Things You Should Know from the Agents Panel
Panelists: Marisa Corvisiero (Corvisiero Agency), Louise Fury (L. Perkins Agency), Brittany Howard (Corvisiero Agency), Marie Lamba (Jennifer Dechiara Agency), Lori Perkins (L. Perkins Agency), and Eric Ruben (The Eric Ruben Agency).
1) Good agents can spot a hole in the market and will look for something to fill it. On her website, my boss lists general categories she's looking for, but, in reality, her wishlist is a lot more specific. At the panel, women's fiction was mentioned several times, but specifically, (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) something like Gone with the Wind, albeit shorter and more modern. No chick-lit or books with recipes. Also mentioned were LGBT books that featured established relationships. No coming-out stories. Brittany Howard said she wanted a 'literary-feeling' middle grade manuscript. No so-called 'portal' adventures. I realize all of this may sound as clear as mud, but basically, it goes back to what I've said before. They don't want manuscripts that feature trends that are hot right now; they want trends that will be hot two years from now.
2) Agents are your business partners, not your friends. Louise Fury spoke quite passionately on this topic and many of the other panelists were nodding. Agents are there to help you make money. They are there to help you produce the most marketable book possible and to make sure you get the best contract available. They are not there to hold your hand when you've had a rough day. That's what your emotional support system is for. They are not there to read every single draft of your book and make suggestions. That's what your beta readers and critique partners are for. I'm not saying you and your agent won't be friendly, but think about this: an agent could have twenty clients. If they spent an hour every day, simply listening to ten of those clients, that's the entire workday shot to hell. When are they going to have time to sell your book or negotiate on your behalf? So when you're tempted to call or email your agent, ask yourself, is this important enough that I'd rather they take the time to read it and reply than do something else on my behalf?
3) Be patient. An agent may offer you representation on a quick turnaround, but that's probably because they see potential in you and don't want to risk losing you to someone else. That doesn't mean they're going to immediately start sending out your manuscript. Chances are you're going to need to revise or edit before your agent thinks it's submission-ready. Also, once you go on submission, it could still be a while before your book gets sold, if it ever does. Getting an agent is a vote of confidence in your talent and an important step forward, but there's still a lot of work to come.
4) Ask questions and pay attention to the answers. If an agent offers you rep, be excited, but still be smart. Have a conversation about where you both see your career going, your manuscripts, money, expectations, everything. Make sure the agent is a person you can trust to look out for you, someone to whom you can entrust your manuscripts and reputation. Email a few of their clients and ask politely how they like working with the agent in question. This is the equivalent of checking references after a job interview. If the agent has a problem with you talking to their clients, then that's a red flag. A good agent will also give you time to contact any other agents who have your manuscript so you can see if anyone else is interested. My boss typically gives prospective clients a week from when she offers rep. Even if the author knows my boss is their dream agent and wants to sign immediately, she still makes them take the week. This is a business relationship and it's best if everyone signs the contract confident that this is the best decision.
5) Talk to your agent before you talk to the internet. I forget the exact question the moderator asked, but it was something about what do authors do that you wish they wouldn't. I think it was meant to be about pitches or querying, but one of the agents (Eric Ruben, I think) said that if authors have an issue, they should ask their agent about it before complaining online. There were no specific examples given, but what they meant was, if you're worried submission is taking too long, think your contract is nuts, worried about your publisher giving you the runaround, anything like that, talk to your agent before you vent on Twitter or your blog.
Bonus Wisdom from me: Interns and assistants do more than you think. The agent will always make the final decision, but the better the intern, the more weight their opinion is going to carry. In addition, interns often operate like scouts. You may be tracking every move an agent makes from across the room, but their intern may be sitting right next to you. When you attend industry events, network as much as you can and be polite & professional to everyone you meet. My badge might say reader or librarian, but that doesn't mean I can't ask for your card and tell my boss about you later on. Polite and professional, m'kay?