From the time my first agent closed her agency and I was once again on my own, I’d made it a point to discover more about literary agents and their relationships with authors.
Some agents act as an editor before they send out a manuscript, sometimes having the author rewrite a number of times before they deem it ready to send to a publisher. Some agents and authors speak almost weekly by phone, the agent holding the author’s hand as she works her way through a book. Some agents do nothing for an author in-between negotiating a book contract. Some agents have cozy personalities and some are hard as nails.
So I sat down to figure out what it was I wanted from an agent. Ultimately, two things rose to top importance: (1) I wanted someone who would champion my work, and (2) I wanted someone who could help me plan a career.
I had discovered something about myself when negotiating my first seven book sales. If I said to a publisher that I was the best thing to happen to them since sliced bread (you have to go into a book deal believing the publisher needs your book), and the publisher said, “No, you’re not,” my immediate internal response was, You’re right. I know I’m not. Because, of course, I know my inadequacies as a writer. While I write the best book I’m capable of at the time, I can always improve. So I needed an agent who believed passionately in my current work and in the potential for my future work. I needed a champion who would truly believe I was the best thing since sliced bread and who could then persuade the publisher of it too.
The career planning was also important to me. I didn’t want to simply sign another book deal for three or four more books. I wanted a career, and I knew that a true publishing career would look much different from what I was doing at the time. I just wasn’t sure what steps I needed to take to make my dreams come true. I needed concrete, achievable goals, steps to take to get me from Point A to Point B.
I believe it was late May (not long after I returned from my honeymoon) when the local RWA chapter’s conference chairperson gave me the agency info for the agent she hoped would come to our conference in the fall. Another member had met the agent the previous summer at the national RWA conference in San Francisco and liked her. And since the agent was located in Portland, it would be easy for her to fly into Boise.
I recall looking at that agency bio and feeling my heart flutter with excitement. In the first two or three paragraphs, she said she was a “champion” for her writers and that she believed in helping them with long term “career planning.” There was more, of course, but those two things popped out at me because they were the top two items on my agent wish list.
I’m not sure how many days passed before I worked up the nerve to call the agent, not to talk to her about the conference but to get a feel for her. I liked her right away. She was personable and knowledgeable. She’d read one of my books so knew my work. Later, she sent me her agency contract, a simple and straightforward two-page document. However, I was a bit reluctant to sign because my first agent-partnership hadn’t lasted. What if I made a mistake? What if this agent wasn’t the right one for me? We talked at least three more times over the next three or four weeks, about an hour each time, and the more we talked and the more questions of mine that she answered, the more I felt we were a good fit.
So I held my breath and signed the agency contracted. I had a champion for my work.