reasons you have an agent.
→ You’re going to have to deal with rejection, so get used to it. Your agent will usually be the one conveying the news.

9. Expect them to be interested in your career and future, helping you grow as a writer.
→ They can serve as career coach, helping you to strategize your long-term plan for success.

10. Expect them to be your biggest fan and closest ally.
→ They should treat clients as the reason why they exist in the first place.
→ They should be your closest ally throughout the publishing process. You are not walking this path alone.


1. Don’t expect them to be on the phone with you everyday. Communicate when you need to, but avoid overkill.

2. Don’t expect them to play hardball on every contract or bargain until they drop. They have to maintain good relationships with publishers, which serves everyone’s best interest in the long run.

3. Don’t expect them to shop a single project forever if it’s not selling. Expect them to encourage you to move on to another project.

4. Don’t expect them to publicize or market your books. They can help steer you toward ideas and options, but most agents are not book publicists.

Any questions?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Rabid Fox on April 21, 2009 at 9:26 AM

    >This was a fine post with a lot of great tidbits to keep in mind when it comes times to start submitting query letters. Thanks so much.

  4. Nicholas Lovell on April 15, 2009 at 8:05 AM

    >That’s a useful list, but it seems to me that it’s important to remember that an agent *works for you*. Not in a boss/worker kind of way, but in the way that he or she is their to represent their interests. And therefore you need to build a working relationship built on trust and support.

    I think lots of authors get very fixated on the need to have an agent, which can make them seem needy. Having a professional conversation with a prospective agent, which shows that you understand the two-way process of getting a book published, is helpful.

    Plus of course you get to find out if you think you can work with the agent well in the future, which is absolutely critical.

  5. Julie Weathers on April 7, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    >i have a question, should you be basically finished writing your novel or whatever before you begin the search for an agent?–

    It should not only be finished, it should be proofed, revised and polished until it shines. Don’t give an agent a reason to say no. This is your one opportunity to knock their socks off.

  6. Investing in Real Estate on April 6, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    >Nice Check List Providing in stepwise. Thanks for Sharing…

  7. Amber Lynn Argyle on April 5, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    >So, when you decide that an agent is no longer right for you, what then? What are the steps? Agent author counseling? Trial separations? Divorce?

    And are you in the same boat as before you had the agent? I mean, it doesn’t sound right to say, “I had an agent. I didn’t work out.” in the next query. But from what I’ve been told, you can’t shop for a new agent until you drop the old one (I’ve heard it compared to a cheating spouse.)

    It’s a tough spot to be in.

  8. Kathleen Elizabeth on April 5, 2009 at 2:45 AM

    >i have a question, should you be basically finished writing your novel or whatever before you begin the search for an agent?

  9. Saoirse Redgrave on April 3, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    >Great points, Rachelle! And it actually makes me feel pretty darned good about my agent, even though he’s pretty new in the business. 🙂


  10. Genny on April 3, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    >This is great information. Thanks!

  11. Bola on April 3, 2009 at 7:37 AM

    >Just to let you know that agents (christians)like you give writers a hope that some they will be read (heard)!

    Keep it up!


  12. Litgirl01 on April 2, 2009 at 6:11 PM

    >So… having a cell phone from every carrier out there is out of the question? *grin*

    Thanks for the info! 🙂

  13. lynnrush on April 2, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    >Great post.
    I’ve heard that, too, Sharon, that you should get to know the agent before hand.

    This is an important list. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Rose McCauley on April 2, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for this informative post as well as yesterday’s funny one! I’m in the process of seeking an agent, so this real list is very helpful to me. Lots of words and ideas to chew on!

  15. Krista Phillips on April 2, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    >Thanks for the list. Some great items and things to think about! I can see how as an unpublished author, it’d be easy just to say YES YES YES to the first agent that gave you the time of day. In the end though, I think it’s really important that there’s a chemistry and trust between agent/author, because it’s really a partnership.

    And, I think a GREAT blog post would be on what an AGENT should expect of an AUTHOR *grin* We have a few responsibilities in the mix too!

  16. T. Anne on April 2, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    >Thank’s Rachelle. Great and reasonable list.

  17. Janet on April 2, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    >I have a question. Is it reasonable to expect an agent to put together the book proposal? Or is this a joint venture or something the author should be responsible for?

    Thanks so much for this.

  18. Jenn Johansson on April 2, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    >Rachelle – Awesome list, I think most writers I know would be ecstatic to have an agent like the one you just described. Also, thank you for educating us on what is irritating for a client to expect from their agent. 🙂 As always, incredibly useful.

  19. Andrea on April 2, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    >This is my first visit to your blog, and I just happened up on it through another link. I am interested in writing for profit – don’t know where to begin. Your site will be helpful in my pursuit. Thank you for taking the time to help others find their place in the writing world. God bless.

  20. Kim Kasch on April 2, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    >And what an added perk when that agent is a nice person

  21. Anonymous on April 2, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    >You know, I really wish I wrote ANYTHING you’d possibly be interested in, because I bet you’re a gem of an agent. Thanks for the tips.

  22. Anne L.B. on April 2, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >So I guess the following aren’t to be expected, just a bonus with an agent like Rachelle Gardner:

    1. Thank the Lord if an agent gives book volumes of free advice (like on a witty blog) that makes it possible to even approach an agent.

    2. Thank the Lord if an agent has a gift of patience and graciously passes that gift along to others.

    3. Thank the Lord if an agent knows how to talk authors off ledges.

  23. Marla Taviano on April 2, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >When I read #1 on yesterday’s post, I thought, “Really??” I do NOT enjoy big, drawn-out, frequent phone conversations. So glad you don’t really have 4+ cell phones. 🙂

  24. Rachel on April 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    >Awesome. But I already know who I’d pick (She does everything on the list AND she goes out of her way to write these “What to Expect” lists in the first place..)


    Great post as usual.

  25. Julie Gillies on April 2, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for a realistic, practical idea of what to expect before we sign. This list will help many of us avoid hooking up with bad agents. Thanks for looking out for us!

  26. Ralene on April 2, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    >*dreamy eyes* Rachelle, will you be my agent? lol…

    I’m getting ready to send out my first query this week, so this post was timely. Thank you!

  27. Chatty Kelly on April 2, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >Thanks for the list! Here’s hoping that one day I have an agent to do all these things for me.

    I especially like the “ally” part. Who doesn’t need a cheerleader, especially in this world of rejection letters.

  28. Sharon A. Lavy on April 2, 2009 at 6:53 AM

    >I was at a meeting in Ft Wayne, Indiana and Chip MacGregor was talking.

    He said get to know an agent before querying. Make sure your personalities fit.

    That is why I believe it is important to go to conferences and get to know the people.

  29. Jessica on April 2, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    >Great list! I love it.

    Philangelus, I’m so sorry to hear about those agents. I’ve always heard that before signing a contract we should contact the agent’s clients and ask them how the agent works. Maybe next time that will help? Either way, at least the agents didn’t shop your manuscript or you’d be out of an agent with a dead manuscript. Since publishers haven’t seen it yet, then it’s still good to go.

  30. Philangelus on April 2, 2009 at 6:16 AM

    >It’s very discouraging when an agent is all ten of the above when he’s trying to get you to sign with him, and then the day after you sign the contract, he can’t be bothered to shop your manuscript. That’s happened to me twice.

  31. Sharon A. Lavy on April 2, 2009 at 5:41 AM

    >Thank you Rachelle for continuing to educate us.

  32. Sarah on April 2, 2009 at 3:52 AM

    >Thank you very much for this post Rachelle. This is all extremely interesting as hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to begin looking for an agent.

    However, I do have a question, and it does betray my cynicism, so for that I apologise in advance: What do you do if, with the best will in the world, you have an agent who is not able to act professionally according to the above criteria?

    I know, a bit of a downer as a question, but I am rather terrified of being in a mutually detrimental relationship with an agent.

    Sorry for the highly depressing question, and thanks once more for the post.

    All the best,


  33. Dineen A. Miller on April 2, 2009 at 2:22 AM

    >Wow, I’m the first one to comment! LOL! Just reminding my wonderful agent that I’m still plugging away. Sending you something soon!