Is a Higher Profile Agent Better?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So I few of my writing friends are in the process of changing agents and agonizing over who to approach. Most have references from other writers which (in my opinion) is a good way to proceed but they are also weighing up their options based on the status of the agents involved. This reminded me of a conversation I had at a writers conference a few years ago where a young would-be author quizzed me on the merits of getting a ‘high profile’ New York agent versus a local California agent (something I was totally unqualified to help her with!).

When I was looking for an agent this was the last concern on my mind (hey, I was amazed anyone would want to represent me at all!) – what I really wanted was an agent that felt like a good fit for my work and who would champion my books.

Still, I wonder whether the perception continues that having a higher profile, ‘status’ agent is better. Does it perhaps help when it comes to landing a book deal (?), does it make an author feel more important to have an agent who represents a whole heap of bestsellers (?), does it, in short, matter (?)

So what do you think? Does a higher profile agent make a difference?
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13 thoughts on “Is a Higher Profile Agent Better?

  1. Although a high profile agent would offer the feeling of importance, it is not the most important factor. To me, I want an agent that loves and believes in my work. I also want someone who would be honest and not afraid to approach me with any advice, and intimately how much time can a high profile agent offer me. A high profile agent will find me when my work is ready for one. But thats just my opinion.

  2. I’m not without my ambivalence on this subject (wow, what a crappy sentence, nice and ambivalent), but what one probably needs most is a professional agent that really loves your work and is willing to go the extra mile for it (whatever that extra mile is).

    That said, a really high-profile agent who’s had a lot of success and really loves your work AND is very professional AND puts your work at the top of his/her to-do list strikes me as being ideal.

    Word verification: horkinth (the subject of JK Rowling’s next Harry Potter series, Children of Voldemort: I called him Daddy)

  3. I never even thought about high profile vs. not for an agent. Must come from living a life that doesn’t need the latest designer jeans or jewelry.

    I want someone who can do the job. Period. I don’t care how well known they are.

  4. I have only changed agents once. I went from an agent working outside NYC to one in New York. My new agent was higher profile and I am sure the relationships with editors got me a faster read and response, but I chose her because she loved my work and was enthusiastic. She’s been great.

  5. Speaking as someone on the receiving end of the manuscripts, it doesn’t make any difference to me if the agent’s in New York or Timbuktu (though it does take a while to get back from a lunch date there).

    What I look for in an agent is someone who’s smart, knows the market, and knows my particular tastes. When he or she sends me a submission, it goes to the top of the pile, because I know it’ll be worthwhile

    Without question, you want an agent who loves and believes in your work (otherwise, why bother?), but it’s just as important that that agent know what he or she is doing. And if that’s so, I don’t care where he or she works, or how high the profile — that agent will get my attention.

  6. Many first-time authors are so anxious to find someone to rep them that they jump at the first offer. They’re scared that it will be the only one they’ll ever get? Sometimes they find down the road that it was not a match made in heaven and must start the process over, hopefully a bit wiser. So to add to what others have said, I would suggest doing your homework. There are endless resources to help find the agent that’s just right for you—high, low or no profile.

  7. Having a big name agent is probably like having your PhD from an Ivy League school. It might help initially, but you can still make it if you have one from U of Podunk…it ultimately depends on how good YOU are.

  8. I’m currently on my third agent, and I have to say that in my experience, high profile is not necessarily better.

    You do, however, want someone with a clear sense of what the market is looking for, and which editors to target with which manuscripts. There are definitely agencies that are considered to be “hotter” than others, and from what I’ve heard, certain agents whose manuscripts go to the top of the pile for the reasons Neal mentioned.

    Where the agent is located is not necessarily a factor. But I would urge authors considering a switch to do a search for recent deals. An agent who has never sold anything, or who hasn’t sold anything in a long time, might have a very good reason for that.
    But I’d prefer to work with someone with a proven track record who is consistently making sales for their authors. I also wanted an agent with an editorial background, who could provide feedback on a manuscript in progress- something else to consider.

  9. I was very excited to land a rather high profile agent a couple years ago. In the end though, being high profile apparently didn’t help me when after a year she rather unapologetically dropped me. Later I got a fairly new agent who ended up to be great, a hard worker and dedicated to the material. I then saw the difference between the two types and the need to be with someone who really likes the work as opposed to one who is a less excited big name.
    Due to a major illness the good agent had to pull out so I am shopping for an agent again. This time though I think I have a better idea what to look for and maybe what to expect.

  10. Thanks everyone. I’ve been on a school excursion all day with my kids and hence, the late comments. I think Neil speaks for most editors and that is what realy counts – they want an agent who is passionate about their author and who is professional. I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of high profile as I think a new author can just get lost if that agent focuses on his/her higher profile clients. That being said, it pays to do your homework and get a deal maker not a deal dawdler!

  11. I agree with the others–I wanted an agent who was passionate about my book. I ended up going with an agent who is at high-profile agency but was just starting to build her list. She’s also not New York based.

    She’s an awesome agent and her being at a well-respected agency didn’t hurt either. Every editor she approached asked for the full, I got read quickly and sold after only 2 weeks on submission. I think it’s also nice have someone who’s just building her list because she’s so enthusiastic and has time to be very hands on with her clients.

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