How to Find a Book Agent

It’s lovely to be able to refer to “my agent.” Just saying “my agent” gives you the feeling that you’re special, that you’ve got an edge, that you’re not alone in the world. I’ve always enjoyed it immensely. It’s sort of like referring to “my guardian angel,” only your agent is real and, you hope, bustling from publisher to publisher trying to sell your book and make you as much money as he or she can.

The agents most people are familiar with are either Entourage’s Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) – the vulgar, hyper, fast-talking shark whose character is widely believed to be based on Ari Emanuel, founder and CEO of Endeavor (which acquired the famous William Morris agency) – or the lovely Gallic cinephiles of pandemic hit Call My Agent.

Literary agents, however, are not like that, neither sharks nor romantics. In my experience, literary agents tend to be polite, soft-spoken, book-ish types. And that’s nice. Who really wants to hang out with Ari Gold? But you do want a little touch of Ari in your agent so that he can pry the best possible advance out of an increasingly penurious and always parsimonious publishing industry.

How do you find an agent? Well, one way is to search online. There are a bajillion directories and listings for literary agents, but that’s a tad impersonal, don’t you think? And I suspect that an agent you find that way may not have the keys to many C-suite publishing offices.

A better way is to ask a lawyer of your acquaintance if they know an agent because a lot of agents are lawyers (they have to negotiate contracts) and lawyers tend to know lawyers. (Birds of a feather.) If you find an agent that way, you have a built-in personal connection and that’s important because you want to like your agent, and you want your agent to like you. If you don’t know any lawyers, ask friends if they know any.

And make sure to meet with your prospective agent face-to-face. You don’t want to be an anonymous client, a revenue source for 15 percent of X. You want to be a pal, someone the agent is personally invested in.

A good agent – meaning an agent with a track record who can get your proposal in front of an editor who can make a call without having to consult a small army of colleagues – is a pearl beyond price. Without one, you and your book proposal will be alone in an increasingly cold and brutal publishing world. And who wants that?

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