Peggy Frezon offers advice on choosing a literary agent

One of the perks of joining a writing critique group is meeting and learning from other interesting writers. Today our guest is my critique partner, Peggy Frezon, a writer who specializes in pets.

Peggy Frezon

Peggy Frezon

Like me, Peggy is a first-time author. But she’s several steps ahead of me in the process; she has already completed her manuscript and signed with a literary agent, who is about to submit to publishers. Her book is about dieting with her dog.

Peggy has a rather unusual story about how she ended up with her agent, which is why I’ve asked her to join us today. When it comes time for me to seek out my own agent, I’ll keep in mind what I’ve learned — what you’re about to learn — from Peggy.

Welcome, Peggy! How’d you get your first offer from a literary agent?

I had an article in a magazine I write for regularly. The end of the article included my bio, which mentioned that I was working on a book. An agent noticed, and contacted me, asking if I’d send the proposal. At that time, I wasn’t finished writing the manuscript, and hadn’t planned on contacting agents yet. This was my first contact with an agent of any sort, and I was beyond excited!

What happened next?

A little later, another agent contacted me. Agent #2 was referred to me by an editor of a magazine. I know, I was shocked! Two agents contacting me, and I hadn’t even finished writing the book. Although it was exciting, that wasn’t the way I expected it to happen. It just goes to show that there is no typical way to get an agent. I really hadn’t even begun thinking about agents, since I was still working on the writing part. So my first advice is, it’s never too early to start thinking about agents.

I finished writing the book in about three months, and sent it off to both agents. There was some communication, but no contract offer. So after both agents had the manuscript for about a month, maybe more, I figured neither one was interested. I sent a query to a third agent.

Wouldn’t you know, about two hours after I sent that query, I got an offer from Agent #1? I was flattered, but also confused. Shouldn’t I fully consider the other agents too? So I wrote to Agent #2 and said I had an offer. This agent called me back and made me an offer right then and there on the phone. Then I wrote to Agent #3, who had my query, and explained the whole situation. She asked for my proposal and sample chapters and was kind enough to read them immediately. She also made me an offer.

Okay, so how did you choose one?

Although I had previously only dreamed of having an agent, now that I had offers I was confused. And honestly, freaking out. I had three great offers but which one was right for me — a large agency? A smaller boutique agency? And how would I know?  Eventually, I went with Agent #2, from a large agency. I chose this agent partly because I was impressed by the many bestselling books the agency represented. The agent was enthusiastic about my work. And, the agent came referred by someone I trusted. I was excited, but it also felt awful turning down the other agents.

Agent #2 was super nice, but after about four weeks was unable to sell my book. I had expected an agent to search for months, maybe even a year. But that was the end of the road. We parted on very nice terms, but I was surprised.

Soon after, I approached Agent #3 again, and explained everything. My voice was shaking, I was so nervous. She was so understanding, and she agreed to sign me on. I am thrilled with my new agent, she has great ideas and great communication, and I feel like my book is in very good hands. Even though I’m starting off back at the drawing board, I trust her and I’m extremely grateful she’s taking a chance on me.

Looking back, what do you wish you did differently?

I don’t think I could have avoided the way things happened, everything moved so fast. Sometimes we make mistakes in the name of inexperience. I guess that’s how we learn. But ideally, I would have liked to have researched agents and created a list of those I thought were right for my manuscript, and ranked them. That would have helped when I needed to make a quick decision.

I guess one thing, I wouldn’t be so blinded by a larger agency. It may be right for you, but in my experience a small boutique agency can also offer the same things, and maybe even more personal attention. I wouldn’t dismiss an agency just because it’s small, or not located in NYC, or whatever.

I also might have given more weight to the kinds of books the agent has sold. I write about animals and pets, and my new agent has represented numerous books about pets. Now that we’re working together, I can see that she really knows this particular market and has read competing books. Because of her knowledge and insight, she’s already given me some great suggestions.

What have you learned from this experience that you’d like to share with other writers who are looking for an agent who will be a good fit for them?

I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure! You only have so much information, and maybe only an email or two between you. It’s such a gamble. You have to trust.

Look at their list and make sure the agent not only represents, but seems to like your subject matter. If you write mainly “girl stuff” consider if a female agent might represent you better than a male? Once you are in communication with the agent, see if they “get” your work. Do they tell you that they love your story? And most of all, hopefully you’ll be able to talk to them on the phone before you decide. That gave me a better feel for how we connected. One agent offered to send me references without my asking. That made a big impression on me.

Just do your homework, then go with your gut. And don’t worry, if things don’t turn out how you expected,  it’s not the end of the world. The next plan may be even better!

Thanks, Peggy! Anyone want to pick her brain? She’ll answer questions on the blog today — Just post them below in the comments section.

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15 Responses

  1. That is an incredible journey, even though it isn’t over yet. Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  2. Good luck, Peggy! Thank you for sharing your story. Agent hunting looms on the horizon for me and I’m eager to learn all I can from those who have accomplished this goal. Happy Monday!

    ~Jen

  3. Thanks for sharing. It’s good to know that mentioning you’re working on a book in a bio can actually pay off. Did you mention in that bio specifically what the book was about or give it a title? Or was it just a general, “working on a book?”

  4. Hi Jamie. Yeah, sometimes the path takes weird twisty turns. (I’m not a great traveler.) But good thing, the journey is fun and rewarding. Thanks for stopping by.

    Good luck on your agent-hunting Jennifer. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

  5. Chantal, the bio mentioned what the book was about, which was also the same topic as my article. I didn’t give its title, and good thing too, because the agent has already helped me in changing the title of the book!

  6. What an uplifting story to start the week with. Having 3 agents interested before the book is finished is fantastic and I would think most unusual. Congratulations and good luck!

  7. Thank you Jane. That was unusual but I think just an odd coincidence. Now my agent has the book out on submission and I’m waiting again! I hope you have a great writing day.

  8. You can never know when the ‘right’ someone will see your articles and bio when published. That’s why it’s so important to get your best work out there.
    Your story was enlightening and encouraging.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Be Refreshed!

  9. Thanks Dawn. You’re right, you never know. Even social networking sometimes may lead to surprising connections. Keep writing!

  10. Terrific story 🙂
    Hope that book gets snapped up!

  11. So nice of you Jessie. Are you editors out there listening?!!

  12. Really amazing journey! Thanks for sharing, Peggy. So is the book in print now? Keep us posted about the sales, if possible.

    Bargain with the Devil

  13. Hi Enid, the book is on submission with publishers now. I will certainly keep you posted, and do keep in touch.
    It was great to meet everyone here, and thank you Alexis for the opportunity.

  14. Very amazing! Best of luck Peggy.

  15. I teach at the University of Haifa, I’ve written a lot of academic articles and
    three books
    But now I’m trying to publish a book I’ve written for a non-academic audience
    It’s about why the Germans started the two World Wars and perpetrated the
    Holocaust
    So I’ve been looking for an agent
    But I really don’t know what I’m doing.
    Anyway, I sent out a lot of messages to agents (like 200) last weekend and I’ve
    gotten back so eight answers with an expression of interest–five asking for
    the manuscript, which I sent them, and the other three asking for more
    information, a formal proposal, etc.
    One of the guys who asked for the manuscript has already said that he wants to
    represent the book (I got the message from his this morning)–I don’t know what
    to do. Do I have to sign with only one agent? If so, how long am I committed to
    him/her for? On what basis do I decide which agent to work with? Should I try
    to push the others who I sent the manuscript to to decide if they’re
    interested? I sent out a message this morning to my university’s email network
    to ask for advice from anyone who’s worked with literary agents but I haven’t
    gotten any answer and this one agent is already starting to make constructive
    comments and I have the feeling he’s going to start pushing me to decide if I
    want him to represent me. This is completely new to me and I don’t know what to
    do and then I remembered that you sounded like you might know something about
    this area (I don’t know anyone in the field). Any advice would be much
    appreciated.
    Thanks very much and best wishes,
    John Myhill

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