How Do You Become an Agent?
A whole bunch of people have asked me this question recently. I can’t figure out if it’s because they are interested in becoming an agent… or because they can’t figure out how the heck I became one. I suppose it could just be curiosity, and I think it’s valid. It makes sense that, as a writer, you’d want to know that these strange creatures who call themselves the “A” word and seem to have so much influence on your writing career are actually qualified to do so.
The bad news is that there is no guarantee of that. There is no licensing board, there are no industry-wide certifications, no standard agreed-upon set of criteria that qualifies one to be a literary agent (or author’s representative, as we are more formally known). There is no test. There is no one handing out a Bachelor of Arts in the Literary Discipline of Agenting.
So yeah, anyone can call themselves an agent. This is why you hear so many warnings to do your homework before signing with an agent, making every attempt to ensure you’re getting someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
But legalities and impostors aside, let’s talk about what really qualifies one to be a literary agent. Here are my thoughts:
1. Several years experience in publishing, and a good working knowledge of how books are created, marketed and sold. An understanding of the publishing marketplace in general.
2. Good contacts throughout publishing, preferably with editors who acquire books for publishing houses.
3. Familiarity with publishing contracts and high level of comfort working with them.
4. Understanding of how to negotiate in publishing.
5. A genuine caring about authors and writing; a love of books, literature and reading.
6. A good business sense and a strong understanding of how to be a sales person.
7. An ability to balance the business and relational aspects of author representation.
8. An entrepreneurial spirit and a go-getter attitude. Even if you’re working in a big agency, this is a job you really create yourself. Good agents are usually the kind of people who are proactive and like to make things happen.
These days I would also add: A willingness to keep up with rapidly changing technologies (which become contract points), and a commitment to ethical business practices.
These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own ideas. What do YOU think qualifies one to be a literary agent?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.