by Mary C. Moore
Hopefully you are using this amazingly helpful site to find agents whose tastes align with your writing. And although your writing is by far the most important aspect of your submission, secondary, and almost as important, is how you present yourself as a potential client.
Given this site is dedicated to agent and editor manuscript wish lists, a post on a wish list of traits in potential clients seems appropriate. Before I go on however, let us emphasis that none of my clients checked off all the items on this list when I signed them. This post is not meant to discourage, only to educate.
Traits that are must haves in potential clients:
Other traits on my wish list:
- Online savvy
- Solid platform
- Lengthy writing resume
- A love of Doctor Who
Professionalism is by far the most important aspect of the agent/author relationship. Writing itself is an intensely personal experience, and emotions tend to carry over to the publishing of said writing. But a writer who wishes to be traditionally published must be able to separate personal from business. Rejection is a given. It will occur on every level, whether it is from agents or editors or reviewers or readers. A client who reacts rashly to rejection or makes emotional demands will not be easy to work with. Mutual respect for each other’s business role is expected once a contract is signed. If I offer representation to an author, it means I respect them as a writer and believe they have what it takes to make a career from it. I expect them to respect me as a literary agent in return. Manuscript rewrites should not be a battle to convince the author of every edit. Suggestions on how to build their platform should be taken seriously. The desire to micromanage an agent’s time should be resisted. Trust that the agent is working for them at all times is paramount. (If the author suspects the agent is not working for them, this is another matter and should be addressed immediately with direct communication.)
Patience is another key trait I seek in potential clients. Traditional publishing is slow, sometimes glacially so. It can take years before a manuscript is sold (sometimes it is the second or even third ms). A writer should understand that just because they signed with an agent does not mean they are going to be seeing six-figure advances and a movie contract the next month, so should manage their expectations appropriately. Even if I do sell a manuscript quickly after signing it, the average time for the actual book to be released is 18 months later.
Online savvy is an aspect that I know intimidates a lot of authors. But a client who understands the deeper aspects of an author’s online presence will be at an advantage. An author who knows how to build websites, understands SEO, can direct all of their social media accounts, makes use of hashtags etc., will have an edge in the marketing and promotion of their career. This is appealing for obvious reasons. Just having a simple author website will go a long way in my assessment of a potential client.
A solid platform is something that I know makes new authors groan, but this is my wish list, so on the list it goes. Ideally a potential client would have established their platform already with a solid following. This means once their book is published they have a built in fan base. Realistically they should understand what a platform is and have plans to grow it.
Lengthy writing resume is another aspect that is hard to pin down when an author is starting out. The catch-22 of “you need to have published to be published,” is a real irony. Ideally a potential client would have published short stories in well-known literary journals and magazines as well as a host of manuscripts in their drawer. Realistically, they would have more than one project planned, as even with a literary agent, your first manuscript may not sell.
A love of Doctor Who is half a joke and half truth. If our tastes align, more than likely our vision for your projects will too, and that I know editors that will be interested in your style. Allons-y.
When I make that phone call, these are the traits I hope to find on the other end. Of course, it’s the writing that matters, and that will weigh the most heavily in my decision to make an offer. But I also want to see that the author is professional and patient and willing to grow. And if you happen to have a life-sized replica of a Dalek in your living room (Stacey Berg), well that’s just icing on the cake.
Mary C. Moore has been with Kimberley Cameron & Associates since 2012. She represents both adult and young adult fiction. She is currently seeking fantasy, science fiction, upmarket “book club,” genre romance, thrillers with female protagonists, and stories from marginalized voices. She prefers clients who are online savvy and who have more than one full-length book project in their drawer. She does not represent self-published books, memoir, middle-grade, picture books, or non-fiction. Find out more about her at marycmoore.com and visit the agency website at kimberleycameron.com.
4 thoughts on “The Ideal Client: A Literary Agent’s Wish List”
Great post! Just so we know, which is your favorite Doctor? Companion?
I love 10, but I have a special soft spot for 11 and the Ponds.
Professionalism and patience is precisely the sort of things I’d expect from an agent. Often that drifts on 5 pages or less. Understandable as the slush pile with online publishing has maxed the attentions of many agents trying to find quality in quantity. As for Dr Who – did you know the original set for that was built out of a stack of cotton bobbins and two plastic boards with bits pressed out of it to create holes? It took less that 30 seconds to design the set. It just takes one person to see the bigger picture, realize its potential and risk something on it. It was launched in 1963 with the following prediction: “Cavemen and Doctors and disappearing bloody police boxes … it’ll never work,” one skeptic says in a promo for the movie. Now, was he an agent?
This can be a literary publicist’s wish list as well. I’d also like to add that once you get the reputation of being demanding or difficult, it flows into the very tight literary community.
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