Do I hug the first agent who says yes? (because it feels as if there might not be a second?)

I’m assuming most unpublished authors go through what I’m feeling, which is: maybe no agent will give me The Call.

Let’s face it; the agent search can seem like a pretty one-way deal once we’ve floated enough queries and gotten enough rejections or, far more commonly, no responses at all. We reach the point where we’re so desperate, if she’s got the title “agent” and she’s got a pulse and she’s interested, we’re ready to say yes no matter what.

I understand that’s not a good idea.

Doing a little research I’ve found some good advice on this topic. I’m not seeing a lot of this advice from other writers; mostly it’s coming from agents. So if anyone knows of some good advice along these lines from fellow writers, please share. Meanwhile, here’s mine: an unpublished writer’s look at picking an agent.

No, I’m not talking about the standard guidebook, “research your agents well” blah, blah, blah. I’m not talking about the “make sure she’s a member of AAR and doesn’t seek up-front fees” blah, blah, blah. Or “make sure she’s got a track record.”

Come on. Most of us unpublished writers aren’t stupid, right?

I’m talking about, how do we know if she’ll be responsive, return phone calls, actually work for us? How do we know she’s not a jerk who’ll treat us like second-class clients the moment things start get challenging? Does she break promises? Does she lie? Does she care? How do we know she’s not going to be the agent from hell? Because I’m sure TAFH is out there.

Can we make that determination in advance? And when do we get the power to choose?

A website called Mr. Edit puts it this way: “Actually, unless a writer is well-established, he or she rarely picks a literary agent. What usually happens is a literary agent agrees to represent a manuscript — an opportunity that the writer, having been rejected X number of times, generally jumps at.” Sounds like a good start, but then Mr. Edit goes on to offer the same stale advice: research agents, don’t pay reading fees, blah, blah, blah.

Real revelations come from a blog post called “What to ask an agent” from Rachelle Gardner of Books and Such Literary Agency. She urges us to step back and take a breath when we finally get The Call. Be ready to ask plenty of questions up front, or ask for a day to think about it, get off the phone, think of the questions, then ask them. She offers a couple dozen questions she suggests we ask about the agent, her work process, her preferences in dealing with clients, money, experience, ideas she has, plans she would suggest, etc. Then decide. The comments on her post are good too, offering more questions and a few cautionary tales.

Gardner links to another good blog post, “Before You Hire A Literary Agent” from consultant and ex-agent Michael Hyatt, who warns that the same things about an agent that would eventually frustrate us — not conversant, disorganized, unresponsive, unreasonable, greedy — also likely are frustrating the publishers at the other end of this dynamic. His top advice: ask the agent for client references, then call them and check her out. Some good comments on his blog post too.

AgentQuery.com insists the agent won’t be offended if we ask for time to think about it, and suggests two weeks as a maximum. We should sound excited, of course, but careful. This site’s advice includes, “Ask questions. Feel her out. Consider the chemistry. Is she someone you can trust?” Etc.

Then, after we do that, I suppose, we say, “Yes.” And “Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you!”

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