If you've been around the writing community for more than a few days, chances are you've run into something, somewhere, explaining the Rules of publishing. At every level of writing--aspiring author, agented author, on- submission author, contracted author, published author, and even all the way up to INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING author--there are things you are simply not supposed to say or do. In public, at least. And these days, in public for most of us is online.
But there are some things that simply need to be said, regardless of these rules. Mostly because, as it turns out, we're all thinking them anyway.
So here's something that's a bit unorthodox. Agents are always posting about what they want from writers on their websites, blogs, twitter, etc. This is totally fair and acceptable and I have no issue with this whatsoever-- I like it, because it helps me get to know the agents better and figure out if they're someone I'd be interested in working with. But lately, after writing query after query, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I want from an agent. Because, let's be honest: an agent-author relationship is a two-way street.
Let me say that again, in its own paragraph, to make sure everyone gets this:
An agent-author relationship is a two-way street.
Here's the thing. Agents are a bit like celebrities, especially if they have an online presence. The chances of getting one to represent you are slim to none. Being picked out of the slushpile and whisked away to Maybe Being Published Is Next Land is all very romantic.
But not every agent is right for you.
There's a lot of advice out there amongst the other Rules that says to query widely. I basically disagree. I think you should query smartly. Find the agents who are best for you and your work. The agents who represent not only what you've written, but what you want to write. The agents who work at agencies that do the things you want your work to accomplish. If you think it'd be nice to have your book turned into a movie, it would be a good idea to look at agents who work at agencies with a proven track record of film deals. If you want your book to sell internationally, the agents you query should have connections or be versed in foreign rights.
If you'd like an agent to keep you in the loop while on submission, you should look for agents who do that. Likewise, if you don't want to hear from them until or unless there's a deal on the table, you should try to research agents who do that.
And so on and so forth. Basically what I'm trying to say is that I think querying widely might not always be the best idea. Just because someone is an agent doesn't mean they should be YOUR agent.
In other words, the same Rules apply on the other side of the table. Do your research, but know what you want. Don't just query an agent expecting them to pick you because you Need To Have An Agent.
The right agent is more important than just any agent. I've seen several writer friends hurt and burned by wrong agents. These agents were completely awesome and perfect-- for other people. They made other clients happy. But they were wrong for my friends.
So, for me, the things I want in an agent are the things that I look for when I do my querying research. Do I need everything on this list? No. Of course not. I might be as surprised by an agent that doesn't do these things as an agent can be surprised by that one query in that genre they don't represent. I'm not closed to possibility. But I do exercise restraint.
As writers, we need to have some degree of restraint when querying. Sure, querying 400 agents ups your chances of getting represented. But are all 400 of them really the best advocate for your work?
I think you know the answer.