I know how it is. When don't have an agent and you hear "a bad agent is worse than no agent," you have a hard time believing it. Before you get an agent, your writing career is kind of at a standstill, so surely having a less than ideal agent is better than nothing, right?!
Wrong. You want one that's going to be good for you.
|It's a match made in heaven. Hahaha! Get it?|
Cloud photo attribution: Axel Rouvin
Let me start by saying that there are two kinds of "bad agents." Ones that are bad for EVERYONE, and ones that are bad for just YOU. Either way, the results are the same-- they can't sell your book. (Now, of course, an agent can be an incredible agent, and be perfect for you, and still not be able to sell your book for a million and one reasons, even if your book rocks beyond the telling of it. That's not what I'm talking about.) A bad agent doesn't sell your book for one of two reasons:
- Because they don't have the contacts. (Either because they're new in the business, or because they don't usually represent your genre, and therefore don't have many contacts in the field specific to you.)
- Because they don't have a love of your work, or believe strongly enough in it.
Let's say that you sign with an agent, and they aren't good for you (for whatever reason). Maybe you revise a lot with them. And maybe you go on sub and don't get any bites. And then maybe you go on sub again and again or maybe they aren't willing to go on sub to any more after the first time. Before you know it, a TON OF TIME HAS PASSED, and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. You signed with this agent because you wanted to get your career moving, right? And now, you've spent so much time spinning your wheels, and it's still not moving. Are you any better off than if you had continued to query until you did find the perfect agent?
Because even worse than the time wasted, now you have to decide if it's better to break up with your agent. I've had several friends in this position, and lemme tell you-- it's tough. It's tough to go from being able to say that you're an agented writer, to starting over with querying when you thought you were done with it.
It's definitely better to spend a longer time querying in the first place.
Think about it-- if one agent thinks your manuscript will sell (that's the reason they sign you-- or at the very least, that they think your writing is so brilliant that even if this manuscript can't sell, the next one will), won't more than one agent be interested in representing you? So don't feel like that's your one and only choice-- it's all a matter of sticking with it until you find that one agent who IS perfect for you.
So what if you've exhausted all of your possibilities, and just think if someone, ANYONE would be willing to take you on everything would be okay. Isn't it better to just try with any agent willing to offer?
Let's look at this logically.
If no good agent is willing to take this on, is an editor? If you've exhausted every possibility, it might be time to make the equally painful decision of focusing a new/different project. That's something you have to use your gut on. And definitely use any feedback you got from agents to help you make that decision.
So.... how do you know who is a good agent?
Research well. Check Predators and Editors. Look at the agent's sales on Publisher's Marketplace. Google a lot. See what you can find online. And keep in mind that newer agents aren't necessarily going to have the sales, and that doesn't mean that they're a bad agent. Generally, if it's a newer agent at an established agency, they have enough people they can go to as mentors so they can be a great agent, even if they don't have a sales record to prove it yet. (In fact, newer agents are often very attentive.) You'll have to use your gut on whether or not a newer agent at a newer agency is a good thing or not.
It is possible for a good agent--- even an agent with an incredible sales record--- to be a bad agent for you. And how do you find out those? By your gut reaction to everything you see online (and, if it gets to that point, what they say over the phone). And sometimes you don't need to know, simply because their tastes in books might keep the two of you separated. And that's a good thing. That's why you should never be disheartened by rejections, because sometimes it's saving you from a bad future relationship.
And a bad (for you) agent is truly worse than having no agent at all.