Last week an established and experienced British agent* visited with students at Bath Spa to talk about her work, what she's looking for, the marketplace, and to answer any of our questions about representation.
She said numerous things worth considering. She continues to actively look for good middle-grade (9-12) writers. She believes the young adult (teen) market is growing (good news for me!).
But what really struck me was her discussion of what she wants to know about writers before she agrees to work with them. Most UK agents, once they become interested in a writer, wish to meet with the writer in person (I'm not sure this happens nearly as much in the US; a train ride to London is usually more feasible and reasonable than a plane to New York). This agent listed what she considers in her potential clients when she meets them for the first time.
She wants to know about your book, your inspiration for it, and what it means to you.
She also wants to discuss what she feels isn't working in the book, with an eye to whether or not you are willing to take criticism on board.
She wants a sense of your professionalism and your determination.
She wants to know how well you understand the marketplace. Do you see your book filling a particular niche? Perhaps you even have publishers in mind.
She wants to know what type of writer you think you are. Do you intend to write one book a year? Two? Would you be willing to take on other work, such as commissioned work for publishers or ghostwriting?
She wants to know what aspirations you have for your own career. She stressed that she is not interested in books, but people.
I found it useful to know what an agent might be looking for and what questions a writer should be prepared to answer. Of course, a writer interested in working with an agent should have plenty of questions of her own. Casey McCormick has a great list of these questions on her blog Literary Rambles.
*Sorry, no name, as this was a closed talk