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Which Comes First – the Agent or the Editor?

Which Comes First – the Agent or the Editor?

When a writer finally gets to publishable level (9 1/2 years for me), agents and editors are equally attainable. How do you know when you get there? You won’t know until you get an offer from an agent or a publisher. But in case you’re there, if the publisher you’re targeting requires an agent, then shop for an agent first. If no agents sign you, a publisher probably won’t either because your writing isn’t quite there yet. 

If you meet with an editor at a conference, they request your proposal or manuscript, and make an offer—the world is your oyster. You can get just about any agent you want. But you still need to find the right agent—the perfect fit for you. 

Yet some publishers prefer you get an agent first. If this is the case, they’ll tell you when you make your pitch. This is what happened to me. I pitched at conference, the publisher was interested, and told me to get an agent and send the proposals. 

I’ve had two agents in the past and neither worked out. Choosing an agent should be a prayerful and thoughtful decision. Take your time. If you sign with the wrong agent, you end up paying them 15% of your advances and royalties on any books they sold, even if they’re no longer your agent. 

I made a list of agencies using specific guidelines and sent out six proposals. My guidelines: 

  • Only female agents. Simply because I don’t think men get very excited about the romance genre.
  • Only agencies that had been in business and had a solid reputation for at least three years. If an agency is on the up and up, its reputation will make or break within this time period. 
  • Only agencies that had more than one agent in its employ. Anyone can start an agency. If they’re the only one in the agency, they can do business however they want with no one to answer to. 
  • Only agencies that had sold to multiple publishing houses. If an agency has only sold books to one or two publishers, it could be that the agent has friends in those houses and can only sell to their friends. 
  • Only agents who were very interested in my genre and had sold numerous books in my genre. 
  • Only agents who had worked in the publishing industry before becoming an agent. 

Agencies #1 and #2 didn’t think my proposal was filled out enough to carry an 80,000 word book. 

Agency #3 was interested, but the response time was slow. We e-mailed back and forth over several months with no official offer. 

Agency #4 responded very quickly that they were very interested. 

Agency #5 didn’t respond, but I knew the agent loved romance and I wanted to hear back from her before I made a decision. 

Agency #6 never responded, but this was my last choice because the agent had sold some romance, but didn’t seem overly excited about my genre. I crossed her off my list. 

Once I got the positive response from Agency #4, I was excited. The agency had been around for years, had a great rep in the industry, and had some big name clients. The agent had sold mostly romance and was very excited about my project. 

I made arrangements to talk with the agent on the phone and made a list of questions I wanted to ask her. She passed my test and we seemed to connect. She made a firm offer of representation. 

I e-mailed one of the agent’s clients who writes similar to me and asked what she thought of her agent. Her response was glowing. 

I sent Agency #3 an e-mail saying that I was leaning toward taking an offer because she seemed to be overloaded with clients already. The agent thanked me for understanding and wished me well. 

I sent Agency #5 an e-mail saying that I had a firm offer, but I’d like a response from her before I made a decision. She responded quickly. She wasn’t excited about my project and was glad I’d found an agent who was. She encouraged me to take the offer from Agent #4. 

At this point, I considered padding my proposal for Agent #1 and #2 simply because I wanted to make the right decision. But they didn’t understand that I’m a pantser and the book fills out as I write it. I wanted an agent who understands my writing and has faith in me. I crossed them off my list. 

I decided to sign with Agent #4 – Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates. Nalini is relatively new to agenting, but not to publishing. Spencerhill represents Hannah Alexander, Denise Hunter, and Colleen Coble. Wow! 

I sent Nalini my proposal for another book and a one sheet that the publisher and I discussed at ACFW. Since I had a deadline for my current series, I didn’t have time to put together a full proposal. Nalini loved everything I sent her and by the end of the day she’d sent my proposals and one sheet to the publisher.

In the end, I think Nalini is the perfect choice for me. #1 – she responds quickly, #2 – she gets right to work, #3 – she loves my writing, #4 – she loves romance. I think Nalini and I are off to a very long and hopefully profitable partnership. I’ll keep you posted. 

I hope my agent-finding advice helps. Has anyone queried an agent? Tell us your story.

  1. Pamela Stephens01-29-12

    Sharon, that is very informative, and I love listening to your thought process…thanks for sharing! Would love to hear how it all works out in the end! Good for you!! Congratulations!

  2. Shannon Taylor Vannatter01-29-12

    Hey Pamela,
    Sometimes my thought processes are scary, but I hope it helps.

  3. Jenny Carlisle02-02-12

    Great, practical advice. Thanks for this detailed post.

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