E G Logan

Full Member
Nov 11, 2018
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I haven't made this a poll, only a discussion, because I'm more interested in the thinking behind the choice – and because I can't do the polls thing anyway.
If there is a lot of interest, maybe someone else could, later.

My question:
as a writer with an unpublished work, is it better for us to go for
(1) new, young, keen agents, or aim high and try
(2) established, top agents?
What do we think, and why?

I ask because I had been working on the basis that new, young agents would be keener and probably more flexible (don't say desperate) as they are building up their lists. I had been including in this pool of potential agents those who have just moved agency and especially those who have just set up on their own – though there have been fewer of these lately, of course.
But I found that, briefly, the presumed keenness and, especially, the flexibility was simply not the case. Not for me, at any rate.

At the same time, I have been looking into trying for a US agent. It appears the market for the kind of thing I have written is much bigger there, plus there are a LOT of US agents. In researching this, I've several times come across the opposite argument to the one above: that it is worth holding out for a top rank agent.

This argument is that a leading agent can and does open more and better doors; it also introduces the concept of being published well. (I think I'm still at the point where simply being published would be very good indeed.)

What do others think? Does @AgentPete have a view?

It does seem that the top ranked US agents are more approachable than perhaps they are in the UK, from instances cited online, giving critiques and assessments even for work they are rejecting. Personally, I would never have thought of sending my novel to a really top UK agent, expecting it would be very swiftly binned – but maybe I've been wrong.
 

AgentPete

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May 19, 2014
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For most new writers, most of the time, the better choice is the newer agent. For reasons you’ve given above.

However… there are lots of caveats and exceptions. Also, the phrase “top agent” doesn’t have as much practical meaning as writers sometimes assume. Some agents represent writers who are financially significant to publishers. While this does give them quite considerable negotiating ability with that publisher, it doesn’t extend to forcing the publisher to take on any new writer the agent dictates… and actually, you wouldn’t want to be published under those circumstances, anyway.

This is the sort of topic we regularly cover in the Huddle… it’s easier for me to speak freely there… why don’t you pop along?
 

Steve C

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Mar 1, 2019
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Trying to get an agent involves selling yourself to them. Selling is largely a numbers game so once you get your opening gambit perfect then don't exclude anyone - ask them all.
I have noticed that US agents reply much faster than UK ones. I wonder why?
 

RK Capps

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Feb 15, 2019
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I'm totally on board with your thinking - keen agents are the way to go, with either a track record or part of a reputable agency :) You've hit the nail on the head.
 

RK Capps

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Feb 15, 2019
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Trying to get an agent involves selling yourself to them. Selling is largely a numbers game so once you get your opening gambit perfect then don't exclude anyone - ask them all.
I have noticed that US agents reply much faster than UK ones. I wonder why?

One qualification to asking them all (and I'm sure Steve means this) - after you've researched them to make sure you fit their list. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time and theirs.

That's a fair question, Steve, I wonder why too? I honestly can't figure out why the US would reply faster.
 

Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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I agree with Steve C's observation that American agents reply faster than British agents—also, more courteously! I queried a dozen American agents, but only those who already represented British authors.
I've made about 1,000 submissions since 2013, meaning I've queried some agents many times. It makes sense to 'stalk' an agent—through their social media accounts, their blog and personal website if they have one. This gives a much better feel about what the agent prefers, compared to their bland agency profile, which may sit unchanged for years. Search for an agent on YouTube, which may show them interviewed at a literary festival.
I've only ever received six personalised replies from agents, and they were all from new agencies starting from scratch. Well-established agencies don't bother with good manners! They don't need to...they already have a queue of writer supplicants at the tradesman's entrance.
I recommend querying agencies outside London, who are more open-minded about unknown authors. If you can establish a relationship with a provincial agent who'll promote your book, it's got to be more reassuring than just being signed up to a big agency that already represents 400 other authors in your genre.
 

Robinne Weiss

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May 19, 2015
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That's a fair question, Steve, I wonder why too? I honestly can't figure out why the US would reply faster.
I expect it has to do with workplace culture. In the US you're generally expected to be "on" all the time--answering e-mail after hours, doing work on weekends, etc. I don't know about the UK, specifically, but here in NZ (a very UK influenced culture), there's WAY less pressure to be at work all the time. There's much more value placed on work/life balance. It shocked me at first--took a long time for me to let go of my American need to always be working. Now I gleefully ignore work e-mails after-hours, take weekends off, and spend the entire month of January at the beach, like all the other Kiwis. :)
 

Steve C

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Mar 1, 2019
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I expect it has to do with workplace culture. In the US you're generally expected to be "on" all the time--answering e-mail after hours, doing work on weekends, etc. I don't know about the UK, specifically, but here in NZ (a very UK influenced culture), there's WAY less pressure to be at work all the time. There's much more value placed on work/life balance. It shocked me at first--took a long time for me to let go of my American need to always be working. Now I gleefully ignore work e-mails after-hours, take weekends off, and spend the entire month of January at the beach, like all the other Kiwis. :)
What it must be like for Spanish, Italian, or Greek authors I don't know. The Mediterranean culture is totally laid back. I am surprised they find the time to go to work.
 

Ed Simnett

Full Member
Jul 25, 2021
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San Francisco
I agree with Steve C's observation that American agents reply faster than British agents—also, more courteously! I queried a dozen American agents, but only those who already represented British authors.
I've made about 1,000 submissions since 2013, meaning I've queried some agents many times. It makes sense to 'stalk' an agent—through their social media accounts, their blog and personal website if they have one. This gives a much better feel about what the agent prefers, compared to their bland agency profile, which may sit unchanged for years. Search for an agent on YouTube, which may show them interviewed at a literary festival.
I've only ever received six personalised replies from agents, and they were all from new agencies starting from scratch. Well-established agencies don't bother with good manners! They don't need to...they already have a queue of writer supplicants at the tradesman's entrance.
I recommend querying agencies outside London, who are more open-minded about unknown authors. If you can establish a relationship with a provincial agent who'll promote your book, it's got to be more reassuring than just being signed up to a big agency that already represents 400 other authors in your genre.
+1 My experience is that Americans are in general, across many fields, better at saying (and being told) no than Brits.
 

Hannah F

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Jan 18, 2020
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I'm working my way through all the suitable smaller ones I can find, Britain first, then moving on to the bigger ones and US. I'm trying to read a book from their client list before querying which is slowing me down but giving me reading material I may not otherwise have considered. I look at who published the book I'm reading and where it's being sold. Its success, of course, may hinge on author leg-work wrt marketing.

My policy is just keep trying until someone says yes then consider whether to take up that yes (I expect objectivity at that stage will be super difficult!). In the meantime, I just keep writing.