Welcome to Friday! Sorry I’m a little behind on my posts this week. First, I’d like to encourage you to stop by author Irene Roth’s blog site today for a short interview with yours truly.

Today I’d like to discuss agents–more specifically, how do you know if you’re ready for one, what do agents do, and how do you find one? I’ve known some writers who start looking for an agent as soon as they get their first magazine article published! Their thinking is that if they start the process early, by the time they’re ready to write their book, an agent will be there waiting for them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work this way.

The first question you should ask yourself if you’re considering hiring an agent is: Why do I really want one? There are plenty of right and wrong reasons for wanting an agent. Wrong reasons include: So you can say, “I’ll have my agent call you,” or “I don’t know if I’m free that day. Let me call my agent.”  Another wrong reason is to prove that you have arrived in publishing (which it really doesn’t).  A third wrong reason is assuming that they will help you write your book.

Right reasons for having an agent would be: You’ve gone as far as you think you can go on your own without one; there are certain publishing houses you want to break into, but they’re closed to non-agented proposals; and you’re a successful book author who needs someone to manage  negotiations, long-range planning, and marketing strategies.

In order to determine whether or not you need or are ready for an agent, you must know what an agent does. What are the roles of an agent? One of the most important things an agent can do for you is to help you make industry connections, whether that’s with publishing houses, PR people, book doctors, etc. They are in the know as to who would be right for you and your writing.

Another agent role is, of course, to market and sell your book to publishers. As mentioned before, agents can get in many places independent authors cannot. Many publishers have now taken the path of not looking at manuscripts unless they are presented through an agent. Agents also are instrumental in negotiating contracts, including revenues, advances, various book rights, multiple contract deals, and ancillary products or licensing. Unless you’re a legal whiz or expert negotiator, it’s best to leave this part to your agent.

Agents can also act as strategic planners, helping to guide your career, so to speak. Knowing industry trends and the inside-outs of various publishing houses, they can help you mold your writing so it fits in better with what the market is demanding. This doesn’t mean they will change your style or voice, but rather that they can help you stay in the flow of what’s hot and not miss the mark when it’s time for your next book to come out.

When you feel you’re at a place where you could really use an agent to either help you open otherwise closed doors or get your career on track, it’s time to start researching.You can start by finding a listing of agents in book market guides. You’ll also want to gather referrals from other authors. Often agents will take on a new author through referrals of existing clients. I highly suggest checking out Predators and Editors as well, a website that lists agents to stay away from.

After you’ve compiled a list of possible agents, research them like you would a publisher. Agents, like publishers, tend to work within certain genres. Learn which agencies will be right for what you write. Also find out if they’re currently taking on new authors. Then learn what authors they represent and what publishers they have sold to. It may also be helpful to learn how big their agency is. Some authors prefer large over small, or vice-versa, so you may want to find that out if it’s important to you.

Consider your agent to be a business partner. Spend the time necessary to find out what the particular agent you’d be working with is like. If you’re the kind of person who needs constant communication, a detailed account of every conversation between your agent and the publisher, and so forth, you’ll need to be sure to find an agent who’s willing to do that. Otherwise, you’ll end up extremely frustrated. Get to know the agent’s personality and how he works with authors before choosing one. A good agent can be your partner for a long time. You want to make sure you have a good working relationship and each of you knows your expectations going in.

If any of you have a story of how you successfully landed a good agent, I’d love to hear about it!