At Writer’s Relief, we meet many writers who have dreams of landing a pie-in-the-sky literary agent for their book or novel. But let’s face it—that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, a writer is offered representation from a literary agency that isn’t in their top tier. Sometimes, a writer will receive an offer from a literary agent who is just starting out or who has a solid but not spectacular reputation. The question is always the same: Is a good literary agent—or an okay agent—good enough?
Each situation is different. Many variables play into a writer’s ability to get the agent of his or her dreams—including the quality of the writing, demand for the type of work in question, and the writer’s personality. But we hope our thoughts in general will help you make a good decision about your specific situation.
Before You Start Querying Literary Agents
If you’ve done your homework and you know that there are a handful of literary agencies who would be perfect for your book, then we at Writer’s Relief recommend you query those few agents before you begin querying your B-list agents. After you’ve queried your faves, then you can move on to querying others. This will save you from having the problem—later on—of having had an offer from your B list when you’re still waiting for a response from your favorite agent.
Getting Real About Good Literary Agents
Although perhaps your top handful of agents didn’t love your work, don’t lose faith. Keep in mind that a B-list agent might actually be a great literary agent who has the workhorse reputation and ethic that it takes to get the job done for you. Literary agents who are striving to build great reputations on the foundation of good reputations will often be passionate advocates for your writing—perhaps more passionate than if you were to be represented by an agent who has a “been there, done that” attitude. Your B list could get you high As!
What About Signing With a Not-So-Great Agency?
If you’ve received an offer from a literary agent that you suspect is not of a sound reputation and ethic, we recommend that you steer clear. Here’s an article that will help you know if a literary agent is trying to pull the wool over your eyes: Warning Signs: How To Spot A Bad Literary Agent: Part One.
That said, there are literary agents out there who might be set up legitimately and ethically, but who don’t yet have the connections, talent, reputation, and track record that it can take to negotiate good contracts with reputable publishing houses. You may want to proceed, but do so cautiously.
Remember: If a literary agent makes an offer to you, YOU are the one with the goods (the manuscript), and you don’t have to agree to anything you don’t want to agree to.
Take your time, ask questions (start with these), and let the other literary agents (those you prefer) know that you’ve had an offer of representation and that you would like a response regarding your manuscript within the next week or two. If you don’t get any bites, you might consider going with the literary agent who made the offer. Just be sure everything’s legit and in your best interest.
How To Put A Literary Agent On Hold
Some writers want to tell a literary agent, “Can you just hold that thought until I wait to hear back from my first-choice agent?” It’s risky to do this, but not necessarily unwise, depending on the situation.
After speaking with the literary agent about his or her offer and seriously considering the situation, you can politely tell the agent you need some time to think about it (you might not want to mention that you are following up with other agents—but it’s up to you). A good agent will probably put some pressure on you to make a choice—agents are salespeople to an extent—but will hopefully also respect your wishes.
And if the agent in question is insulted, saying “it’s now or never,” then it’s up to you to decide how important chemistry is in your relationship. True, the literary agent might rescind his or her offer if you ask for more time—but we wonder: Would you want to work with an agent that puts so much pressure on his or her clients?
Finally, remember that some literary agents are busy enough without having to add you to their client list. They assume (rightly, we hope) that you’ve done your homework before querying and you feel they could be a good fit for your work. Because of this, some agents will expect an immediate yes or no answer: They may not be inclined to take on a writer who seems like he or she is on the fence.
There Are No Easy Answers
Because each writer is different and each writer has his or her own goals, we can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of “should you settle when it comes to signing with a literary agent?” However, we can pose some questions that may help you to make an informed choice. By knowing your own feelings on these questions, you might be able to determine how you feel about your second-choice literary agent:
1. Have you truly queried a good number of the appropriate and reputable agents for your particular book genre? If not, are you sure you’re ready to settle?
2. On a scale of one to ten (ten being most important), how important do you feel that mutual respect and trust are in a relationship? How does that apply to your situation with your potential agent? Do the scales tip slightly one way or the other? Now—what number would you assign for how much you would trust the agent in question? Is there a big disparity between how much you want to trust and how much you actually do?
3. Would you prefer to have an agent try to sell your book, and then, if it doesn’t work, you’ll self-publish? Or would you rather just self-publish now because you’re eager to see the work in print?
4. Is it very important to you to have a book that does well with national audiences? If so, would you consider revising and querying literary agents again—especially if you had any “close call” manuscript requests with literary agents that you really loved?
Looking for your dream literary agent? Writer’s Relief can help! We help writers make submissions—personalized targeting and advice for your submission strategy!
QUESTION: What do you think? Is any literary agent better than no agent at all?