Picking Your Dream Agent – as Likely as Finding Your Dream Man

Ah, the Dream Agent.

You know you’ve heard writers use the term. Hell, I’ve heard agents use the term. There’s this persistent idea in the publishing world that an up and coming writer should make a list of the qualities they want in an agent and, through dint of much research, develops a tiered list of desirable agents, presumably with the Dream Agent in the number one position.

Presumably this research includes the agents’ track records of sales, clients, social interactions, reliability, integrity, agency agreements and just general lovability.

It’s not that writers shouldn’t do this research – they absolutely should – but much of this is romantic silliness and not business.


You know what it reminds me of? Those girlfriends I had in middle school who made lists of their Dream Man. He would be rich, kind, good sense of humor, nice hands, works out, reads, loves cats and likes to walk on the beach Sounds great, right? And how many of us ended up with this person, this unicorn of a lover?

Arguably no one at all, because this isn’t about reality. This is the dream. The fantasy.

Dreams and fantasies are great – they keep us vitalized with possibility. But at some point you have to face reality.

We learn this when we start truly dating instead of making hopeful lists. Over time, over dinners and coffees and cocktails and gritty morning-afters, we discover that these dream lovers are all just people. Some make more money than others. Kindness is relative and not necessarily the best quality without a leavening of self-preservation. Maybe he reads, but he likes nonfiction and you don’t. The Dream Man list goes out the window.

Instead, you develop the Dealbreaker List.

I truly believe in this. Part of knowing ourselves is learning what we can adjust to and what’s a Dealbreaker. For me? Jealousy is a dealbreaker. Don’t love cats? Major problem. Won’t or can’t rationally discuss problems? Dealbreaker.

Because finding a life partner is really a quest to find a person who fits with you, who enables you to do in life what’s most important to you, you start discovering what qualities you need for that – and which qualitieis you simply cannot live with.

And this, my friends, is how it should be with finding an agent, too.

A gal contacted me the other day. My agent had offered her representation and she was asking after my experience, which is truly just fine. I’m happy to do that. However, she included a laundry list of questions for me to fill out. I don’t know about you guys, but I look at an email with a long list of things for me to answer and I want to hit delete. But I read through them, because I do like to be helpful, and it struck me that this was the Dream Agent list.

My first response (okay, second, after wanting to hit delete) was to wonder why she’d queried my agent at all if she had these concerns. Then I wondered if she was really ready to have an agent at all. She seemed to be asking if everything would be perfect and she’d never ever regret this decision. She wanted her Happily Ever After with the Dream.

Thing is, and I can’t say this enough, signing with an agent is agreeing to a business deal. They hope to reap rewards from selling your work and you hope they’ll sell you bigger and better than you can do on your own. It’s as simple as that.

If I compared my agent to a Dream Agent list, she would not ring every bell. That was okay with me because she brought qualities to the table I wouldn’t have known to put on a list. More important – there were no dealbreakers. Besides, we’re not getting married. We can break up if it doesn’t work out. We’re working together, developing our rhythm, seeing what we can do between the two of us.

Just like any relationship.

Oh! And for the record – I told the gal asking that I’m very happy with Agent Pam.

But I didn’t fill out the list.