The Agent Affair

Finding your literary agent is like combing through endless racks of awesome coats – some in velvet, some with glittery sequins, some with weird-shaped buttons, and some with real gold threads – and then finally picking the one that fits you the most. It feels right when you put it on; it matches your style, complements your body type, keeps you warm and cool at the same time. Coats are nice. But not every coat fits you.

The same with literary agents. You don’t just go looking for one. You want to find the one. As with every relationship, whether professional or not, you always want the perfect match. Someone you’d hit right off and feel comfortable working with. Someone who’d listen to your voice and believe in it. Someone willing to meet you in the middle, jumble labyrinths of time zones, wade through the complexities of bad Wi-fi connections, because they know you and your story are worth it.

Which agent is right for you?

  • Carries a list with your genre. Sure, that agent sounds awesome, but they’re sticking to non-fiction and you’re writing high fantasy. Not it.
  • Comes from an established, reputable agency. You want your agent to be surrounded with equally brilliant colleagues who are a bright light in this industry. You want the literary agency to be renowned for uplifting its clients, giving them the best deals, breaking the norms in the best-est ways, and are remarkably capable when it comes to their craft
  • Is backed with years of experience. Experience is a great teacher. Experience lets you know what’s possible. Experience is what makes an agent capable, but mind you, that doesn’t mean new agents aren’t. New agents are awesome and are hungry to show what they can do. But they don’t just pop out of nowhere; the best junior agents have been mentored by the greats and carry necessary skills – editorial edge, amazing PR, muscles in marketing, and a fine taste in books
  • Has a list of clients you’d want to sit at the table with. Agents represent their clients, and while no one is absolutely, irrevocably perfect, you want to be with a crowd of writers whose ideals resound with wisdom, empathy, and genuine allyship
  • Responds promptly, cordially, and truthfully, even when things hurt. It’s not all the time that you can get hold of your literary agent – they, too, have a life of their own – but you want to hear back from them within a reasonable period without constant excuses. You want your communication to be set within Comfortable and Corporate because even as friends (where you can send each other memes), there has to remain a tone of respect for each other. And last but not the least, with sheer honesty, so your agent can gently guide you from where you presently are, to the career where you are headed
  • Is aligned with your vision with regards to the book. A good agent helps you unsheathe the glories of your book and amplifies the volume of your voice without necessarily diluting your intent and inspiration. They listen to what you want to say, what needs to be there on the page and won’t shut you off when you disagree

What if you get a bad agent? (Yikes!)

Industry pros will tell you that no agent is better than having a bad agent, and they’re right. Watch out for the signs; if an agent has been known to do the following, be wary, and steer clear away from them:

  • Makes their clients wait forever when responding, and always comes up with excuses
  • Does not sent their clients’ manuscripts to reputable publishers and often traps them in disappointing contracts
  • Insists on overhauling parts of your book, especially when it comes to diverse characters and settings
  • Has a strange background floating around the internet (find out what writers say in the forums such as Writers beware and QueryTracker
  • Does not belong to a long-established, reputable agency
  • Subtweets their writers on social media in the nastiest ways ever

We know the feeling of wanting to get agented, but don’t send your work to just anyone. Make sure to check their background and ask their previous and current clients when you get the call. You still have a chance to run away from the bad ones.

Understanding “The Call”

After weeks of waiting, an agent finally responds and asks for a partial. Days later, a full. And then, by some stroke of luck, they ask if they can schedule a phone call with you. “What’s going on?” You ask yourself. You hold out for hope. This could be it. Or not. It could be a kindhearted Revise and Resub (R&R, not in any way Rest and Relaxation). Or it could be what you’ve been longing to hear: a Call for an Offer, a.k.a. The Rope That Pulls You Out of the Query Trenches.

At this point, you are very welcome to jump out of your chair, scream, do a weird dance, and cry. It’s happening! You finally matched with a good agent (see above) and now, you’re on your way forward! Now, schedule that call, mark it on your calendar, and make sure you know what questions to ask, including:

  • More information about their agency: who they are, what they do, what sets their literary agency apart, and how they’ve been taking care of their clients
  • More information about the agent: what compelled them to become an agent? How did they start? How many years of experience do they have, and do they have relevant backgrounds to aid them in this career? (If they’re new, ask them about their mentors. Junior agents often manage their clients with a senior agent within their first few years.) What superpowers do they boast of? Have they sold a book? To which publisher?
  • What do they think of your book? How do they plan on revising? What is their editorial process? If your vision is not aligned, you might want to ask why.
  • What do they plan in your career? Do they see you writing in the same genre, or can they assist you in other genres too?
  • Are they sending your book to the Big 5 (or 4)? Will they choose smaller presses? Do they have a list? Can they share some?

After everything you’ve talked about, part amicably. Most agents will give you time to make a decision, usually around 2 weeks. But if your query is still in the hands of other agents (in different agencies, of course), there’s something you need to do.

Now what?

Squeal all your giddiness, and then sit right back on your computer. The call “triggers” everything. You had more queries out? Now is the time to tell those agents you have an offer, and you’re giving them this chance to catch on and swipe it from enemy hands (they’re not enemies, agents are nice to each other).

Most will say that you only ask the agents who got your full. But you may also want to ask the agents who had still not gotten to your query, too. You do not send a query to an agent after an offer. If you truly did not agree with the offering agent, let them know first before sending
new queries!

Here’s what I did:

Dear [Agent],

With so many things happening here and there, I understand you may not have the chance to see my query for MARIKIT WEARS THE MAP TO THE ENGKANTOS. I am reaching out because I have received an offer of representation today. 

If this query still interests you, I can send more pages. I have asked the offering agent for a consideration period of 2 weeks.

Please know that I completely understand if you may not have the time to give.

Thank you for the amazing work that you do.


Agents will try their best to get back to you before your deadline, and interested ones will schedule a call. Take every chance you can, and then, make the decision.

The Chosen One

The two weeks are over, and you need to make your decision. You are Tyra Banks holding one folder in your hand. It’s possible that another agent gave you their intent and made an offer. And another. And maybe, another!

That means you have to weigh the pros and cons of each agent to get to a decision. Here are some factors you might want to consider:

  • Which agency do you trust the more? Offer more perks? Give you more confidence?
  • Which agent is backed with more experience?
  • Which agent has a better, more solid view for your book? For your career?
  • Which, according to your gut feel, is your perfect match?

When the deadline is over, send that email (my best tip is that you reply to the same thread as their Offer of Rep / The Call email). Hearts will be broken, but joy will rise.

After a day or two, your agent will now proceed to send you a contract. Read it thoroughly. If some lines need explanation, ask your agent about it. Give yourself time to understand things. How about their commission? Their communication? Their rules? What if your agent affair needs to come to a close?

When you’re confident enough, sign that contract, and make that announcement on Twitter. You are now off the querying market and are officially agented!


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