Hope you’re well! Happy June, Happy Pride Month. Gosh the time has flown—I swear it was just April, LOL.
I often get asked for advice on querying and how to choose an agent. And usually when I do, I say something like you want to find someone who’s best for your career. But what does that really mean? I always feel like my “brand” is talking about things we often sweep under the rug, so this post is part informative (I hope), but also personal. I want to share a bit about my journey, why I parted ways with my first agent (which I’ve never publicly talked about!), and ultimately discuss what finding an agent for your career really means and how to do just that.
So I started querying agents in college. I was one of those writers who had to be published before twenty. (If this is you, totally fine, but for me my work then just wasn’t ready.) I think part of it was that I knew a bunch of teen writers and several of us were published, so it felt like a very attainable thing. But that didn’t happen. After college, I went into publishing on the editorial side. And, in 2017, I signed with an agent. Now there are many ways to get an agent, querying is only one of them. My agent and I attended a conference together as publishing professionals. We bonded in between sessions talking about vampires (aka how I truly bond with people, LOL). We got along great, and when he later saw me tweeting about a project I was working on he emailed me and was like OMG PLEASE SEND IT TO ME. I, of course, sent it. I emailed that project and the one I was actually about to query. I told him the project wasn’t complete, and he didn’t care. He loved the premise, he loved my writing, and we both agreed that this new project was the one of my heart and had so much potential, and so he signed me on a partial.
The plan was that we would work on it and get it to a point where it was ready to be sold. But as it happens, things don’t often go as planned. I got this idea for an amazing anthology, and I felt in my bones that we needed to make it happen NOW. So we did, and we sold it, and it comes out next march!! All throughout that time, I’d been working on my novel. And here comes the hard/sad part: something just wasn’t clicking. We had done rounds of revisions and it didn’t feel the same. We tried to work through it, but ultimately I felt like I would be better served with a new agent. I felt like my career goals had changed. I felt like he didn’t quite get the book I was trying to write. To be honest, I don’t even think I had defined career goals when I signed with him and maybe that was the problem. I didn’t know who I wanted to be as a writer. And because that book was just a little partial when I signed with him, I didn’t even know what that book was going to become. So looking back at it, I’m okay with how things happened because both it and I changed so much over that year. So, in the fall of 2018, I parted ways with my agent. I’m not going to lie, I hit a real low point. I cried a lot. I really love this agent, we’re still friendly, plus we had the anthology together, so it felt like so much of my world was changing.
I should’ve taken some time to collect myself, but I was so low that I felt like signing with a new agent would miraculously give me my self-confidence back. I rushed to query, and I ended up with my amazing agents. (That said, there were some bumps in the beginning because I brought a lot of “bad blood” into the new relationship–ultimately, I had to take time to really come back to them and my book with fresh eyes–new agents didn’t magically give my myself self-confidence back, only you can do that by believing again in your work. aka if you part ways with your agent, take some time to clear your head first–even if you think you’re fine, your probably aren’t)
And as many of you know, I left my job as an editor at the end of last year. I have had a lot of life changes these past several months. I’ve also had a lot of friends either query for the first time or part ways with their agent. All of this combined has really gotten me thinking about what it means to find an agent who works well with you.
So first, if you are someone who is considering parting ways with your agent:
1. Please do try to work things out with them. Sometimes, it’s possible to work it out. You owe it to them and yourself, to the work both of you have put into that relationship and your career, to talk to them first. If you don’t directly communicate problems, how can you ever fix them? And, here’s a secret, you’re gonna have some conflict with anyone you work with. So it’s best to learn now how to communicate your needs and expectations in a respectful manner.
2. Should you decide to part ways, please know there’s no shame in it. Again, this is the first time I’m talking publicly about leaving my agent. The reason why is because I was so embarrassed. Leaving an agent is never easy. And in my case, my agent wasn’t a bad agent, he just wasn’t right for me anymore. I wanted something different out of my career and to take my book in a different direction. I felt so much shame because I was like gosh people work so hard just to get an agent and now I’m leaving mine, what will people say, it’s all my fault. But the fact is that this is a business. A business with a lot of personal relationships aka that makes it hard. But still a business. Ultimately you need to do what’s best for you. There’s no shame in that. Just again, do it with kindness and respect.
Now, moving on to the actual “finding an agent best for your career”:
The best thing I did the second time around is that I really thought about the career I wanted. I knew I wanted to write adult sff as well, so I needed to find an agent who confidentially could handle both. I also knew I LOVED my current YA project. But my current YA project has vampires in it. My previous agent was very pro-bringing vampires back, but I knew from being an editor that not everyone was so I needed to find someone who loved the book for itself.
There were agents I queried who said, love you, love your writing, love your future ideas, but I don’t believe vampires are really coming back. Would you consider writing something different? I think 2017 Patrice would’ve said yes, but again I knew what I wanted and needed so I said, thanks but no thanks. This was NOT the advice I was given started out. People told me to be flexible, it’s okay to trunk a novel. And listen, that’s true (in some cases), but I knew this novel was something special and I wasn’t going to let fear of it being “a hard sell” stop me.
There were agents I queried who said, love your book but even though I have adult sff on my list, I’m not really doing a lot of it anymore. And again, that was a situation where I could’ve said yes because my adult projects are not even written. But, like I said, this time I was trying to find an agent who could best fit my entire career, so I said thanks but no thanks.
That wasn’t easy. What if those were the only offers I received? In fact, if I remember correctly my now agents were the last agents to offer. We’re told all you need is one yes. And maybe that’s true at the beginning of your career. But I think that can be somewhat harmful thinking. Because people often translate that into, I should take the yes that comes. And sometimes, yes you should. But many times you shouldn’t. It’s scary to say no, but the right no can set you on the right path as well.
I mean, what’s the worst that happens when you say no? You’re without an agent. Remember, I had just parted ways with my agent. I was already at a low point. So I would rather be without an agent than be with someone who just wasn’t right. I was willing to wait for the right fit. I probably should’ve considered other agents in 2017. I shouldn’t have just signed with the first person who offered. That said, had I not signed with my agent, my amazing anthology might not have happened. I never would’ve realized all the things I did about my book. I think I might’ve ended up in the same situation regardless. Because again, I didn’t know what I wanted out of my career.
What’s the secret to finding a great agent? Other than having a great project to pitch, of course. You need to know what you want out of your career. It’s not about getting one yes and taking it. It’s about making a list of the qualities you need. Do you need someone who is super blunt? Do you need someone who’ll hold your hand? Do you want someone editorial? Do you want someone who does nonfiction and fiction? Boutique agency? Big agency? These are questions you need to ask yourself. What are authors whose careers you admire and respect? What do you want your career to look like? And listen, be honest with yourself. If your dream is to be a school and library market darling, you need to find an agent who gets that. An agent influences so much of your career. They are literally the ones taking YOUR book and translating it to editors. So if they don’t get you, if they don’t get your book, then that translation will be off. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen as an editor.
I know it can seem scary cause you’re like well, but Patrice I really need an agent. I get it. But you also have to be protective of your career. You have power, too. When you are considering agent offers, you need to be “interviewing” them just as much as they are you. It’s a partnership. They are representing not just your work, but you. Be respectful, always, but ask them tough questions too. Ask them about regrets in their career, ask them what happens should you two part ways? This is a business. Asking tough questions doesn’t mean you’re introducing doubts, it means you’re being smart about your business (because so much of being an author is like running a business).
Ultimately, don’t ever forget your worth. Don’t give up until you find the best agent for you. There’s never any shame in trying again <3
Some Twitter threads from me and others, on this topic, that I adore:
dont rush it. which is so hard, i know. especially if you have agented + published friends. but seriously, take the time you need to get it ready.
also, dont query agents b/c they're popular online. query them b/c they're a good fit for your present + future career goals. https://t.co/fbYwnrjCE2
— Patrice Caldwell (@whimsicallyours) December 30, 2018
JD brings up a good point, so let's talk about this in detail: why letting EVERYONE who has your query know if you have an offer is the right thing to do for you, for the agent(s) and for your career. https://t.co/dvdG0lDVvZ
— Tess Sharpe (@sharpegirl) May 9, 2019
Oh, I have so many! The first being that I think the advice "Send out 100 queries before you give up on a book" is not great advice when there is a very large possibility there are not 100 agents you would like to work with. Being selective about your agent choices is smart. https://t.co/RIJo7CM2Zs
— Tess Sharpe (@sharpegirl) May 8, 2019
This whole thread is good (shocking) but I do wanna focus on this, because people seem to think there's a magic number that tells you when you're done and that makes no sense. The time to stop querying is when you're out of agents to query whom you want to work with. https://t.co/s3lxWyuTtP
— Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlELama) May 8, 2019
When looking for an agent, don't say yes to 1st agent to ask.
Ping everyone you queried, Tell them you got an offer.
Even if no one else offers, talk to the agent, find out why they want to rep you, how they want to shape your career. Make sure they're a good fit.
— Nebula-award-winning Justine Larbalestier (@JustineLavaworm) May 6, 2019
In general, follow these three for excellent industry threads and advice.
Would love to continue this discussion, ask me questions and share tips in the comments or find me on Twitter, @whimsicallyours!