Today we hear from Amanda Luedeke, a literary agent with MacGregor Literary, on what literary agents do, what makes a great agent, and why it matters.
The literary agent—universal friend and foe of writers. They’re the first hurdle in the race to getting a book published. Some would even say they’re the biggest, most difficult hurdle on the track. After all, it seems everyone in the world these days has a book idea brewing inside them. And with the digital age fully upon us, writers can pound out first drafts in a matter of months and then send them off in a matter of clicks.
So literary agents exist as buffers. They sort the good from the bad so that editors and publishers and the people who actually make offers on books don’t have to wade through manuscripts full of boring characters and lackluster plots. Literary agents are on the hunt for the best of the best.
I’m one of these literary agents. It’s my job to seek out new talent while I help improve existing talent. But aside from being pitched on elevators and in hallways, there’s one question that pops up no matter where I go.
How did you become an agent?
There’s no direct path to becoming an agent. We have numerous backgrounds and areas of expertise, and even then, there are good agents and there are bad agents.
My story started when I met my now boss, Chip MacGregor, at a book signing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was young (twenty-four, I think) and inexperienced when it came to publishing, but I made the right impression. We kept in touch and before I knew it, I was going through his slushpile and researching publishing houses. He eventually made me his assistant, and I juggled that job along with a day job in marketing for a year.
When I got promoted to agent in July of 2010, I was thrilled. But the hard work didn’t stop. I kept my day job as I worked in the evenings and on the weekends to build my author base and get some deals under my belt. Then, this past September, I moved to being a full-time agent.
My journey is unique to me, but at the same time, I believe there are characteristics that distinguish those who are agent material.
5 Characteristics of Great Agents
1. They’ve embraced their critical side.
To my family’s chagrin, I’ve always been critical of art. I have a narrow taste in music, and it’s rare that I walk away from the theatre with a smile on my face. While it makes for a frustrating weekend at the movies, this critical eye is an absolute must for agents.
2. They understand what makes good writing and what makes bad writing.
It’s not enough to be able to spot the good from the bad; great agents must also be able to build a case for what may sometimes seem like a hunch. Doing so helps our writers know exactly what changes need to be made to turn a good manuscript into a great one.
3. They make the right friends.
Just like my run-in with Chip MacGregor at a Barnes & Noble store resulted in a job as an agent, you’ll find that this business is all about who you know. Great agents have great contacts. They’re respected within the industry and they have a list of editors who love seeing proposals from them.
4. They put in the time.
This isn’t a 9 to 5 job. Great agents work round the clock and are often glued to their smartphones and laptops. They do this because agenting isn’t just a job—it’s a hobby. So, while others are watching TV or finishing up a scrapbook, agents are working.
5. They trust God.
I cannot deny that God had a hand in my agent journey. He put me in the right place at the right time and saw to it that I made the right impression. His role was evident.
Great agents trust God with the ups and the downs in this business. So if you’re on the outside looking in, hoping for a future in publishing, the best thing to do is to simply trust God. He knows where you’re needed most, and if you stay open to His plan you’ll end up right where you’re supposed to be.
Behind every great book, there’s usually a great agent! What other benefits do you see of involving literary agents in the publishing process?