Back at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference a few weeks ago, one of the best audience questions came during my panel with fellow Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark. Eden Lane asked us what it was like taking on our first client compared to what it was like taking on clients now. Ginger and I looked at each other for a moment and confessed that taking on our first clients was kind of petrifying.
I wasn’t nervous because because I didn’t know what I was doing — I had been in training as an assistant for years. Sort of like Rocky running up the steps, only with manuscripts and Pub Lunch e-mails.
I was nervous because I couldn’t answer the questions “Who are your other clients?” and “What have you sold?” Umm… I…. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE your book and think you’re a literary genius??!!!
Here’s the thing to remember: Every agent starts out with zero sales. They need someone to take a chance on them and place their faith in them, and quite honestly, a young agent can really do wonders for your career. They’re hungry, they’re going to give you 110%, they tend to be more willing to go the extra mile working with you on revisions and polishing diamonds in the rough, and everyone starts somewhere.
If you hear from an interested young agent without any sales or a limited track record… don’t hang up on them! However, it’s extremely important to find out what kind of experience they’ve had in the industry. Make sure that they’ve had at least a couple of years of experience working with a reputable agency or publishing house. There’s really no replacement for that kind of experience. I was an assistant at a very reputable agency for two years before I took on a single client. I had sold audio book rights, worked on reprints, knew which editors liked what kind of books, and had incredible mentors I could turn to at any moment. I was ready.
Get a sense of their experience and knowledge, and then use your best judgment. And if you’re ever in doubt, remember the best story I’ve seen about taking a chance on a young agent, courtesy of Nicholas Sparks. (Needless to say it all turned out just fine.) He recounts his first conversation thusly:
“Well. . . how long have you been a literary agent?”
“About six months.”
My heart sank and I swallowed.
“Well, have you ever sold a novel before?”
“Okay,” I said, “You’re hired!. . .”