Q4U: Advice for Literary Agents

Remember a couple weeks ago when we had Help Your Fellow Writers Day? Well, you stepped up to the plate and it was a rousing success. Since you all did such a great job of offering advice, I decided to let you do it again. This time, the theme is “Help your local literary agent.”

The agents who take the time to blog are committed to helping you understand the publishing business, and helping you understand us. We try to explain what the business is like for us and what we need from you.

So writers, help agents understand you. What do agents need to know about you? What do I need to know in order to be able to serve writers better?

Let’s be honest, I already know you hate the waiting aspect of publishing, whether it’s finding an agent or waiting for responses from publishers. I already know you hate it when agents don’t respond to queries. Let’s go beyond that, deeper than that. What do I need to know about you?

Leave your answers in the comments, and have a good weekend!
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!


  1. Anonymous on June 17, 2009 at 6:25 PM

    >I want agents to stop acting like they belong to an elite club that uneducated sloppy disgusting time wasting authors can't be apart of.

  2. Rebecca Woodhead on June 9, 2009 at 5:53 AM

    >What would I want an agent to know about me personally? Probably that I'm very resilient. In childhood I had a car accident that put me into a coma. Severe brain injury meant I had to learn to speak and write from scratch. Any tricky moments in the publishing process would be very small potatoes in comparison so I'd hope that would give them faith in my ability to keep going regardless.

    In a more general sense, I'd like an agent with whom I could establish a good working relationship. I would be prepared to pull my weight and I would expect them to do the same. I certainly don't see the agent/writer relationship as a kind of master/servant arrangement. Both parties need to respect the unique talents of the other and work together to reach mutually beneficial goals. I'd want them to know I would expect them to work for their percentage but I would never begrudge them a cent/penny of it.

  3. Amber Argyle-Smith on June 8, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    >Wow. Where to start. Well, I posted Do's and Don'ts for agents a week or so ago, so I'll just give a run down of that. To read the whole thing, please visit my blog.

    1. Do Be nice. Newbies might make a mistake and fail to follow your guidelines. Shrug it off and move on. There really is another person on the other side of the computer.

    2. Do Post your Guidelines. If you're a stickler for how, when, what, etc: POST IT on your website, blog, guidelines on all the different agent search sites (Agent Query, Publishers Marketplace, AAR, etc.)

    2.5. Do Post your Preferences. ie–If you're not taking any more epic fantasies, post that on your guidelines. You'll save us both time and money. (This one happened to me).

    3. Don't: Get our hopes up only to smash them into the ground. Really. You may think you're being encouraging. You're not. If you're loving a book and you tell an author that 3, 4, 5, or 6 times and then end up not taking it, it's like counting down for Christmas and then telling your six-year old Santa decided to cancel this year (yes, this happened to me).

    4. Don't: String us along. Either take the MS or don't. I'll relate it to proposing to your girlfriend and her answer is: (drum roll) MAYBE. It's really not fair. I understand that there may be exceptions, but understand, you're on precarious ground (Please see #1). And yes, this happened to me.

    5. Don't offer to take on a client if you plan on moving to another agency or quitting altogether in a week (Yup. Happened to me.)

  4. Glynis on June 8, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    >Gosh this is a new world for me…agents. I would want the agent to know, I try hard and would continue to do so. I would also want them to know that as part of a team, I would do my bit, if able. What I would want from the agent would be the same.

  5. RefreshMom on June 7, 2009 at 6:48 PM

    >I think many of the previous posters have hit on a lot of what I could say. But one thought that has been rattling around in my mind for a while is:

    Dear Agent,

    Since you are my initial introduction to my future publisher, please remember that your reputation becomes my reputation. Please put our best foot forward.

    : )


    (This comes from a friend's experience of having lost a publishing home because her agent was a jerk that no one at the house wanted to work with any more.)

  6. Caroline on June 7, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >As the above comments show, we writers are tough to pigeonhole!

    I'm willing to revise and can take criticism. If my project's not ready, tell me. I need an agent who can make sales, who is persistant and will really try to find a home for my project.

    I know you have a life outside of agenting, just as I have a life beyond writing. I'm not obsessed; you don't need to be either. Just be dedicated, passionate and good!


  7. Robyn on June 7, 2009 at 7:17 AM

    >By writing this post, you're doing exactly what we need for you to do. Thanks so very much. I do want the agent to know that I love my Lord and Savior and would never take anything out of my novel to satisfy him or her that would make God displeased with me. My MG novel mentions God in a few places because two girls are lost in the mountains, with only their horses, and a few other things.Otherwise I would love their editing advice. I'm almost finished. Going to query agents the end of this month. Whew, but I look forward to it! *bites nails completely off her fingers* God bless, Rachelle and all of the other agents and writers out there. It ain't easy! 🙂

  8. Alicha Marie on June 7, 2009 at 6:27 AM

    >Gwen (6-5-09 2:54pm) ~
    You wrote my heart's words, which I didn't even realize were there! Thank you! I read it outloud to my non-writing husband to try to help him understand…he is trying to be supportive.

    Okay, more honestly…I MADE my husband listen…and still he's trying!LOL!

  9. Anonymous on June 7, 2009 at 1:24 AM

    >You don't know my name. You don't remember I sent a half dozen queries or more. Your readers decide for you, you don't bother to look at my query, and I get the form rejection. I say something on my blog, and your memories improve. You talk to each other. Subtle threats that amount to blacklisting. What is that about?

    Why don't you tell me what to think? Why don't you tell me what you want? You know what you want, what you can sell. I spend a year on a finished novel, get told I'm amazing, great, can write, but you can't sell what I provided. All that in five pages, and a one page synopsis.

    One book a year, maybe two books a year; finished, highly polished novels, and we have to start fresh with each book, because you can't remember our names. We read every agent blog out there, and publishers trust you?

  10. Matilda McCloud on June 6, 2009 at 11:10 PM

    >I guess what I'd like agents to know about me is that I welcome feedback and am very willing to revise and rework my ms to make it better. If my ms is 85% there (or even 70%?), I could, with direction, make it much, much better. (This is, of course, after it's been through all the usual critiques, zillions of rewrites etc).

    Sometimes I wonder if agents are too quick to reject a ms that they initially felt had lots of potential when they asked (very enthusiastically) to see the partial…

  11. Dee Yoder on June 6, 2009 at 10:19 PM

    >What do I (persoanlly) want from an agent: Gentle honesty (thumb-on-the-neck moments are OK when I'm being stubborn), direction, a bit of passion for my stuff, and the ability to laugh with me when I make a boo boo. Which would probably be often. Oh. And an acceptance call after I query.

  12. Sharon A. Lavy on June 6, 2009 at 6:34 PM

    >Interesting comments on this thread. I have enjoyed reading them all.

  13. Alicha Marie on June 6, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    >What I’d want an agent to know…
    A line from a movie called “Mozart and the Whale” says, “You want so much to be normal…you crave it!” Since I stopped being cute around age 4, I became the most boring, dismissible person you'd ever want(?) to meet. So, hesitant friends are always forgiven- It's partly my fault for pretending so convincingly and, as it turns out, I am pretty ordinary after all. God reigns, let the earth rejoice! (Palms 97:1)

    Also, not something that would come up in conversation…there are times when the life beat of my tale takes over, creating a kind of rhythm through my fingers. In such moments, I’m not simply writing, I am composing and my computer keyboard has turned into an instrument and my story, a song. Doesn't happen often, maybe it should…or will…but when it does it's definitely one of the coolest things I've ever felt!

  14. Pam Halter on June 6, 2009 at 12:02 PM

    >I am totally with Megs (June 5th 8:13am) The dreaded query letter and synopsis make me want to melt. But I'm working harder to learn how to do it well. At least, well enough for an editor/agent to want to read the first chapter.

    So, I would need an agent who could help me with those things.

    Thanks for caring so much about us, Rachelle – as most of us are not your clients – I do appreciate the time you take with your blog.

  15. Janet on June 6, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    >Please forgive me if this has been said before. I think most writers need some encouragement and affirmation. I myself have a pretty sturdy ego, but I still react to my agent's encouraging words like parched earth to a summer shower. I'm not talking about fake, generic praise, or over-the-top cheerleading that's put on for show, but specific appreciation of what I'm doing. Unless you're a multi-published bestselling author, you're probably not getting reader feedback often enough to keep your morale up. We authors have to spend so much time polishing and revising, looking for what's wrong with what we're doing, that hearing what we're doing right is immensely helpful.

  16. Liana Brooks on June 5, 2009 at 9:40 PM

    >You need to know:

    – I can work on a deadline

    – I can follow instructions

    – I know what spell check is

    – That I will not stab a potential editor with a fork at lunch for offering editing suggestions

    – How much feedback I except from you (regular updates to know you are alive and what's happening with my MS are nice)

    – Enough about my personal schedule to know whether or not I can make a lunch with a potential editor with less than 24 hours notice

    – Enough about my personal life to know if I am going to drop dead from some strange disease or have an infant in the next 10 days

    I don't think you need to know about my kid's grades, my garden, or my boss at my regular job, but if something is going to majorly throw my schedule for a loop (new baby, moving cross country, death in family) I think an agent probably wants to know why their author has gone AWOL.

  17. Jessica on June 5, 2009 at 9:39 PM

    >Hmmm, great question and after reading all these answers, I'm not sure what to say.
    I guess maybe it would be important for an agent to know that writers need communication back. ????
    Oh man. LOL Maybe I should just say I need communication???!!!

  18. Haste yee back ;-) on June 5, 2009 at 8:15 PM

    >How can writers answer this question when NO ONE knows what this business will look like in one year – or three years!

    Haste yee back 😉

  19. Kath Calarco on June 5, 2009 at 7:38 PM

    >Here's what you need to know about me: I don't play armchair quarterback; I rely on the experts in their field (you); I check credentials; I don't plotz due to silence; no news is good news; I'll treat my literary agent the same as I treat my real estate agent – I wait to hear and don't haunt.

    Lastly, it's just business. 😉

    Thanks for asking.

  20. Pam Roller on June 5, 2009 at 7:06 PM

    >Thank you for asking! I expect honesty, straightforward answers, and professionalism.

  21. Marie on June 5, 2009 at 6:46 PM

    >What a thoughtful journal entry–thanks, Rachelle. 🙂

    I actually didn't know what I wanted from an agent until I'd already found the right agent for me.

    My first agent (several years ago) was a big name in the industry. When I initially signed with him/her, I thought that what I wanted was someone seasoned, with an established client list and an established group of editors, who was even sort of famous, and who specialized in one or two particular genres.

    But when I parted ways with him/her and signed instead with my current agent (who is a God-send!), I realized what I *really* wanted–or needed, actually–from my agent.

    I needed not someone with 20+ years of experience, but someone who understood and loved my work enough to keep pitching it enthusiastically even after several rejections. I needed an agent who holds my hand a little, and tells me sometimes that everything will be okay (aren't all first-time authors like this? Okay, maybe just me!….). I need an agent who talks to me, who tells me what's going on with my submission. I also need an agent who gives me honest, but timely feedback on my next work-in-progress. (My previous agent took 9 months to get back to me about a new manuscript! I sometimes wondered if I could have gotten faster feedback from him/her if I'd just submitted my new novel to his/her slush pile. 🙂 )

    And most of all, I need an agent who is compassionate but tough, someone who isn't always all business all the time–but who can negotiate business deals like the best of them.

    The agent I want (and who I currently have, yay!) is not unlike a college RA for freshmen. (And I think this may apply for all newbie, currently unpublished writers!) The RA for freshmen knows that the freshmen are newbies. And that freshmen make mistakes. The RA understands that sometimes the freshmen will come knocking on your door at 4 am, bawling, and want to talk about their horrible new roommate. They understand that freshmen are overly eager about everything and are willing to do ANYTHING, and know how to gently calm these freshmen down. 🙂 And the RA knows that these freshmen almost always have good hearts, with the best intentions, and just need a little more guidance than the sophomores do.

    Thankfully, I am currently signed with the agent of my dreams who is, and does, all of these wonderful things!

  22. LJ on June 5, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    >I'm with everyone who has mentioned communication and business acumen as hugely important. But Gwen's comment absolutely hit home.

    The sense of isolation you feel as an unpublished writer doesn't stop when you're published. It just shifts. Even though I have more contacts in the writing world now, as well as feedback from editors, the bulk of my time is still spent alone with the page. And though I'm now making a living by writing (yes, Gwen, it's possible!), the sense of unreality and distance is still there at times.

    My (very wonderful) agent not only lifted the weight of business from my shoulders, but he also established a strong personal connection centered around my writing. Regular, frequent communication from him means I don't feel nearly so isolated. (Btw, even when you have pub credits, it's still hard for non-writers to relate, and their eyes still glaze over!)

    When I didn't have to expend so much energy just keeping my head in the game, I had a lot more energy available for the actual writing. Since taking on my agent, my productivity has probably tripled.

  23. Rachel on June 5, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    >I agree with Liz (above). And I disagree with whoever said they weren't interested in editorial advice. If I ever got an agent, I'd want as much coaching as they could afford to give.

  24. Anonymous on June 5, 2009 at 4:01 PM

    >What do I (unpublished author) need you (future agent) to know about me?

    1) I respect your time. I don't want it wasted so you can spend more of it discovering people like me. I work hard to learn my craft, to honor the rules, to follow the expectations listed on your web site. Therefore, it is really frustrating to me when other authors don't do that–thereby wasting your time and making it harder for you to find me. This frustration is in no way directed at you the agent. I only wish you could find some effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    2) A wise teacher once told me that the best marriages are those in which both spouses think they got the best deal. This is how I want my author-agent relationship to go. I want to feel lucky to have you–and I want you to feel lucky to have me.

    3) I don't mind the "no reply–no interest" policy. The more time you spend with rejections, the less time you have discovering the next gem.


  25. H. Scott Hunt on June 5, 2009 at 4:00 PM

    >In regard to storylines, I personally find it challenging to surveil the industry and find what is on the verge of trending.

    Sure, I can go into any bookstore and see what the top sellers are, or to the movie theater and watch the latest blockbuster adapted from a novel – Twilight, for example (who would have thought?).

    But that’s all in the here and now; we need the then and when. If an agent could tap into the source that dictates such things and provide authors with that sort of insight, it could save us all a great amount of time and increase our chances of getting published.

    Agents generically post the genres that they are interested in. That’s fine, but barely useful to a writer. We need more detailed direction in such a competitive market. In fact, Rachelle, I’ve actually seen you do it. What was that you were desperately seeking not too long ago? A story revolving around Amish zombies in love, or something similar?

    I don’t know – perhaps the agent can be the trendsetter. After all, somebody has to convince the rest of us that what we want is what is being propagated. Isn't that the way it works? Or is it the story itself that becomes the trend? Either way it can come down to a crapshoot, and somebody has to put it on the line.

    Those are my thoughts. Am I way out of line here?

    Thanks for the forum!

  26. Gwen on June 5, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    >I would like agents to keep in mind that while they're immersed in the writing world for all their working hours, many of us are very isolated from it in our day-to-day lives. We have day jobs, or raise children, or care for family. When we dare to talk about our writing with others, we're asked if we have a book coming out. If we say no, not yet–forget it. Glazed eyes, blank stares.

    Because of those reactions, we learn not to talk about our writing with non-writers. So the few minutes we spend on agents' blogs is the most tangible connection we might have with the writing world that day. I believe that's why so many unpubbed writers comment; it's not that we mean to stalk or schmooze (*grin*), it's that we want to feel that we're doing something real, to reassure us that people make a living in the publishing world–and we can actually connect with them, if only in cyberspace. And maybe, someday, we can BE one of them. 🙂

  27. Mariana on June 5, 2009 at 3:34 PM

    >There are so many good answers I feel there's little I can add, and by trying I'll probably be repetitive. Nevertheless, perhaps I can summarize some qualities a writer (or aspiring) would expect:
    1) Professionalism;
    2) Communication (falls under the item above, yet seems important enough for a separated item);
    3) Believing in the writer's work/potential as a whole, and not just in a single book;
    4)Critiquing, which is different from criticizing.
    I guess in general that's about it.
    I, personally, don't need an agent to know my dog's name, or care if I'm feeling blue in a particular day, but not caring if a close relative died is a bit too much. What I mean, is that the relationship between agent and client might turn into friendship, but by no means I feel it's mandatory to work out; and an artificial sense of friendship is absolutely undesired!
    Thanks for the great post, and for the wonderful and instructing blog. =)

  28. Nobody Jones on June 5, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    >I want my future agent to first exist ;-). More seriously, I want them to be open and honest with me and to explain why they say no. I've taken the time to research agents, I don't send my work out randomly as I look for those where I would be a good fit.

  29. bleeb on June 5, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    >I agree with kristin-briana about looking at the writer as a whole.

    I think it would be awesome to ask a writer, if there is even a romote interest in the initial query, how many books have they written, do they have a current work in progress, what genre, etc. I know it might end up being more work (maybe agents could have a separate form letter questionairre for those and word in such a way as to not get the writers hopes up). Besides, wouldn't that be exciting to get something different than just plain query's all the time 🙂

    An agent might just snap up the next best thing that way, even if a WIP isn't finished.

    I know agents do that if they offer representation but I'm talking about at the query level, for those query's that sound interesting but you aren't going to ask for a partial or full.

    If a writer has 2-3 manuscripts finished and are currently querying #3, they most likely are writing #4. We all know writers get better with every manuscript. Personally speaking, I think that deserves some interest in the person's writing as a whole because that person is definitely serious about writing

    Thanks for asking our input!!!

  30. Timothy Fish on June 5, 2009 at 2:19 PM

    >What do agents need to know about authors? First, we are not children whose hands you must hold. One literary agent actually refers to her potential clients as children. We all have mothers and she isn’t ours.

    Second, writing is something we do, it is not who we are. Writing is nothing more than an expression of who we are. Writing is a much lower priority than many of the other things we do. Some of us are church workers, parents, spouses, businessmen, teachers and many other things that help to define who we are. We have careers and hobbies and other passions. We have friends and enemies. We have pain and joy. Through our writing, we reveal these things to the world in veiled form, but they will always remain more important to us than writing itself.

    Third, our day jobs are either more important than or pay more than writing.

    Number four, we write because people need to know what we know. Money is nice, but it comes after communication and a quality product. We would like for our literary agents to be vigilant and not submit our work to publishers (no matter how large) who are producing books that are of no higher quality than what we can produce ourselves.

  31. Anonymous on June 5, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    Rachelle asked… what agents could do to serve writers better. I'm glad Rachelle is letting them do just that.

  32. A J Hawke on June 5, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    >What I want and need from an agent is someone who will do their job with kindness.
    As I understand an agent's job, it is to be the go-between for the writer with the publishing world. If I do my job as a writer to the level it needs to be, then the agent will be able to do their job. In that sense, it is a partnership of talents.

    A J

  33. Catherine West on June 5, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    >Funny how 'What do I need to know about YOU" got interpreted to "What I (the writer) want from my agent or future agent." Was that the question? Maybe it was a trick question.
    I dunno. I think you probably know a lot about me already, maybe more than you want to know, so I really don't need to answer this, do I? Hope you're having a great conference and not too tired yet…

  34. kristin-briana on June 5, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    >Personally, it's really important to me to find an agent who believes in my writing career as a whole, not just one book.

  35. DCS on June 5, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    >Relationships between agents and clients are by necessity going to be different than those between agents and prospective clients. I might be a person that you would love to get to know as a friend, but if I can't write something that sells, we shouldn't be in business together. It would be a mistake most times for you to be an agent for someone you knew as a friend. it's hard to be objective. When I show my work to acquaintences, of course they all opine that is fantastic and they can hardly wait to see it in print. I am grateful for their support, but reality needs to intrude. They can't ever be objective. What I need from an agent is professional behavior, courtesy and some kind of timliness when considering a query. If I write good stuff, the rest will take care of itself.

  36. Lell on June 5, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    >Hi Rechelle!

    Is it the week-end already with me not that much further along with my book?!

    I have been thinking about my top 10 list for the perfect agent:
    number 10 is: communicate
    number 9 is: communicate
    number 8 is: communicate…
    I'm sure you get the message by now. When I get a response of (SILENCE), I am uncertain of how to proceed. That underminds my concentration and my focus. Even "no, thanks," helps me move on without losing momentum.

    I do not have an agent yet, but I do have certain things that are important for me to find in an agent before I agree to enter a partnership. First is that God has first place in her life. Second is that her family comes before either her career or mine. Third is that she knows what she wants from me and she is able to communicate it to me. (I know, you've already heard that one!) and Fourth is that she be knowledgable in the publishing world and use that to further my career.

    Knowing what I want in agent is one thing that helps me to query or to not query a particular agent. Finding a good agent is also part of the process and I am willing to be patient to find a good match.

    Thanks for posting this.


  37. writer jim on June 5, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    >When writers KNOW hey are querying the appropriate agents; we would like to be allowed to send a terse info-filled one paragraph query…along with a writing sample. The agent could tell in a minute…or even 10 seconds; wether they wanted to see more. I could easily accept an agent saying my writing stinks…at least they actually did look for 10 seconds. Here's one minute worth of a sample anecdote from my book.


    It happened over 30 years ago, but it can still send a chill up my spine when I recall the panic I felt during a month-long financial crisis.
    I had been working hard for four years trying to become successfully self-employed building concrete driveways. I did any job I could find; even for a tiny profit. Every month was a financial worry, so my life was stressful. There were times I had no money at all…not even a credit card.
    But finally, after those years of struggle, things improved. I got slightly ahead financially and was able to relax a little…even splurge a few times. I could finally afford to go golfing. I even started thinking about a new car; it looked like I could handle monthly payments. It was a great relief to see light at the end of the tunnel; I was reaching my goal of successful self-employment.
    Then it happened: without warning there was a worldwide cement shortage. Small businesses like mine were ignored as companies tried to supply their big customers. I called everywhere, but just could not find a place to buy concrete. I had a panic attack that seemed perpetual.
    A month passed; and since I could not do any jobs, my financial problems returned full-force. I was a traumatic nervous wreck. Day by day my fear intensified; I was about to lose everything I’d worked so hard for. It seemed I had no choice but to go out of business—just give up.
    Indeed, I was on the verge of giving up when one day I phoned yet another company. To my surprise a lady said, “The owner might sell to you.” But after I answered a few questions, she said, “You’re young, and not well established; I doubt he’ll sell to you. Have a nice day. Bye!”
    Have a nice day? me? But I was thankful just to have a glimmer of hope. I prayed hard.
    “Thank God!” I thought to myself, when the lady called back in an hour. She said they would schedule me just a quick appointment; and only if I’d go meet their on-the-road sales rep at an intersection on Highway 39. “Yes ma’am, I’ll go! Tell the man I’ll be there 15 minutes early!”
    That meeting was my extreme supreme top priority. It was so vital to my future; I would not dare miss it under any circumstances (at least that’s what I thought).
    I was gleefully roaring down Hwy 39 to my appointment, when suddenly, the voice of God spoke to me. God pointed out a high tree beside the road…then He said, “Enter those woods by that tree and walk westward.” As I gazed at the thick underbrush, I reacted, “But God! God! My appointment! I can’t dare be late! It’s my only hope! I’ll lose my business! I’ll go broke!”
    God firmly restated, “Enter those woods by that tree and walk westward, right now.”
    I knew the voice of God: when He speaks I obey at any and all costs. Instantaneously, that appointment and all my pressing financial concerns became secondary. I obeyed God with an inner joy, curious wonder, and great expectation.
    I parked my little Datsun pick-up and headed west. I was entering a totally wilderness area; I knew this because I had hunted there.
    (Of course the anecdote cotinues…and I also accept it; if Rachelle feels I'm out of line and deletes this) writer jim

  38. HWPetty on June 5, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    >This is going to sound like such a kiss up… but I think blogging agents and editors are doing a great job of educating aspiring authors.

    I will say that my favorite reading fodder, besides general industry insider stuff, is success stories!

    I love to read "This is how I found my agent/client" stories, because it encourages me.

    I also like query/first pages critiques and a certain amount of personal info. Really, the farther I go into the querying process, the more I realize how important it's going to be to find an agent whose personality will mesh with mine–a relationship where we'll compliment each other's strengths.

    And when an agent has a blog where they share a little of themselves, it's that much easier to see if we'd fit together.

  39. Lisa on June 5, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    >What do you need to know about me? I'm easy going, willing to work hard, and expect only one thing from my lit agent: a contract clause guaranteeing me a very long therapeutic massage each week for "writer's cramp". And don't ask me how I try to justify writer's cramp without using a pencil. I've justified Oreo cookies for supper; top that. (http://twitter.com/dietdiaries)

  40. Roxane B. Salonen on June 5, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    >Rachelle, I guess I took this question a little differently than some. What I would want my agent to understand is the isolation factor of living where I do and how difficult it is at times to be a writer from "the middle of nowhere." North Dakota — where is that? Or is it South Dakota? Who knows? Who cares? But there are rich things coming out of "insignificant" places. I've felt a huge disconnect between the place of my residence (North Dakota) and rearing (Montana) vs. the louder, seemingly more vibrant coasts. I'd love for my future agent to have a sensitivity for that — for who I am based on my place of being and growing and learning, and to not pass it off as insignificant. Does it sound like I'm venting? Perhaps I am, but it's important (imperative in fact) to me to connect with someone who would be compassionate about this element of my writing journey. Thanks for letting us weigh in — what a nice feeling! Wishing you blessings in your weekend…

  41. Anonymous on June 5, 2009 at 10:37 AM

    >It's a good thing there are so many different styles of agents as different types work for different people.

    For me personally, I don't want an agent who does a lot of editing. Some are very hands on, some are not. I want one who is more focused on marketing and sales than on editing. Understanding of course, that should the book sell, there would likely be extensive rewrites requested by the acquiring editor.

    I would want a more business-like relationship. I'm in sales myself, so would be seeking someone who is sales savvy and driven, who really understands the fine points of contract negotiation.

    I would also want someone who is on top of things, detail-oriented with good follow-through.

  42. Mary on June 5, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    >I thought about you today Rachelle while posting a review to my blog that was written by a writer on our review team. He reviewed the book Hero and used the phrase "What women want" several times to make his point, which we know is your mantra! Hope you have a great weekend.

  43. Helena Halme on June 5, 2009 at 10:26 AM

    >What a question and what a response! Once you open the floodgates…OK. What I'd like most from an agent is patience. We show it to you, so give it back.

    Of course she/he needs to understand me as well as my writing, but I think this is a given.

    Oh, and for me personally, an agent needs to understand my love for shoes and handbags

  44. Aimless Writer on June 5, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    >Please know you are the gate keeper to my dreams. If you like my work I could go far, if you don't I'll just keep plugging along.
    This is why I'm very nervous when I meet you. I'm shaking in my boots, babbling like a fool and when you walk away I curse myself several times over for saying such dumb things.

  45. Shelli Cornelison on June 5, 2009 at 10:11 AM

    >I understand the overwhelming number of queries every agent receives, but the policy of "If you don't hear within x weeks, it's a no" is very hard to work with, especially if they don't send out a notfication of receipt. At least if the writer knows the query was received, she go on that.

    So, first I'd say we need a confirmation that the agent received our work, especially if they don't intend to reply to the query unless they're interested.

    Most writers (I hope) put so much time and effort into making sure every query they send out is well-targeted, professional, etc. It is disheartening to then receive a one-liner response of "No Thanks." I do appreciate when I get a response at all, but it is hard to take when I've spent a great deal of time crafting my query and I get a sentence fragment shot back at me. I know agents don't always (or ever really) have the time to reply with a full editorial letter of my query, but I think we need agents to understand why some writers get so frustrated and act out (with a knee-jerk response and in error) by posting their hurt and frustrations on their blogs or message boards, etc. I'm not condoning that response from writers but I do know how frustrating it is on this end.

    I guess my second suggestion is that a well crafted form letter might be more appropriate than a sentence fragment. I don't think most of us are expecting a personal response if the agent isn't interested, but the one-liners can sting. Perhaps responding to professional correspondence with professional correspondence is the best way to put it?

  46. Suzanne on June 5, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >I agree with the communication part. Especially when we send a .doc. So many things go to spam. A quck "I have your stuff" would be great.

    One other thing. Many of us out here are writers. Hard knock, rip apart and put it back together again writers. Many of us want to let you know that if you like some of what we have to offer, but it isn't quite right… we will most likely have other work that will suit you, or be able to create it. It is hard to tell that to an agent, because it sounds like pandering… but it is true for many (not all!) of us.

    We also know how hard it is for you guys. How many emails you get. How big your slush piles are. And now, with the advent of twitter, we can hear your frustrations about multiple queries and busy work schedules (though seeing an update from an agent who has my full stating her desk was clear… gave me pause…)

    Great post. Great question. Thanks for asking.

  47. jimnduncan on June 5, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    >Let's see. You need to know how I like to communicate. The relationship won't last I don't think, if agent and writer aren't on the same page (or same chapter at least)as far as the how, when,and why's of the interactions.

    You need to know my career goals. What do I want to write and how much? Is there more than one genre interest here? One book a year? Three? I'd be expecting my agent to at least offer their advice expertise of the industry to help guide my career path to achieve or alter my goals.

    You need to know what I'm capable of beyond the actual writing of the book. Whether I'm just someone who writes or a total media geek, you should know what my abilities are in the realm of what happens after the book is published so you can direct/help me in that regard.

    And you need to know that I want to have a good relationship with you. We don't have to be bff's of course, but you should probably have some idea of what I'm expecting beyond the publishing aspect. If we're planning a long term relationship, then you should know what I'd like beyond just getting me published. Personally, I want an agent who is going to be at least a bit more than a pure business partner.

  48. Anonymous on June 5, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    >What I need from an agent is someone who gets my work and understands that my vision may be different from theirs but that it might be equally valid. I would like an advocate for my work, as well as honest feedback that doesn't cross the line into soul-sucking brutality. Occasional check-ins just to let me know I haven't been put on perpetual ignore would also be nice. Just basic human kindness and consideration. I don't really think that's too much to ask in what's supposed to be a long-term business relationship.

  49. Dan on June 5, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    >In my particular case, I think what I need to find in an agent is communication, honesty and direction.

    I know all agents are busy, but no communication for months at a time is disheartening. A simple e-mail or even tweet to say "Hi!" every couple of weeks is a great way to stay in touch.

    Be realistic when you tell me about my writing. I need to be objectively critiqued about my work and how to make it better. Offer me suggestions as to how I can best mold my ideas into a marketable product.

    An agent is an open pipe to what the market is looking for and where it seems to be headed. If my masterpiece is not what the market is looking for, let me know so I can write something else!

    There should be synergy between agent and writer…

  50. writermomof5 on June 5, 2009 at 9:40 AM

    >Wow, what a thought-provoking question.

    I want an agent who is passionate about my work, but not satisfied with the status quo, pushing me to do more.

    I want an agent who knows the business and is willing to explain those things that I haven't learned yet.

    And this is probably inappropriate, but I'd want a person with whom I wouldn’t mind hanging out on a Saturday night

  51. Patricia Raybon on June 5, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    >We need help isolating our uniqueness, our "brand." That is, what do I alone bring to the market that's unique to me — that no other writer is offering? I want my agent to help me think through this. Identifying a brand would help many good writers find their focus, their particular gift to God's kingdom. That's how I see it anyway. Thanks, Rachelle, for the great question.

  52. Lea Ann McCombs on June 5, 2009 at 9:34 AM

    >What I most need and appreciate in an agent is prompt, frequent communication–even if it's only a one-line email saying, "I got your mss."

    Agents should keep in mind how their clients perceive a silence. A thousand questions bombard us, going from bad to worse. "Did she get it? Did she hate it and hasn't told me? Did she toss it and forget to tell me?"

    I really thrive on regular communication from my agent, even when not much is going on with my mss. at the moment. Just knowing she hasn't forgotten me and isn't about to dump me is reassuring and makes the waiting game easier to bear.

  53. ashleyludwig on June 5, 2009 at 9:34 AM

    >As long as my agent is a clairevoyant superhero, I promise to write 2,500-3,000 words of perfect prose a day.

    That's not too much to ask, is it? 🙂

    Seriously – open communication, honest critique, a pulse check on the market, and changes in editor preferences. Those things can spark ideas and great writing.

    Great prompt today!


  54. John M. UpChurch on June 5, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    >Being a Christian writer, it's not just the business and personal aspects I'm concerned with. I also want an agent who purposefully seeks God's guidance and knows Him.

    This isn't to say I'm not looking for someone who is seasoned, sarcastic (though not disillusioned), and sensitive to the market. But I do want someone who understands what lies beneath the surface of my writing.

    Knowing that there's prayer involved definitely makes me feel better about the decisions being made. I'm not so naive to think that every decision any human makes is perfect (with guidance or not), but I take comfort in knowing things aren't all in my (or the agent's) hands. The reduced stress is great.

    So, savvy, sensitive, and seeking. Those are characteristics I'd love to see.

  55. Nicole on June 5, 2009 at 9:32 AM

    >Like the others, not sure what kind of answer(s) you're looking for, Rachelle, but this is what I "need" from an agent which I doubt they can provide publicly: a list of CBA novels they love. I understand why this "can't" be done, and I understand why giving a list of favorite general market novels should provide their general tastes in fiction, but it doesn't always translate well in deciding who to query.

  56. Teri D. Smith on June 5, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    >Hmmm…this is hard because most of the things I can think about that agents need to know about writers, they already do.

    They already know how close this work of art is to our hearts. How it's our baby, and we put a piece of our heart on our hand and offer it to them when we send a proposal. They already know how we've work long hours polishing, reworking a single sentence five, six, seven times or more.

    As you mentioned they already know how hard it is for us to wait and how we'd love even a brief, honest answer if rejected. (And thanks to you, we know your side of these topics.)

    I guess, I'm basically saying that I feel the agents are doing a pretty great job. Most understand us well because they're either writers themselves or have worked long enough in the industry to have the understanding that experience brings with it.

    I don't mean to sound like I'm sucking up, but considering the length of their "inboxes" maybe the agents need an e-round of applause.

  57. Megs on June 5, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    >Maybe understand that most fiction writers aren't wired the same way nonfiction writers are.

    And we also were those high school students who wrote our minds out and devoured books one shelf at a time, but panicked and shriveled in misery when we had to write book reports for school.


    Which is why most of us hope we could be judged by the first 5 pages of our novels, and not the awkward cover letter and 'tried to do too much' blown synopsis.


    Yes, letter writing does fall under nonfiction, even if you're discussing fiction.

  58. JStantonChandler on June 5, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >What a great question. And great responses.

    For me, I am praying for an agent who not only believes in my work, but believes in me. Someone I can be honest with, someone who will be honest with me (even if I don't want to hear I need to rewrite twelve chapters :). Most of all, I need someone who will push me beyond my pre-set limits, someone who is going to force me to dig down deep and wrench out (no matter how painful) the real writer within.

    Perhaps I'm asking for too much, but that's the way I operate. I tend to underestimate myself and my abilities. I value my friends, my few,true friends, who see something more in me and force me to bring it to light.

    Having someone who knows the industry, who is committed to putting only quality literature on the shelves, who will not quit until that's what I've produced, who is willing to take risks would be an answer to prayer.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for this wonderful post! As always, it hit the spot. Have a great weekend!


  59. Eric on June 5, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    >Wow, you want to know about me? In that case, I'm annoying, cranky, have been accused of stalking numerous times (though never convicted), and I feel close personal contact with an agent is a must (particularly at 2 a.m.).

    Okay, I'm kidding. You can breathe a sigh of relief now. I'm a determined writer, learning as much about my craft as I am about the business. I'm a professional with a slice of humor on the side, so a stoic agent might not be the best fit. I believe in deadlines as much as I believe in arriving 10 minutes early to an appointment. And finally, I write because it puts a smile on my face – even when I'm struggling for the right phrasing. You can therefore expect that I'll be passionate about the work, tempered with a dash of realistic expectations.

  60. Kim Kasch on June 5, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    >"We try to explain what the business is like for us and what we need from you."

    Here's my spin on what writers need from agents:

    Honesty, guidance, and a little love . . . um, I mean gentleness.

    Wait, that sounds a bit like a Mom…

  61. Jason Crawford on June 5, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >This is interesting because after reading some of the above posts, I think we're all coming to the question at different angles, which I think answers the question better than our real answers anyway. But enough philosophizing…

    At any rate, I took the you to mean writers collectively and not me personally. To that end, I think most agents do a great job, but I would like to see agent attitudes take a more positive tone. This doesn't apply to you by the way Rachelle or Nathan B and many others I'm sure.

    But often I get the feeling that a lot of agents approach unpubbed writers like we're the biggest waste of time…like dealing with is us is something they've got to do rather than something they want to do.

    I'm a believer in positive reinforcement, and I think I've convinced my wife it actually works in parenting (and dealing with your husband:).

    For me, one example of a person who made it big by following protocol, etc… speaks louder than 50 query rejects who didn't follow instructions.

    But as I said, none of this applies to you Rachelle. You give so much helpful advice and in such a positive way that I've got to say, if I'm ever pubbed, it'll be partly because of you…I think the fact that you even thought to ask the question proves that you really didn't need to.

    Have a great weekend all…

  62. Angie Ledbetter on June 5, 2009 at 7:34 AM

    >I want my future agent to be a great communicator. Since I love yapping/chatting so much, I think the same type of extroverted personality would work well with mine. Conversely, a terse business-like person probably wouldn't peel my apple. 🙂

  63. Scott on June 5, 2009 at 7:08 AM

    >Wow, talk about getting personal on a Friday morning . . .

    Me . . . stable (at least in my own mind), reliable, always on time, if not early, works well under pressure, very snarky at times, youngest of four, Mom's favorite child . . .

    Okay, then I'm organized to a point – folders within Word where all notes, etc. go, plus pretty purple folders where everything else goes. My desk is an absolute mess and only gets cleaned when I need my printer, which is the catch all for everything. I love to sit outside first thing in the mornings on the weekends, drink my coffee, and watch the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks frolic in the yard. This is my 'me' time away from writing, and away from life.

    I'm all about living life rather than just existing through life.

    I write because I love the journey I take each time I sit down in front of the computer. I have no delusions of grandeur, just the reality of life, a hard struggle and one day – optimism runs deep – success with my writing. Would I quit my day job? Probably not. I have the best job in the world. : )

    Like Krista before me, not really sure if this is what you want.


  64. Karen on June 5, 2009 at 7:03 AM

    >I think it would be important to know the passion for writing your client has. What is it that makes her heart beat faster and her fingers fly over the keyboard and enriches her life because she is creating it?

  65. Krista Phillips on June 5, 2009 at 6:47 AM

    >Wow, I don't think I've ever commented first or anywhere near first…. I think that shows that this is a hard question:-)

    What do you need to know about ME? Um, let's see. I was born in…. Just kidding:-) Seriously, I think this answer will be different for every author because just like agents, we're all different.

    So, for ME, I'd like an agent to know that I'm first a child of God, second a wife, third a mom, and fourth a writer. I'd like them to know that I take my writing very personally, but am a good sport about critiques/edits of it. I work best in a partnership not a dictatorship. I, at times, have a slight temper, but rarely does anyone but my husband see it. (good for everyone else, not so good for him!) So basically, you might have a hard time knowing when I'm irritated, other than an OVERLY polite e-mail you may get. LOL I'm driven. Give me goals and I'll meet them.

    Not sure if that is what you are looking for, and those are very personal ones specifically to me. Look forward to seeing everyone elses!