Why Finding a Literary Agent Is So Similar to Dating

In this back and forth, author Ricki Schultz and literary agent Barbara Poelle dish on the similarities between courting a mate and courting an agent.
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Landing an agent is tricky business. You can find plenty of advice on our site, as well as our Guide to Literary Agents blog, but in this edition of How I Landed a Literary Agent, we featured an interview between Ricki Schultz (pictured right), author of the recently released Mr. Right-Swipe, which is generating a lot of buzz, and her literary agent, Barbara Poelle (pictured below).

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In this back and forth, Schultz dishes on the similarities between courting a mate and courting an agent.

Poelle: Your book Mr. Right-Swipe does a deep (and hilarious) dive into the quest to find love through dating apps. How would you compare your dating experiences to trying to find an agent?

Schultz: Well? I mean, they both have their ups and downs, right? They both cause you to drink heavily. They both turn you into a needy, approval monster who binges Grey’s Anatomy and

Ben & Jerry’s.

No? Just me?

I would say finding an agent can be similar to dating. To finding that right fit for you and your manuscript. To finding a soul mate. There are many highs and many lows with both. And, of course, the many more lows eventually help you grow.

You start off wanting someone—anyone—to recognize your brilliance. You think everyone will! It’s all so exciting! You send one query and OMG THIS COULD BE IT! Then there’s the stalking. I see he’s tweeting right now. He doesn’t have time to answer my e-mail?

The desperation. The overanalysis. Do you think she’s gotten to queries sent in December yet? I mean, it’s July, but maybe . . .

The overconfidence. My ms is the shizz—who wouldn’t want me?

The rejection. Is this is a form rejection?

The silence. Agents can “ghost” too?

The self-doubt. Is it me? Naw. Can’t be. Can it?

But the longer you’re at it, the more you do your research, the more you can say, Oh, maybe he rejected me because he doesn’t rep fiction at all and yet I queried him like a moron.

Maybe you meet an agent or you hear things from others—read things—and you start to see what types of personalities, what types of agenting styles are attractive to you. So instead of throwing yourself at whatever is left at last call, you’re more selective. You’ve done the homework and you know what you want, you know what you need, and you’re more apt to recognize a good fit when you see it.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

Poelle: I totally agree. Homework counts in the hunt for love and for representation. Good one! On that note, what is the best dating advice that can also be translated into author advice while seeking an agent?

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Schultz: You have to first be willing to put yourself out there. You have to be willing to take risks.

Many writers aren’t.

Poelle: I agree, I recently signed a client who hadn’t queried me in her original round as she felt intimidated. Her critique partner convinced her that she had nothing to lose, and I requested, read, and signed her in 24 hours! She was self-editing where she didn’t need to.

Schultz: See!

Also, just like in a relationship, you have to be willing to compromise sometimes. Not your integrity, but you have to realize that having an agent is a partnership. If you’re querying and suddenly dealing with an agent who is offering revise and resubmits—or offering any kind of feedback, really—realize she didn’t have to. She took time to have a thought about your work, and she knows the industry (probably—hopefully) better than you do.

Not that you should be changing your hairstyle if some douche on a date tells you he doesn’t like it, but you have to be willing to be adaptable. If your approach isn’t working, you’ve sent out 50 queries and haven’t received any requests, try mixing things up a little. Ask some friends for some help on the query. Hire a freelance editor to critique your work. Get some eyes on your pages and get some feedback. Maybe it’s time for a full-on makeover, or maybe you just need to step back and reevaluate.

That said, also realize this can go the opposite way as well. If you’re trying too hard for the wrong person, that’s not going to work in the end either.

[Order Your Copy of Mr. Right-Swipe Here]

Poelle: Authors say that pitch sessions are just like speed dating. Would you agree? How are they similar? How are they different?

Schultz: With speed dating and pitch sessions, both are face to face. So, I imagine there are a lot of sweaty palms in the mix, some over-rehearsed pitches, etc. Likewise, the agent has certain tastes, a set of criteria, preferences, things he is looking for in order to add to his list. On the flip side, certain things will turn him off right away.

The two concepts are different in that you can do your research with pitch sessions—and, unless it’s a “speed dating pitch session,” of which I do know those exist, you can usually choose whom you’re pitching at an event. Meaning, you can do all the research ahead of time, get to know things about the agents, and choose whom you think might like your work—rather than just pitching to anyone and everyone who will listen and seeing if anything sticks.

[Pitch Agents at the 2017 Writer's Digest Annual Conference in NYC - Find Out More Here]

You can wine and dine the agent a little more in a pitch session than with speed dating because you can make her feel special. “I read in an interview that you love skydiving” or “I see you represent So and So, and I really love his work.” Tell her she’s pretty. Figuratively, of course.

Don’t literally say that, because it’s creepy.

If you go into this situation prepared, you’ll be more confident and hopefully will come off a bit more natural—and that’s going to make you stand out in the crowd.

That, or you can just wear a dress from Target that an agent sees and asks to buy off you because she thinks it’s a Diane Von Furstenburg. That’s what I did. ;)

Poelle: Dude, I stand by our “meet cute,” and I stand by that offer for that dress. OK, if there was a dating app for writers, what three words would you use to describe your book and yourself?

Schultz: How about four? The struggle is real.

OnDemand Webinar
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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