Given the difficulties in establishing a career as a writer, what is the value in having an agent, and how can authors make themselves more appealing to an agent and collaborate with them in a way that will advance their career?
Agents prefer writers who have personality, know what they want from their agent and their writing, and have goals for their writing career. Writing is a trade like any other valuable skill in life, and with enough practice, someone can become good at it. Not every writer has natural-born talent, but that’s not always important.
Agents are more interested in what you as a person bring to the table and to the publishing industry. As an author, if you can’t relate to your readership or appeal to them or potential agents, they won’t be interested in what you’ve written. Relying solely on your writing without acquiring marketable skills as a person won’t get you very far; give them something to root for, something that makes you stand out alongside your competitors and other authors. Choosing to put in the effort to become a better writer will always get you further than just expecting to get published right away.
Another thing agents look for is commitment and ambition. Agents want someone who is not only looking at writing as a long-term commitment to themselves and their writing, but also as a long-term commitment to working with them as an advisor and team member in their work.
Agents admire ambition and want to help you create a successful career, so don’t short-change them or yourself by holding back on your goals. Even if they seem unattainable, you should strive toward them. Put your best foot forward and turn out your best quality work because it may just happen for you as an author. The most important thing to remember is quality over quantity. Agents are committed to giving you every opportunity that they can, but you also have to work for those goals and be realistic about the chances of succeeding. So, be loyal to your agent and they will help you achieve your goals with you.
Remember that first impressions are often lasting impressions. That’s not to say that all personalized query letters get accepted by agents or publishers, but it will certainly make you stand out and be remembered for future proposals. At the same time, most agents are specific about what they want in regards to manuscript submissions; not following an agent’s instructions can just as easily get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Again, always put quality over quantity and pay attention to what you’re submitting.