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12/24/2014 08:59 am ET

When Should You Settle For Your Second-Choice Literary Agent?

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By Writer's Relief staff:

So you’ve written a (stupendous) novel and you’ve submitted queries to multiple literary agents. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the top names in publishing to start clamoring to represent you and your book, right?

Not quite.

While every author dreams of landing all-star representation and a six-figure book deal, the more probable scenario is that you’ll be lucky to find even one interested agent. And sometimes, the agent that is interested is not one of your top choices. So the question is -- do you settle for less than you hoped for, or do you wait and see if you get a better offer?\

How to know when second best is really the better option:

First, query your top-tier literary agents. This way, you can see if there are any takers among your first-choice agents. If there are no positive responses, then you can send out queries to your second-tier choices without having to worry about “what if?” You’ll know that your second round agent is actually your best opportunity.

What if you’re ready to accept an offer from one of your B-list agents and one of your A-list agents suddenly shows interest? You could try to stall your B-list agent, but this can be risky. Agents can respond in various ways, from respecting your wishes to insisting it’s “now or never.”

Don’t underestimate your second-choice agents. Keep in mind that a lesser-known agent looking to build a reputation may be hungrier for success -- and therefore more driven and more likely to focus on getting you a deal -- than a more established, well-known literary agent with lots of clients.

Remember, a newbie isn’t necessarily a no-no. Lack of experience doesn’t automatically mean an agent isn’t capable. While a newer agent may not yet have the connections, negotiating prowess, or track record of a top-tier agent, he or she may be more willing to put in the extra effort on your behalf to gain that know-how.

Watch for scams. When you’re waiting (and waiting!) for a response, it’s easy to start feeling a bit desperate and anxious to jump at any offer. But if an agent or agency seems questionable, don’t let your eagerness to find representation cause you to ignore all the waving red flags. Follow your gut instinct and say no. At the end of the day, you’re the one ultimately responsible for protecting your best interests.

Ask yourself these important questions. Before you commit to a B-list agent, make sure you’ve answered these questions: 1) Did I really query enough A-list agents for my particular work’s genre? 2) Do I have good chemistry with this agent? And 3) Do I really trust this agent?

There is no perfect answer to the question, “Is any agent better than no agent?” Each agent has his or her own unique professional goals, just each writer.

Remember, you always have options:

There’s more than one way to get published. While many authors prefer the traditional route of using a literary agent and finding a big publishing house, more and more authors are taking it upon themselves to self-publish their work. And who knows -- if your self-published book sales take off, you might have a few of your first-choice agents suddenly interested in your book.

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