Choosing the right literary agent -Part 1


In 2011, I went to a SCBWI Conference in LA, hoping to find an international literary agent. Before I went, I thought that I’d pretty much say, ‘Yes’, to any reputable agent who wanted to represent me – after all, opportunities like that don’t come an author’s way too often.

But in LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia, it made me realise that agents come in so many forms and personalities – they’re not ‘one size fits all’.

‘In LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia’ Photo by Alex Proimos/Flickr

I discovered that I didn’t just want any agent – I needed an agent who would push me to be a better writer. I needed an agent who would nurture my career. I needed an agent who had a proven track record in actually selling the kind of books I wrote. But above all, I needed an agent I felt comfortable with – one I could brainstorm with, one I could talk to about my vision for my book. I realised I needed an agent I could feel comfortable crying in front of (if I felt the need).

Choosing an agent was a lot more complex than I first thought. I didn’t want a cool trendy agent (I’m not cool and trendy), nor did I want one that had 40 bestselling authors on their list so they wouldn’t have time for me. I certainly didn’t want one who reminded me of my old headmaster and made me feel like I was ten years old again.

SCBWI LA 2011 with Sarah Davis, Susanne Gervay and Lesley Vamos

So I decided that the agent I was looking for must be warm and wise, must love my writing, and like me for who I was.

Meeting the agents in person in LA gave me a great opportunity to find out what I needed to know to help me make my decision.


If you’re lucky enough to be offered representation by a literary agent, here are some questions you can ask to help you decide whether they are the right agent for you.

  1. How many clients do you represent? (If they have too many, they might not have time for you.)
  2. How many books have you sold in the last twelve months?
  3. Do you offer editorial feedback? This is important for me but might not be important to you.
  4. Do you already have a publisher in mind for my book?
  5. Do you represent all the genres I write in?
  6. Do you have international contacts?
  7. How regularly do you correspond with your clients and is this done by email, phone etc?
  8. Will you let me know where and when you submit my work?
  9. Will you forward on rejection letters to me?
  10. Are you a member of an industry organisation like The Australian Literary Agents’ Association?
  11. Can you provide references from your clients?
  12. If you’re not Australian, do you have connections in Australia so you can help me get my work published in my home country?

These are just some of the things I felt I needed to know about a potential agent.

You probably have your own questions. Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner’s blog has a very comprehensive list of questions to ask an agent.

In next Tuesday’s post – FINDING A LITERARY AGENT PART 2 – EXPLORING YOUR OPTIONS, I’m discussing some pros and cons, and factors to consider when choosing your agent.

If you are looking for an agent, good luck with your quest. Remember that a literary agent is a very individual choice – try and find the agent who suits you both as a writer and a person.

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





In the last full week of EVERY month, I’ve decided to take a break from blogging to focus on writing.

So there won’t be any blog posts this week.

Sorry for any disappointment, but if you need a writing tips’ fix, Janice Hardy has a great blog at The Other Side of the Story and agent, Rachelle Gardner has great posts and discussions on being a writer/agent/publisher at her blog

Literary Rambles is another favourite of mine.

I hope you have a great writing week and if there are any topics you want raised on this blog, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Thanks and Happy Writing:)



Last Tuesday’s blog post, How To Cope With Rejection obviously hit a chord with many people.

I’ve been contacted by authors and even publishers who have offered their tips on how the ‘process’ works and how to cope with rejection.  I wanted to share these with you and the best way seemed to be through another blog post.

Rejection is so much a part of every artist’s life; no matter what medium they work in. It’s something we all suffer from at some point in our career – generally on many occasions.

It’s something that can set us back, but also make us stronger – it’s something that can make us more determined than ever to succeed.

So what do you do when you have created something with painstaking care, when you have shared a very personal part of you and it has been rejected? How do you pick up the pieces and keep going?

Hazel Edwards (Author of There’s a Hippopotamus On My Roof Eating Cake) offers these tips:

Writers in for the permanent work style of self employed freelancer have to develop ways of sustaining themselves such as:

  • Diversifying, and have emotional investment in other projects at different stages.
  • Re-cycling that rejected project in another format or to another prospective market.
  • Re-read and maybe re-write to higher quality or different audience.
  • Share with small group of peers.
  • Reassure self that the project is high quality but maybe political, timely or economic reasons stopped it.
  • Detour to a new project to feel enthused.
  • Rationalise that one in ten projects gets up.

Sheryl Gwyther (Author of Secrets of Eromanga) says,

1. I’ve never forgotten what another author said once, ‘Regard your rejections as part of your apprenticeship of writing and learn from them.’ Remember, even established writers get rejection letters at times.

2. I keep every rejection letter in a plastic-sleeve folder – it is proof that my work is ‘out-there’, not sitting uncompleted in my computer. And more, importantly, they are concrete proof that the letters have changed over the years.


Dr Tom Bibey (physician, blue grass musician and writer) says:

The main reason for rejection is they can’t figure out how they will make money with it.

Publisher, Andrew confirms that rejection is NOT personal.

Publishers are making their best guess in the circumstances with the resources available. Publishing is gambling and we’re making the best bet we can. But it doesn’t mean a publisher is right, anymore than any other gambler. So much is about the mood of the moment rather than the quality of the work, and it is a myth that the good will always succeed (or the bad fail).


As Wendy Orr (Author of Nim’s Island) says, “It’s important NOT TO GIVE UP!”

I used to use rejection letters as scrap paper for printing out the next ms! But I also always try to honour that grief, because it is a real grief, before letting it go.

(And anyone coping with rejection might like to know that Ark in the Park was rejected by 7 publishers before HarperCollins took it. It went on to win the CBC book of the year, has been published in 6 other countries and is still in print 17 years later. So… don’t give up!)

Carmela Martino (author, writing teacher and blogger at advises:

One of my strategies for coping with rejection is to have a “backup plan”–a list of other places I’ll send the manuscript if it gets rejected. After a brief mourning period, I pull out the plan and get to work.

I also recently read a great interview with YA author Kathi Baron on how she copes with rejection. See

Samantha Clark (writer and blogger at has these tips on how to stop rejections from getting you down:

I remind myself of a couple things:

1) many, many, many now best-selling authors went through heaps of rejections before getting their first book published. In his On Writing book, Stephen King talks about filling a three-inch nail with stacked rejection letters — a lot of paper — before getting his first piece published. Persistence is key, in writing to get the best work and in submitting to find the ‘right’ agent.

2) everybody’s journey is different. A good life lesson for anything, and one my husband is constantly trying to drill into my head. :) Like the butterfly gaining strength through breaking through its cocoon, struggles help us grow and get stronger. Every rejection is an opportunity to either take it personally and give up — never — or evaluate for useful information then move on. We can’t judge our own path by that of other writers. Each path is different. The important part is only that we continue down the path and along the way, pick up whatever helps make us better writers and stronger people.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner had a great post recently on her Rants & Ramblings blog. it was called You Have to Believe and it was all about believing in the dream of publication.

It’s what keeps all creators creating. You have to have a dream and you have to believe in it.

As Rachelle points out, “We live in an information hungry society” so “our options are expanding, not diminishing”.

Maybe we need to adopt the Hazel Edward’s approach – diversify – look at our writing as a talent that can work across a range of mediums and not restrict ourselves to what we are familiar with.

We need to explore our talent and see where it takes us – there might be writing opportunities out there that we haven’t even considered.

As Samantha mentions, “everyone’s journey is different”. I have found this really works for me – I achieve so much more when I focus on what I’m doing and avoid comparing myself to anyone else’s experiences/successes.

For some people, their lucky break comes early – for others, it can take much longer.

But If we are committed and passionate about our craft, persistent and open-minded, I believe we can start to tip the scales in favour of the acceptances and pave our way to success.

I hope it works for you.