Searching for the right literary agent can be one of those times where you might feel out of your depth. Where things are out of your control. It’s easy to believe that your future as an author is all in the hands of the literary agent.
Even when you are offered representation, you may feel like you are just so incredibly lucky that someone wants to sign you that you need to sign on the dotted line IMMEDIATELY. That’s the thing about publishing – sometimes you can feel as though it’s all about lucky chances and that you have to grab any opportunity with both hands, leaving you with a sense that you don’t have much choice.
Even though there might be an element of luck (your chosen genre might be popular at the time) don’t forget that you do always have a choice to sign with a particular literary agent or not. Remember that this is one of the first steps in your career as an author and you’ll want to tread carefully. Does the agent have a clear vision for you book and you as an author? Do they already have an idea of editors and publishers who might be interested in your book? Can you see yourself working with them, potentially for many years to come?
I had completed my MA in Writing for Young People (Which you can read about here) and I’d finally finished the manuscript that I’d started on the course. The course anthology launch was imminent, which meant our manuscript extracts would be published and sent to agents, editors and publishers. However, having no faith whatsoever in anyone wanting to contact me, I took matters into my own hands. I submitted my manuscript to Madeleine Milburn Literary agency and Alice responded, asking for the full manuscript. In a daze, I submitted in full and pretended to forget about it. Experience had taught me that it could take weeks or even months for a reply.
BUT a few days later I received an email from Alice. She loved my story and was offering representation. It couldn’t actually be real, could it? I read the email ten more times, checking the email address, switched my phone off and on again to make sure it wasn’t a technical error (I actually did this) before convincing myself it was real. I was over the moon!
I met Alice in person, and I was blown away by her enthusiasm for the book. She made me feel comfortable despite my awkwardness and I could immediately see how much she loved her clients and wanted the best for them. After I’d met another wonderful agent, who also offered representation, I had a tough decision to make.
I needed to listen to my instinct and my instinct told me that Alice was right for me. I had always admired the agency for their track record in launching successful careers and I liked the fact that the agency was a small, close knit team. I felt intuitively that the agency would give my stories the best chance at finding the right home.
So, if I could pass on any advice from my own experience it would be this: don’t rush into the decision. First gauge the agent’s enthusiasm for you and your story, acknowledge why you want to work with them (and not just because they offered representation) and trust your instincts! It can be one of the first big decisions you make on your journey towards publication.