September’s Third Thursday Wrap-Up

5 Questions to Ask Before Pursuing a Long-Term Relationship

By Lexie Smith

“Will you marry me?”

“Will you represent me?”

Marriage and literary representation. You can’t think of one without the other. Heck, the last time you went to a wedding I’m sure you were thinking of some classic author-agent duos. Me neither. Admittedly, I can’t think of any without a google. No pretense here.

However, these life-changing, seeming unrelated, topics were inextricably woven together during September’s Third Thursday program, “The Mating Game: How to Land a Literary Agent.”

The evening’s relationship advisors were literary agent Kathleen Davis Neindorff and authors Donna Bowman Bratton, Lynda Rutledge and Don Tate. The Writers’ League own Jay-Z, aka Programming Director Jennifer Ziegler, moderated.

References to romantic relationships unintentionally peppered the discussion, so as a recap I offer the following questions, applicable to either an agent-author relationship or a significant other relationship. Answers focus on the literary relationship, with a few personal notes thrown in. The first personal note: my teenagers get the joy of walking through these questions with me, and not because they’re looking to shop a manuscript.

5 Questions to Ask Before Pursuing a Long-Term Relationship

1. Do you have to? No. You don’t have to get married and you don’t have to get an agent. It depends on your goals in both scenarios. For your book, if you want to publish with a traditional publisher, you’ll probably need an agent. They are connected with acquisitions editors and publishing houses and can help find a match for your manuscript. Agents can also help negotiate your contracts. Kathleen said she salivates over contracts, relishing the details of the deal.  Contracts make Don throw up so he gladly lets his agents handle the negotiations now, though he has negotiated them in the past.

2. How do you know when you’re ready? Donna and Lynda knew they were ready for an agent after they had written and rewritten and rewritten their novels. (The personal relationship answer to this one is a little trickier.) If you don’t have your fiction project completed, you’re not ready. Non-fiction books don’t need to be completed, but need to have at least a few chapters done with a table of contents so agents can see where the work is headed.

3. How do you find someone? “Do some research” is sound advice for your love life and your writing life. These days the internet makes that easier, though not fool proof, in both cases.  Kathleen recommended the agents section of Literary Market Place, available in online or in print. Lynda suggested looking in the acknowledgements of books similar to yours because authors often thank their editors and agents there. Don met one of his agents (he has an art agent, a literary agent and a copyright agent) through a different agent he had developed a professional rapport with, including being Facebook friends. She didn’t represent him, but referred him to a colleague with whom his work resonated.  Donna wrote a blog post, Tips and Tools for the Agent Hunt, with lots of information about how to research literary agents. Also, check out WLT member Cynthia Leitich Smith’s agent page of her website. Of course, the WLT’s annual Agents and Editors Conference in June is ripe with opportunities to find an agent. I haven’t heard of any love connections being made at the conference, but you never know.

4. How do you know if this person is “the one”?  (I started asking my married friends that question when I met my future husband.) “She wanted me,” Lynda immediately said. Of course, that wasn’t Lynda’s only criteria, but her novel had gone through much “revision by rejection” based on input from several agents. And the “she” who wanted to sign Lynda was Amy Einhorn, who signed the deal for The Help, so she wasn’t saying yes to the first agent she queried. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but be careful. All panelists agreed that trusting your instinct about a person is crucial. And know what you want. They also concurred that finding an agent you relate to well is helpful, because your agent may need to talk you down off a ledge or two during your book’s life cycle.

5. When do you end a relationship? Don’t be afraid to break up with your agent. (Backtracking a bit, look for an exit clause before you sign a contract.) Kathleen has “happily divorced” two of her clients when the relationships didn’t work out because of their unrealistic demands. (Don’t be those clients.) Don said, “It’s time to get out when I don’t feel important to that person anymore. They’re not returning emails, making promises they don’t keep, not following through with promises, etc.” Those are relationship killers in any realm. (If you’re not good at ending things, read Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud.)

In exploring these questions, we’ve touched on some key ideas for building a solid relationship. If you see some success in the future, don’t forget to share your book launch date – or your wedding date – with us at the next Third Thursday on October 18 when we learn about “An Author’s Guide to PR and Marketing.”  It will held at 7 PM at the BookPeople store (603 N. Lamar Blvd).  As always, it will be free and open to the public,  so mark your calendars!


Lexie is a WLT member who enjoys connecting people with information through LexicalLight.com, BloggingForWriters.com and 64mascots.com. A University of Texas graduate, she taught middle school English and, until recently, homeschooled her children. She lives in Round Rock with her husband, five kids and two rescued Boxers.

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