Choosing the right literary agent part 2 – international vs local agent


I’ve had an Australian agent, an international agent, and no agent at all (my current position). I’m still considering what’s best for my career.

I’m open to the possibilities of another agent, but there are so many things to consider. For me, I’ve realised that it’s not about finding an agent to put me on the New York bestseller list, although I wouldn’t knock it back of course. Like any author I want to earn enough to pay the bills and be able to eat, but you need to have realistic expectations about what an agent can achieve for you.

I write a LOT of words … a LOT! In fact, I have filing cabinets and boxes full of manuscripts in many different genre. A lot of these manuscripts are what I call my practice works … the manuscripts that have helped me to become a better writer. But there are a number of them that feel ‘right’ to me and although they require varying degrees of revising, some are close to my heart and I’d love to see them published.

So first and foremost, if I choose to work with another agent it will have to be someone who genuinely loves my work and wants to nurture my career, someone I can discuss this unruly collection of potential book babies with, someone who I can run an idea or a first draft past. It has to be someone who’s happy to advise, ‘Hmmm don’t waste your time, nobody will publish that,’ or if I’m lucky, ‘I know just the right publisher.’ 


When I got my US agent I thought I was ‘on my way’, but publishing is complex and the US, UK, and Australian markets are so different. And what works for one market won’t necessarily work for another one.

For me, going through a US agent meant that I lost money on works published in Australia. Some publishers (not all) won’t separate payments between an author and an agent. So my payments from my Australian publisher went to my US agent who converted them to US dollars and then sent them back to me in Australia where I had to convert them back to Australian money again. I lost out by having my money twice converted. This is just something to be aware of, and perhaps check with your publisher in the contract stages.

An international agent who doesn’t understand that the Australian market is way smaller, might also try and negotiate an impossibly high advance that an Australian publisher can’t afford to pay and this can delay the contract and put the publisher offside.

Some people have an Australian agent (who understands the Australian market) and a US or UK agent (who understands the US or UK market) and this seems like a really good combination to me. Of course, getting one agent is hard enough, let alone two.

Getting an international agent and having your book published overseas first is great, but it can restrict your income earning potential in Australia. A book being published by a major international publisher doesn’t guarantee that it will be published in Australia. It might mean that it’s distributed it here, but not published. This limits your opportunities for ELR and PLR earnings and means that your book, if not published in Australia, might not be eligible for Australian literary awards.

What I’ve learnt in the agent search journey is:

  1. An agent has to love your work.
  2. An agent has to have an affinity with you as a person and an understanding of what writing means to you, and the shape you want your career to take.
  3. An agent has to understand the market that you’re writing for in terms of both genre and location.
  4. You need to know why you want an agent.
  5. You need to have realistic expectations of your agent based on these wants. With the best will in the world an agent can’t guarantee to get your debut novel (or any novel) on the New York Times bestseller list.
  6. If you’re working with a publisher you value, you need an agent who can work well with them.
  7. You won’t necessarily have the same agent for your entire writing life.  Don’t stress about it. The needs of both writers and agents change.

These are the things to consider when exploring opportunities at home and in the international market. Weigh up your options and decide what’s best for you.

In my third post, WHERE TO FIND AN AGENT, I’ll provide tips and actual and virtual places to find an agent.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.


In case you missed last week’s post about Choosing a Literary agent, here’s the link.

4 thoughts on “Choosing the right literary agent part 2 – international vs local agent

  1. Thanks Megan,

    It is a lot to think about. This might not be for everyone, but from my point of view, the time to look for an agent is when you have something that you believe will have appeal in the current market, and have got it to the stage where it’s ready for submission. It’s great to meet agents at conferences and events and get to know them, but I wouldn’t submit until you’re absolutely ready … and I don’t think you have to be a published author. Lots of new creators are taken on by agents who love their work and their concept.

    I’ll add this point for discussion in my next post.

    Thanks for raising it 🙂


  2. More excellent points in this post, Dee. I was inexperienced when I signed with a US agent in 2014. I moved on two years later and decided to focus more on my writing quality. It wasn’t until this year that I signed with my next agent, who is amazing and who is more suited to me because she is editorial and a career agent, not book by book. My writing has evolved which has taken years and is a continual process. Also, I had admired my new agent for several years so when she offered me representation, I found it very easy to say yes!

  3. That’s so wonderful Kaye,

    Sounds like your dedication to your writing has really paid off.

    Congratulations on the new agent. It’s always good to put the ground work in isn’t it … and not rush into anything and make a careful, considered choice. Clearly it’s the right one for you. Can’t wait to see the results of this great partnership.


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