A literary agent is someone who will be pitching your story idea to publishers. Many publishers require authors to have agents representing them. Generally speaking, at some time in your career, especially if you are going to sign a contract of some sort with a publishing house, you will need an agent.
I had an agent for a previous book deal, and we amicably parted ways a few years ago. I am not quite ready to find another one, mostly because my next novel isn’t finished yet. But when I am ready, I am going to do my homework and seek out the best fit for me.
If I were ready to look for an agent, these are the things I would do:
1. Google search. I’d spend at least a half-hour looking at what comes up when I Google her name. Are there any complaints? Any questionable news items? Anything negative at all? If I found anything obviously negative like a criminal record, it would be hard pass, for sure. But even there might be things that pop up that are merely eyebrow-raising. Regardless, pay attention to what kind of reputation they have online.
2. Investigate titles represented. Often an agent’s website will have specific and titles that the agent has negotiated. Can you see yourself and your book in this crowd? Do you think that the general vibe that these books give is consistent with your brand? The more titles you see, the better. If this agent has fewer than a dozen, that means they are new at this. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
3. Ask other authors. It’s appropriate for you ask authors that you already have a relationship with about their agents. What’s inappropriate is hounding authors online or seeking them out unsolicited. This is one of the reasons why having a writing community is so important! If you do this, limit your questions to something simple, like, “are you happy with your relationship with your agent?”
4. Go to conferences. Many conferences schedule agents to meet and greet unrepresented authors. Take advantage of these opportunities, but stay professional. Have a pitch ready, but don’t be pushy. Know who you are speaking to (and their history) before you take up their time. Be patient and polite.
5. Seek someone you “click” with on a personal level. This relationship is a professional one, no doubt, but the best agent/author relationships are those in which they seem to understand each other and trust each other fully. If you don’t feel like you are heard or understood, then look elsewhere.
These five steps are not exhaustive. Sometimes you find them through querying and submitting chapters. Sometimes you have a contract in your hand and scramble to find someone to help you with it (happened to me in 2013!). Sometimes events like Pitmad on Twitter can help you find the right fit.
Regardless, the search for an agent should be a search for the right agent. That will take hard work, research, and preparation on your part.
But when you have the right person on your side, it will be all worth it.