The Author-Agent Relationship

Interviews, Writing Tips


As Philadelphia Stories prepares for another fun Push to Publish writing conference coming up on October 12, we asked literary agent Rita Rosenkranz to share her tips on what an author should look for when shopping for an agent. Below is a sampling of her tips. We are happy to report that Ms. Rosenkranz will also be sharing her insights at both the speed date and the “meet the agents” panel discussion at the Push to Publish event.

What should authors look for in an agent?

I advise authors to “know thyself,” because there is a spectrum of agents with different personalities, strengths, level of experience, connections to the film world, etc. Depending on the author’s publishing history and/or ambitions, she might benefit more from a well-established agent, whereas another author will connect better with a hungry, new agent. Do you want a New York-based agent? Some—but not all authors—do. Some authors prefer to have an agent close to where they are based. Will the author be working with the agent or mostly with an assistant or intern? What are the agency’s commission and agency charges (and is there a cap on charges)? I advise authors to review the questions listed on the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Web site to help determine the best fit.

Finding the right agent can mean different things to different people. What suggestions do you have for writers who want to gain a deeper knowledge of the agents they are pitching?

I think many authors don’t consider the nuances of the agent/author relationship beforehand. More than to simply know they want an agent, authors should identify what matters most to them. Do they want an agent who will simply get them the most money or one who will help them become better writers and who will be available for matters large and small? More than ever, writers can learn about agents thanks to the Web. On many sites authors exchange experiences––offering recommendations, sob stories and everything in-between––undiluted and uncensored. Writer’s Digest, as well as other print and online venues, regularly profiles agents, offering writers a deeper sense of the agent’s personality, taste and approach to the author/agent relationship.

Where you do you find your authors?

I find authors every which way: through queries, conferences, word-of-mouth, and my own active outreach campaign. I read my mail closely and with anticipation. I have found wonderful projects through query letters. Only a fraction of the projects I ask to see end up being right for me. But I sometimes will offer feedback even if I end up turning down the project, and the author presumably benefits from this exchange. Sometimes a writer whose work I’ve turned down will reconnect with me later with a new project that in fact does interest me.

If you fall in love with a project, will you simply take it on, or do you run it through a marketability grid? Do you take on projects you think will sell even if you don’t love them?

If I fall head-over-heels in love with a project, I’m willing to move forward even if the market is small. I’ve handled niche projects and sometimes if it’s a rich niche with a renewable market, one can be rewarded over time. I don’t feel I have to love the project so much as respect its purpose and its market. How wonderful though when I do love it. Those occasions especially help keep me buoyed by my work.

Once a writer signs with an agent, what type and what frequency of contact can she or he expect?

It’s impossible for me to generalize, since writers have different needs and agents handle business differently. I personally want my authors to be in the loop in a real-time way, whether it involves rejections or other matters that can play a part in their wellbeing. At the same time, I’m sensitive to authors’ individual personalities and preferences. While maintaining my basic approach to the relationship, I’ll adapt wherever I can. This might mean not sharing rejections but only letting the author know when there is an offer.

What are your biggest frustrations when working with a client?

It’s easiest for me to do my best work when an author is dependable, respectful of deadlines, proactive in terms of generating publicity for themselves and promotion for their books, thanks to their speaking circuit, podcasts, etc. The more I am preoccupied about these points the less time I will have for higher level efforts, for instance, discussing the author’s next book project. Also, too often I am making excuses for delays in the publishing process—for instance in getting contracts or payment of advances to the author—and it can be frustrating to spend so much time on what should be automatic. I am most thrilled when a project introduces me to a world I hadn’t realized would interest me, and where the author is a well-paired partner to the work.

What is the most important thing for writers to know about agents?

There is great variety among us, in the kinds of writers we’re attracted to, our approach to the author/agent relationship, our editorial sense, our publishing connections, and our stick-with-it-ness, even when a project doesn’t win a publisher’s interest right away. This should give authors hope that within the large and diverse community of agents, there will be a perfect match. I think the most successful writers manage to persevere and show great fortitude no matter what the circumstance. Agents need to demonstrate this too, of course, and the journey together is much more sturdy and rewarding when the agent and author can stay the course through the difficult spots, too.

Rita Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990 after a career as an editor with major New York houses. Her non-fiction list includes health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, sports, popular reference, cooking, spirituality and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.



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