It took me a while to understand what exactly I needed in an agent. The first time I queried, it took me several months to get an offer, and it was the only offer I got. Although I was happy, I was also a bit desperate, so of course accepted. However, it took me a long time to realize that what this agent provided and what I required didn’t line up.
I’m an ambitious writer—there’s no shame in that. If you want to tap into your inner Slytherin and take on lots of stuff, you’ll need an agent who can match you pace for pace. A good indicator for an agent who hustles is one with a steady sales record, which you can see via Publisher’s Marketplace or by looking up their clients on Query Tracker. This is also something that you will need to discuss with any offering agent, such as what projects you’re thinking about tackling, if you want to write in multiple categories/genres, if you want to take on IP work, etc.
Communication was also a big concern of mine. One of the reasons I left my first agent is because the communication was staggered and often vague, i.e. I regularly didn’t get all the details. With my current agent, the communication is a lot more honest and blunt, which I appreciate. If you’re concerned about what your agent does and doesn’t tell you, specifically regarding submission, e-mail them or set up a call to discuss. During submission, for instance, some writers want to hear once a week, and some only when a response comes in. It’s up to you and your agent to communicate together and decide what works best for you both.
A big part of figuring out what you need in an agent is by doing some soul searching. This is why many authors go through one or two agents before finding the one that works best with their personality and work style. If you sign with an agent and you realize something feels off, or if you feel that way right now with your current agent, take a step back and ask yourself why. Is it something that can be fixed with a phone call? If not, it might be time to reevaluate and reenter the query trenches.
(I know, I know—I shuddered thinking about it too. But it ended up being so worth it, and since you’ve already been through it before, you’ll have way more experience the next time around.)
Do your research before querying an agent or accepting their offer. Talk to their current and former clients, ask about the good and the bad. Remember: this is your career, and you need a strong partner in your corner. It may take a couple tries to hit the bull’s eye, but you’ll get there.