Looking for an agent is easier than it has ever been before because we’re living in the computer age. The main thing is to do your homework. If you can, attend conferences where you can meet the agents in person, or at least listen to them speak. But if your time and resources are short, you can also do your research on the internet. This is something fairly new and wonderful for aspiring authors. Start with pubrants.blogspot.com. This agent has wonderful sample queries and excellent posts about getting an agent. Then check out her links.
Sign up for Publishers Marketplace and spend time searching for agents who sell in the genre you write. Then google them and read their interviews. Query established agents and brand new ones that are at established agencies. If you’re not getting requests from your queries, consider redoing your query. I know this part is hard, but start writing a new project while you are doing all this, as you have to keep learning and generating new material. It also takes your mind off the search.
You might be in the rare position of having a personal recommendation to another writer’s agent. This would come because a friend, usually a long-time one, volunteers it. You never want to put a author on the spot by asking for this. All you have to say to a writer you know is that you are going to be submitting to agents. If they want to recommend you, trust me, they will do that on their own.
So whether you came in under a personal recommendation (more about that later), or you queried on your own, once the agent has your full manuscript you must wait, typically months. Hopefully, you are also querying other agents. You may want to give the first agent a head start (a week or two), because they came in on a personal recommendation, but after that it’s better for you to have several options.
Once you have one agent who offers to represent you, however you found that person, the courteous thing to do is to contact via email each agent who has your full. And you put in the subject: “Offer of Representation.” That gives them a head’s up and they will read your email promptly. Don’t try faking this, it only works if it is real and the publishing world is very small. In it, you explain how one agent has offered representation and you want to give them (the agent you’re writing) the courtesy of knowing. You do not need to mention the name of the offering agent. This is a good time to also alert your referral friend. They’ve gone out on a limb for you, at least keep them apprised.
Now agent #2 (and 3, etc.) have the opportunity to either let you know that they are in the process of finishing reading your manuscript or that they would also like to make an offer of representation. They might ask you for a few more days. Or they may say they wish you well. But by doing it this way, you have handled this professionally and have not burned your bridges.
What agents dislike is to suddenly get an email saying that you have accepted representation elsewhere, without any other discussion, while they may have invested precious hours reading your manuscript. By giving them this courtesy, you also avoid putting your friend who referred you in an awkward position, because the agent assumed you had educated your friend. If you need more proof, see what agents say on the subject:
This last one points out how this is your chance to really ask the questions. Things will get so busy later, that if you don’t find out now, I’ll bet it takes a long time to find out some basic things like: How many clients do you have? Do you sell foreign rights yourself, or do you use a subagent? If so, what percentage is taken out? Aside from the issue of “respect and courtesy” as agent Rachel Gardener points out, there is the practical matter that by jumping at the first agent who offers representation, you miss out on a crucial chance to really learn about that agent and how he or she works. The issue is not that you won’t end up with that first agent, because you might. But it’s about handling this in a professional manner. I know it’s hard when you’re so excited that someone offered, and that’s why I’m explaining it here. Any good agent will admire you for doing this and will certainly allow you to take a week (possibly two) to engage in conversations with them and with other agents before making this crucial decision. Some agents will even invite you to their office to meet in person if you happen to live close enough.
Now, I’ve come to a decision that recommending someone is not the best way to go. The time I was recommended to an agent, (the writer volunteered it) it still took months before the manuscript was read. And even though I did go with that agent, it turned out this was not the right one for me, even though this was an excellent, top agent. When I queried my current agent, even though I knew several of her clients, I chose not to mention to any of them that I was going to submit to her, because I knew they would offer to put in a good word for me.
Instead, I wanted to come in clean, on my own, on the merits of my manuscript and query. That is the way you want to get your agent, because you want that agent to be attracted to you and your story, so they will really get behind you, not just feel they owe someone a favor. There is a difference between just having an agent and having one that can devote the time and energy to promoting you.
The agent who may be perfect for one author may not be the one who is perfect for you. It’s a bit like a marriage. That’s why you need to do your own research and come up with a long list of possibilities. Some conferences have actual speed dating with agents. However you do your research, be sure that you evaluate an agent based on your specific chemistry, how you click, your needs and goals – not someone else’s — so you can find your perfect fit. And you will.