An agent’s first role is that of SALESMAN.
Every salesman must rely on a list of contacts, or in the case of a literary editor, a list of editors. So today, our topic is:
THE WELL OF EDITORS–FOUR THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU ACCEPT REPRESENTATION
THE EDITORS IN THE ARSENAL–Who, exactly, is the agent attempting to sell to? Does he/she stick with non-advance-giving small presses, or does she/he pursue editors publishing with the Big Five? Does the agent have a massive rolodex of well-known editors to call on? Ones that publish the genres that you write? Don’t necessarily pass up a new agent–if he/she has a mentor that will introduce him/her to editors, or if the agent has a pleasing personality and confidence, he/she might do very well. Some agents live in New York and sometimes meet editors in person, others live elsewhere and conduct business by phone and email. An agent doesn’t have to live in New York to be successful, but he/she better have some drive and personality if she/he works long-distance.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL–The best agents know editors on a personal level. They can tell you which editor loves YA in rhyming verse, and which editor will never buy your picture book about a yellow dog because he/she was bitten by a yellow dog at the age of four. A successful agent knows where to send your manuscript because he/she has learned about editors’ tastes, quirks and prejudices–you don’t want someone who sends manuscripts out, scatter shot. Heck, you could do that yourself–right?
TRACK RECORD–It’s all well and good to be acquainted with editors and submit to them regularly. But has the agent in question actually, you know, SOLD anything to these editors? You don’t want representation from the Pest Agent –the one who messengers manuscripts at the senior editor of Scholastic every day, only to have them tossed because the editor finds her/him insufferable. After the agent has lavished praise upon you and outlined a tremendous submission plan for your work, check on her/his previous results.
THE PITCH–Last of all, what exactly does the agent send to the editor? Your manuscript, of course. But does the agent make a formal pitch, or does his/her email read, “Here’s another fantasy middle-grade. See whatcha think.” Needless to say, you don’t want to be “another” anything–you want your agent to represent you as something special. Usually that means a pitch, either in an email or on the phone. You pitched your story in your query letter to the agent, only makes sense that an editor should be approached in the same way.
Remember: first and foremost, an agent is a salesman. And you want the one with the best pool of editors to sell to.