The Right Agent for YOU

You’ve probably read a lot in the blogosphere about the importance of finding the right agent for you and your body of work, rather than just saying “yes” to the first agent who comes along. There are plenty of criteria upon which to base this decision. In my post “Questions to Ask An Agent” I’ve suggested quite a few things to think about.

But today I just want to mention one particular thing you might want to pay attention to, if you’re a newer author hoping to be launched into the marketplace:

You want to make sure your agent has experience launching debut authors.

Most agents take on a certain number of new, unpublished authors each year. But some have a client base that is mostly established authors, and it may have been years since they launched a newbie. Since publishing has changed drastically in the last five years, you want someone who knows how to do this in the current publishing landscape.

I recently spoke with an author who had turned down my offer of representation the previous year, in favor of a larger and more well-known literary agency. The agent hadn’t sold her book, and consequently dropped the client. I questioned the writer about this, trying to figure out what went wrong because I know this writer has several more good books to offer. If I’d been the agent, I’d have learned what I could from the first round of rejections and forged ahead with book #2, making sure we didn’t make the same mistakes the second time around.

The writer got the impression that the agent, having worked exclusively with established authors, didn’t have the stamina or the passion to persevere in the face of this daunting challenge. That made sense to me—I know from experience what it takes to be committed to new authors. I must believe whole-heartedly in the project and the author if I’m to have the determination to push through the inevitable roadblocks a debut author faces.

It’s pretty easy to check an agent’s track record and see if they’ve brought new authors to the market. If you read agent blogs and Twitter feeds, you can also see who has a heart for new writers. I’m not saying you need an agent who has only new authors, but someone who launches at least one or two a year would be great.

I absolutely love launching new authors! I’m the kind of person who gets really excited watching artists come into their own—I totally get a thrill from watching people develop as artists and business people.

This, my friends, is why I LOVE “American Idol.” You may scoff, but I can hardly overstate how much I love watching these young dreamers do the hard work of turning their dreams into reality. I love seeing how some of them make huge improvements week-to-week on the show as they learn from the judges’ criticism; I am saddened by the ones who aren’t learning and getting better, and so are dropped from the competition.

This is who I am, and this is why I’ll stay committed to bringing up new authors, even as my client base matures and becomes dominated by my multi-published authors (which is happening already). I’ll always have at least a couple of brand new writers on my list.

We will always need fresh content, fresh voices. And I will always seek them out.

Do the agents you’re considering love launching new authors? You may want to ask them: Do you ever work with new writers? How long has it been since you launched a debut author? What would you expect to do if this book doesn’t sell?

Q4U: Do you think it matters if your agent handles many new writers? Or would you rather have someone who works with a stable of bestselling authors?


As a special treat today, here’s one of my favorite performances from last week’s Idol. Stefano Langone brought the house down with his performance of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” from 1989, the year he was born.

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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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  6. leigh d'ansey on March 23, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    >I think it would be great to have an agent who keeps an eye out for new authors. To me, this shows an open-ness to new opportunities and a generosity that I always admire in anyone.

  7. Carol Riggs on March 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    >Wow, I haven't been keeping up with Idol; thanks for the vid! I've always loved the original of that song, and this guy did a GREAT job. Made me all teary. Sniff. ;o)

    Now what was your post about? (kidding) This is a really good question, one I never thought about asking a potential agent some day. I think I'd like my agent to have experience with handling a debut writer, yes. Not necessarily that they have ALL debut writers in their client list, but experience with doing so–and not too long ago in their agenty past.

  8. catherinemjohnson on March 23, 2011 at 6:50 AM

    >Definitely considering whether or not agents like new authors, thanks for giving us more questions to ask.

  9. Ruth A. Taylor on March 22, 2011 at 9:55 PM

    >Stefano is one of my fav's! Can't wait to see what he does tomorrow.

    I sure wish they had put Kendra through instead of Ashton. Oh well, I'm sure they had their reasons, just as agents have their reasons for passing on good projects. Like you said, the agent-client relationship must fit!

    Thanks for the additional questions to add to my Word document, designed after your "Questions to ask an agent" of course.

  10. Krista Phillips on March 22, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    >I think it does matter!! I'm not sure I really thought about it before, but it makes a lot of sense. Not that selling for an established author isn't hard, I'm sure it IS and has it's own set of challenges. But to know an agent has a good reputation of working with debut authors is comforting! That said, I think if the agent has ONLY debut authors and not ones that really "go anywhere"… I think that would be telling as well. You, of course, are NOT that kind of agent either:-)

  11. Melissa Ann Goodwin on March 22, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    >This is so reassuring. I actually found myself in this situation, lucky enough to have two offers of representation – one from a large NYC firm and the other from an independent "boutique" style agent. The independent agent had engaged with me from the start, suggesting aspects that needed revising. The NY agent loved my story, but she seemed to be tugged in many directions and handled some high-profile clients. It also seemd like she might suffer from "shiny new penny" syndrome – meaning that the latest thing she'd read instantly became today's passion. Communication was spotty, plus she had to take everything to committe. I went with my gut and signed with the independent agent. She had proven herself to me through her willingness to engage, she was communicative, and able to make her own decisions. And, I think, she was/is highly motivated on my behalf! I hope I made the right choice, I think I did.

  12. Kristin Laughtin on March 22, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    >This post just goes to show that you can research how to write queries and learn about establishing a social media presence and do all those things agents tell us aspiring debut writers to do, and still have something to learn. I'll add questions about experience with new authors to my list of things to discuss with potential agents someday. Thanks!

  13. Melissa on March 22, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    >Ah, I think that we aspiring authors have a “dream agent” in mind. And I’m sure that literary agents have their “dream clients,” too. Personally, I would want an agent with a good mix of established authors and new authors. And I know this sounds totally crazy, but I would prefer an agent who knows a good novel. He/she doesn’t have to connect with it – he/she just has to know that it’s salable. As a freelance writer, I narrow down my clients by who looks for the most salable product. I don’t enjoy writing about 90% of the topics I choose. But these topics are precisely what pay! ☺ So, that instinct is extremely important to me.

    One type of agent that I stay away from is the agent who wants anything and everything, from memoir to literary to self-help to erotica to coffee table books … well, you get the idea. This is my big red flag. I cannot see how these agents can possibly know how to effectively market all of those genres extremely well.

  14. Rachel on March 22, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    >Casey is King! 🙂

    Great post! I actually hadn't thought of it from this angle before…

  15. Carol J. Garvin on March 22, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    >Mmm, loved that performance!

    I think there could be spinoff marketing advantages to having an agent with both best selling and newbie clients but only if the agent has a strong interest in helping emerging authors. That makes it all the more important to do our homework and ask the right questions.

  16. JohnO on March 22, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    >"We will always need fresh content, fresh voices. And I will always seek them out."

    You signed 0 people out of roughly 10,000 queries in 2010.

    How do you square your comment with that fact?

  17. Jackie on March 22, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    >I love the idea of being able to be choosy and ask searching questions when acquiring an agent, but agree with a previous post that most rookie authors don't have that luxury. However, I was once taken on by a fairly new
    agency who turned out not to have the necessary contacts and subsequently went out of business. With hindsight I realise I should have been more wary and asked more questions.

  18. Dara on March 22, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    >Definitely someone who is experienced at launching new authors, since that's what I would be. But as others said, I want it to be someone who shares my vision and understands the core of my story and will help me navigate through the stormy publishing waters. 🙂

  19. Shelly Goodman Wright on March 22, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    >As a new author myself, I would want an agent who is passionate about Christian fiction. Someone who will take a chance on a forty-year old who wants to pull young adult readers from the vampires and werewolves and show them the true evil that exist while still in a fictional word. There isn't much of that out there. 🙂

  20. Kristi on March 22, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    >I've heard a few horror stories about picking the wrong agent. One author I met just signed a million deal with his second agent. His first agent dropped him after a year. He says he was very, very lucky to get another agent after that.

  21. elaine @ peace for the journey on March 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    >I want someone to champion my pen and my heart. I've been writing for years but am considered "new" as it pertains to getting published. So… I'd love an agent with a consistent track record who fights like a lion for my 50,000 words. Interested?


  22. Jill Kemerer on March 22, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    >Good point. It's also good to find out if the agent an author signs with wants to develop long-term relationships. A book-by-book relationship may be too stressful for new authors.

    I hope Stefano makes it all the way. He's my fave male contestant!

  23. Stacy Henrie on March 22, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    >Thanks for this great post. An agent's ablility to launch a new author (and enjoy it) is something I hadn't really thought of before, but it makes complete sense.

  24. Lacie Nezbeth on March 22, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    >As a new writer myself, it's encouraging to hear that there are agents out there that not only represent new authors but that also enjoy the process. Especially because we often carry around a lot of questions and insecurity.

    One question: Are you an American Idol voter or just a viewer? 🙂

  25. Michael Offutt on March 22, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    >I'd never thought about the whole process from the "what's best for you as a writer" perspective. To me, I guess that having anyone offer to represent you would be nice. Thanks for shining a light on this.

  26. Robb on March 22, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    >Excellent post and advice. The dilemma, of course, is that most of us still hoping to become debut authors are querying agents and getting rejections, so the first agent who offers representation is likely to be the only agent with an offer on the table at the moment.

    Our choice is then to say 'yes' to what might be the wrong agent, or say 'no' to an offer of representation from an established and successful agent because we want to hold out for an agent we might like better or that might be a better fit, knowing we might query another 50 agents over the course of another 6 months and risk not getting another offer at all.

    That was a long sentence, wasn't it?

    Being selective about an agent certainly makes sense, but the selectivity usually belongs to the agents, not to the writers. Very seldom have I heard of a debut writer with two, three or four agents all offering representation at the same time so the writer can research, talk to, get references, and choose the one with whom the writer is most comfortable and confident.

    Although a boy can dream, can't he?

  27. Keli Gwyn on March 22, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    >Your ability to spot a talented new writer, the way you help that writer take a project from promising to marketable, and your excitement when you call to say the book sold are three of the many things I appreciate about you.

  28. Sara Richardson on March 22, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    >As someone who’s made almost every mistake in the book when it comes to choosing an agent, I couldn’t agree more. You can ask every question and hear exactly what you want to hear, but research is critical for making the best decision. That said, there are also times when you should go with your gut. You can always do research, ask questions, seek the advice of others, but when it comes down to it, sometimes you just know who would be best agent for you. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, and keep working and learning and growing until your writing is so good that they can’t turn it down.

  29. Anonymous on March 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    >Similarly, if you're an experienced writer you may want to stay away from an agent who prefers to launch new, starry-eyed, and, especially, *young* authors.

    Such was my sad experience, anyway.

  30. Rosslyn Elliott on March 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    >I'm glad you posted on this topic. I was thinking of you the other day and the fact that you have made 27 deals for debut authors already (I think that's what you said in a recent post–probably more by now!) I am grateful that you are willing to launch so many of us, because I can only imagine how hectic it is to have an entire slate full of new authors, all contacting you to say: "What do I do now?" 🙂 It makes me smile–you have to use your motherly patience to get through it, I'm sure.

  31. Jaime Wright on March 22, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    >I tend to live on agent's web sites. I read the links to all their published authors, look at how many books they have, how many different genre styles they represent … I love to see an agent who represents new and established authors. It tells me they have been in the field long enough to totally know what they're doing (i.e. guide me through a world of unknowns) but they have a passion for rookies like me who can be completely clueless sometimes.

  32. Linda Jackson on March 22, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    >Thank you for another timely, informative post.

  33. Matt Sinclair on March 22, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    >What you say makes complete sense, and I hope that my work finds just such an eager, energetic agent.

  34. Elizabeth Poole on March 22, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    >I liked today's blog post as well, and thought you brought up a good point. There's nothing wrong with agents who have clients that are established authors, but we also want to make sure they are adept at dealing with "fresh blood" as well.

    Actually, I think a mixture of both is a good idea for any agency, but I guess that's up to the agent's preference.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful blog. I read it every morning, and you always have something insightful to say.

  35. Sarah Thomas on March 22, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    >Absolutely, I want an agent who specializes in new authors. I had a professor in college for a lower level chemistry class. Her specialty was advanced chemistry. Let me just say we quaked in our boots daily. But in those upper level courses? She was beloved. I want someone with patience, persistence and understanding for a writer learning the ropes.

  36. Ishta Mercurio on March 22, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    >Great post! I would never have thought to check on an agent's experience launching debut authors, but you're right – it's a really important question to ask.

  37. Lance Albury on March 22, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    >I feel it's almost snobbish to make sure my prospective agent has experience launching new authors. What if they are fairly new to agenting? I'm new to publishing, so who am I to discriminate?

    I agree with Richard. I'm more concerned with the agent's track record in general. And if she's new, but with an established agency, I look at the agency's track record. Agents in the same agency work with each other, right?

    Is my thinking wrong?

  38. Erin MacPherson on March 22, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    >LOVED that video… my daughter and I just watched it twice. And, I'd personally like an agent that I felt cared about me as an author instead of one who just cared about the sale. And, yes, experience with new and inexperienced authors is part of that.

  39. Kelly Combs on March 22, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    >I love your idol related posts! This year has great talent. I love all the guys! My 11 yr old is rooting for Lauren Alaina.

    I can TOTALLY imagine you as my agent! *grin* Seriously, the writing styles of many of your clients are how I imagine myself writing, humorous content reflected back to God. And we both have 2 daughters, are Idol fans and love chocolate. Okay, I know it's a pipe dream, but at least I get to meet you in person come July! Woot!

    Now I just have to write a book. Details, details.

  40. cynthiaherron on March 22, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    >Rachelle, thanks for continuing to keep us goal-focused! An agent's track record with debut authors is important, but for me, his or her VISION for each particular client would be more of a consideration.

  41. Richard Mabry on March 22, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    >Thought-provoking post. If I really felt there were good vibes between my agent and me, even if she was relatively new in that position, I'd love to have her represent me. Oh, wait. She did…and quite successfully, I might add.
    Seriously, I'd be more interested in my assessment of the agent and vice-versa than the track record. Each of us would be looking at the potential for future years, and that's what counts in my eyes.

  42. Choices on March 22, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    >Great advice. This is perfect timing as I am attempting to find an agent for my children's book.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    Have a wonderful day.

  43. Sue Harrison on March 22, 2011 at 6:46 AM

    >Even multi-published authors should be happy to be represented by an agent who holds a good track record of launching new authors. That kind of commitment involves an energy and enthusiasm level that benefits every client.

  44. Wendy Paine Miller on March 22, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    >Remember in Charlotte’s Web when Charlotte writes in her web, “Some Pig”? All I kept thinking while watching that performance was Some Voice. I hope that’s the same thought an agent has while reading my work (voice, not pig). 😉

    I love that you take chances on new authors and how loyal you are.

    Thanks for constantly giving me food for thought here.

    ~ Wendy

  45. Karyn on March 22, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    >Great advice, Rachelle. Something I hadn't thought about (and now will). I have to admit, as I was reading your post, I kept thinking towards the bottom you were going to announce… And so, I am opening my doors to queries again! 🙂

    The people who follow your blog (and your career) know your enthusiasm and passion and will be happy when you do!

    And Stefano is one of my favorites. I also think Scotty is incredibly talented.

  46. Julie Jarnagin on March 22, 2011 at 5:39 AM

    >I’d love to be represented by an agent who has a good mix of authors who are in the early stages of their careers and a few authors whose careers I can aspire to.

  47. Rosemary Gemmell on March 22, 2011 at 3:55 AM

    >I'd definitely love someone like you, Rachelle, who is experienced in agenting other authors but is up to date enough for new authors. That would give me confidence in a competitive world.

    And I know what you mean about all those hopefuls on American Idol, (or our UK X Factor). It reminds me of the Happy Talk song from South Pacific: 'you gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true'. I'm continuing to dream!

  48. Andrew on March 22, 2011 at 2:58 AM

    >My guess would be that, for an agent, raising a new author is a lot like raising a puppy. Tremendous fun and satisfaction, but you'll also have your share of "why did he DO that?!" moments.

    It's all a matter of personality. Some people have the sense of adventure and fun needed to bring up a 6-week-old fuzzball, even if they've not held a puppy for twenty years (that, by the way, was me).

    And some agents never lose the delight in dealing with the gaucherie of new authors, even if they've no idea that the capacity is still there.

    So no, it doesn't matter to me. I'll hang my hat on opening and maintaining honest communication, to know if the agent will not mind my occasionally piddling on her literary carpet.

  49. Loree Huebner on March 22, 2011 at 2:14 AM

    >This is was great post. Lots to think about here. You suggested some real good questions to add to the ask-the-agent list. I believe if I had the choice sitting in front of me, that I would rather go with a agent who works with new writers.

  50. Tana Adams on March 22, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    >You're a rock star! You could handle long dead authors, and I'd still want you.

  51. Liberty Speidel on March 21, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    >I definitely agree with you on your point about having an agent who knows how to handle debut authors. While I'd love to work with an agent who has a proven track record of picking NYT bestsellers, that won't do me much good if the most recent author they signed started with them 10–or even 5–years ago!

    Maybe it's me standing on the outside looking in, but it seems to me that a newbie author is likely to need a lot more hand-holding than someone who's more established (unless that established person is terribly flaky), so an agent would need to be a great deal more patient, and more willing to put in more time with a newbie.

  52. Tiffany on March 21, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    >I think having an agent who handles new authors is clearly better than someone who handles already best-selling authors. Authors who have previously been published already have their foot in the publishing world, but new authors need someone who will help with that extra push. My assumption would be (which may be incorrect but…) that taking on a new author is a challenge for an agent, and personally, that is the kind of agent I would hope to get: one who is willing to take a challenge and do their best to succeed with that.

  53. Nancy Thompson on March 21, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    >Thanks for the advice, Rachelle. I only wish you were taking queries from us newbies. As one myself, I would not have thought to ask that question and as I now have 2 partials & one full out to agents, I often wonder what I should do if by some miracle one of them offered me representation. Of course, my first reaction would be to jump at the opportunity but perhaps I should take some time & compile important questions such as the one you advise. I have much to think about now and hope I will be given the opportunity to ask someone someday…soon.

  54. Jeigh on March 21, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    >That was awesome! I still remember watching one of Kelly Clarkson's performances and getting goose bumps all over as I realized, "She's got this whole competition in the bag!"

    I will definitely be adding this question to my list to ask potential agents. I would love to have an agent who regularly deals with debut authors, for all the reasons you listed. It's exciting to see that there are agents out there who are excited and passionate about hearing new voices and helping us get our words out there.

  55. Liana on March 21, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    >omg I love Stefano and Casey!