How To Find the Perfect Agent (Part Two) - The Agent's Perspective

Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

In the second part of my 'How to Find the Perfect Agent' I asked my agent, Sarah Williams, a few questions about finding talent and what makes a manuscript stand out.

When I contacted Sarah she read my submission quickly, requesting the full manuscript within days. She then got back to me  asking to have a chat as she thought it was 'wonderful'. I was on holiday in Italy, staying in a remote farmhouse, so we arranged to chat on the phone in a few days. I was seated at a cafe table in Lucca when she offered to represent me, the phone signal then cutting out! I danced through the tiny streets afterwards, a celebratory ice-cream in my hand and my family a few paces behind, pretending they weren't with me!

  • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for answering my questions, I know a lot of writers often wonder how an agent sifts through the huge volume of submissions they receive. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to authors submitting to you to ensure they stand out? 

I can’t emphasise enough how important your cover letter is – and there is so much advice online about how to craft an excellent one. I don’t need to know what you like to do in your spare time or how long you’ve been married or where you live. I need you to pitch your book succinctly, tell me a little bit about it and where you see it on a bookshelf and why I’m the right agent for it. I’m not Sir or Agent or Editor - any submissions that don’t address me by name get deleted.  

  • Great advice. Thorough research is so important, and saves wasting everyone's time. So beyond getting that cover letter right, what was it about the authors you have on your books that made you choose to represent them?

For fiction, it can be any of a number of things that grab my attention and will make me fall in love with a book – from an incredible, vivid voice to a character I either love or hate or a world that I completely fall into and can’t stop thinking about even after I’ve turned the last page. For non-fiction, it is usually a story or an idea that is so unique, I want to keep reading more of what I’ve already seen and can immediately picture what a whole book would look like. 

  • What takes up most of your time as an agent?

I’d love to say lunches with editors and reading fabulous manuscripts, but in reality: answering emails. I am perpetually dealing with a range of things for my authors such as commentary on book jacket design to negotiating a film option to updating translation publishers on delivery dates to discussing publicity plans to fielding requests for speaking engagements. You name it, I’m probably dealing with it. 

  • Sounds fun but frantic! What do you do for me that I probably have no idea about?

Good question! I think the thing authors sometimes don’t realise (especially those who think they don’t need an agent!) is that even if I haven’t spoken to you in a few days, I have talked about you and promoted you in some way during my day-to-day dealings with other people. I’ve had lunch with an editor who is looking for something specific and I talk about you. I’ve just been called by a production company in LA and have told them all about you and your new book. I’ve emailed the new, fantastic review of your book to the translation publisher who is considering buying your book for their territory. The promotion is endless! 

  • So out of all that, what would you say is the best part of your job?

Making that phone call to say: you have a book deal or a film deal. Every single call like this I make is as thrilling for me as the very first one I ever made.

Believe me, it's just as exciting to receive those calls!

Thanks so much Sarah, for all your advice and the insight into the world of being a literary agent. 

Amanda Reynolds


Finding the Perfect Agent


For any writer intent on a traditional publishing deal, the first major achievement is securing representation from a literary agent.


Most publishing houses - with the exception of some smaller indie presses, and the odd 'open submissions' window - will not accept direct approaches, so an agent is essential. But your agent does much more than submit your manuscript. Making the right choice is crucial.

'It is worth taking great care with the agent you choose as it will probably be your single most important working relationship, ' Fiona Cummins, bestselling author of Rattle and The Collector, told me, 'For me, it was key to find an agent who was approachable (I've heard stories about authors being too scared to email their agents) and who would push me to produce my very best writing. Happily, I feel Sophie (Lambert) is a perfect fit for me.'

Laura Marshall, author of Sunday Times bestseller, Friend Request, told me how important is it to get on with your agent. 'Consider who you click with the most when you meet them and who your instinct says will be the best fit for your career. Who is the most passionate about your book, and basically who do you like the most. I am so happy with my agent (Felicity Blunt). She is always absolutely in my corner, fighting battles for me that I don't even know exist! She is a tireless advocate for me and my books. Also she's brilliant editorially and it's so good to have her to talk to about new work in the early stages. Also on a personal level she is really supportive. '

Olivia Kiernan, author of debut crime novel Too Close To Breathe, and represented by Susan Armstrong, concurred. 'I know everyone says it but I can’t express fervently enough how important it is to choose an agent who you feel you can talk to and work with!'

Editorial input is definitely a consideration when choosing an agent. Make sure you only submit to those agents you would be happy to accept, should they offer, otherwise you're wasting everyone's time! Do they represent your genre, do they have a good track record of success, how editorial are they and will they look after your foreign rights and any TV/Film interest? 

Jenny Quintana, author of the brilliant, The Missing Girl, and represented by Sophie Lambert too, advises,  'Try to get an agent who will be honest about your manuscript and will work with you on it before submission.' 

Laura Shepherd-Robinson, author of Blood and Sugar, out in 2019 (can't wait!), represented by Antony Topping at Greene & Heaton, agrees with Jenny on this. 'The agent who makes you work hardest is the one for you!’

So how do you find your perfect agent? The direct, and probably the most often used route, is via the 'Slush Pile'. An unfortunate term, but the system works well, with many authors finding their perfect agent this way, myself included. But it's not the only way.

Jo Jakeman, author of the recently published Sticks and Stones told me how it happened for her...'I met my agent, Imogen Pelham (Marjacq), at York Festival of writing. After I won Friday Night Live I had a few agents wanting to see the full ms. Imogen spoke to me as if my characters were real people. I felt she understood me and my book more than the others did, but she didn’t shy away from giving me advice on where my book could be strengthened. She talks me off the ledge when I’m stressed, is super attentive, and is a badass negotiator. If it wasn’t for her I would have sold the rights to my book for a bottle of wine (and been thankful!). I have a great relationship with my editor too but I know that partnership could be short lived, whereas I hope to be working with Imogen for the rest of my career.'

Twitter is also a great resource for connecting with agents, but as Laura Shepherd-Robinson pointed out, 'There are a lot of top agents (often with very good established lists) who don't do Twitter because they don't have time/inclination and don't need to.'

So don't rely on social media as your sole resource, make sure you research the agents you're interested in thoroughly, via their websites and where possible by personal recommendation.

Steph Broadribb, author of My Little Eye, (as Stephanie Marland) and Deep down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble told me about how she met her agent, Oliver Munson. 'My submission process was rather unorthodox- I went out on the town with my future agent and a bunch of other authors after a book launch then had a DM conversation after about the book. He read the book in two days and offered representation.'

Steph and I both agreed that your agent needs to be someone you'd be happy to spend time with, preferably over a glass of wine!

Finding the right agent takes lots of research, tenacity (unless you're very fortunate!), good timing, a great manuscript, and a bit of serendipity! But find the right one and they will be your biggest cheerleader, as well as your contract expert, chaser of everything, answerer of a million questions, and hopefully your advocate for your whole career.

My agent is the brilliantly supportive Sarah Williams, of Sophie Hicks Agency, and in the second part of this blog post I'll be talking to Sarah about what she looks for in her authors. 

Amanda Reynolds

Following on from her e  Book bestseller  Close To Me , Amanda Reynolds is back with    Lying To You,    another gripping psychological drama. Perfect for fans of  The Husband's Secret  and  I Let You Go

Following on from her eBook bestseller Close To Me, Amanda Reynolds is back with Lying To You, another gripping psychological drama. Perfect for fans of The Husband's Secret and I Let You Go