A Match Made in Literary Heaven: What to Look for in an Editor or Agent

Finding the right editor or agent is a lot like finding The One. You two are going to be spending the rest of your literary lives together, at least for this particular book, so you need to choose wisely. This means no trip to Vegas only to wake up with a hangover and lots of regret the next morning (i.e. don’t settle for just anyone because they promise to get your book published).

You want to find someone who can handle your crazy—because trust me, the editing process involves a lot of crazy—who will celebrate the good reviews with confetti and sparklers and hand you the kleenex when the not-so-good reviews come in too. Someone who cares about your characters, your story, and the message you are trying to share with the world.

So when you’re making the call on who to work with, ask yourself these three simple questions. (Note that we editors ask ourselves these questions too!) If you can say yes to all of them, you have found your match!

1. Do you want to have a cup of coffee with this person?

It’s the age-old question (I used coffee instead of beer…it seemed more fitting). Your agent or editor doesn’t have to be the maid of honor at your wedding or the godfather of your child, but they should be someone you like. Someone you could consider a friend, or at least a colleague who you respect and admire.

Look for a guy or gal you get along with on a personal level, who shares some of your interests, and who would help facilitate a friendly and productive relationship. Trust me when I say everything goes much more smoothly when both parties are compatible. But short of sending out a personal ad, how do you know if you’ve found your soulmate? This type of connection can happen over email and social media, but it’s often best to have a phone call or, if possible, an in-person meeting. Take some time to get to know each other before getting hitched, and your relationship will be one that lasts.

2. Do you two have the same vision for your book?

I’ll say up front that it is the job of an agent and an editor to improve your book. No writer is perfect, and every single story has room for revision. So be sure you come to the table with an open mind and willingness to compromise.

That being said, you and your agent or editor should be on the same page. Doing a few rounds of revisions and completely changing the plot and all the characters are two very different things. Know the limits of what you are willing to do to alter your story, and find out if the agent or editor has the same idea in mind. If you two don’t agree on the end result, it’s likely that one or both of you will end up feeling disappointed during the editing process.

3. Do you speak the same language?

I don’t mean literally. Though, okay, you should probably literally speak the same language. I imagine it would be hard to work together otherwise. But really, I’m talking the equivalent of your work love language.

Do you thrive under deadlines, or do you fall apart? Do you expect prompt email communications, or do you barely check your inbox? Do you prefer tough love in your critiques, or do you need a gentler hand? (An aside: as an author, you should probably get used to deadlines, emailing, and tough love.) Talk these things through with the agent or editor to see if you two gel when it comes to the business side of things. Managing the day-to-day working relationship is just as important as creating a beautiful book.

Have you found The One?

Hooray! Confetti and sparklers for you! But even if you are still looking for the agent or editor who is a match, don’t give up, and definitely don’t settle. A strong personal and professional bond—one built on respect and trust—is key to your success as an author and the success of your book. So hold out for the right person. You’ll be glad you did.


5 thoughts on “A Match Made in Literary Heaven: What to Look for in an Editor or Agent

  1. Sara says:

    This seems like great advice is there were less writers and more agents/editors. However, I’m wondering how a writer can really be picky in a market where he or she will probably get dozens of rejections before finding an agent or editor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jillian says:

      It comes down to a personal call–is it more important to have an agent period or have an agent you like? From my experience, working with someone you like and trust makes the process better in every way. It may not be easy to find The One, but it’s to your benefit to hold out for someone who will be your cheerleader and advocate.

      Liked by 2 people

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