Wanted: an Agent Like Sam Phillips

Today we’re hosting KIM VAN SICKLER, a MG writer who, along with six other writers, blogs at Swagger, a new community for writers and readers! Go check them out and give them a warm blogger-y welcome, yes? Kim’s short story fantasies have won first and second place in the Center for Writing Excellence’s Fiction in Five contest and are published in anthologies.

Some day soon I hope to find my Sam Phillips.

He’s the sound engineer who ran Sun Records and discovered & guided the careers of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, elevating them to greatness. He saw the raw talent and potential in these artists and invested in their careers. These four men received invaluable mentoring, and Sam Phillips went down in rock-n-roll history as a legend: the only non-musician to be inducted into the Rock-n-roll Hall of Fame. (And their romanticized story is told in the Broadway musical, Million Dollar Quartet.)

Sam Phillips was never about the money. It was nice, but it wasn’t his top priority. His top priority was finding the next big act. It was the discovery and collaboration that drove him.

As a writer embarking on a search for an agent, finding a Sam Phillips would be a huge break. And it’s something I’m willing to wait for. I’ve interacted now with two agents I’ve met at SCBWI conferences. I’ve paid for their critiques. Both of them gave me valid, constructive criticism in a brutally blunt manner. Neither of them were the least bit interested in retaining me as a client.

But that’s okay. I learned that I didn’t want them as agents either. Meeting those two agents showed me that I didn’t want to land just anyone so that I could say, “I’m represented.”

I’m discovering through sites like Literary Rambles and Query Tracker and from reading the “Ask the Agent” page & the “Breaking In” section of Writer’s Digest, that agents are as multi-faceted as writers. They’re all looking for different things and bringing their unique experiences and temperaments to the table. These resources and others show me how to go about submitting my work for an agent’s consideration and find the right fit.

What I will be looking for is an agent that I’m excited to partner with. I want someone who can compliment as well as criticize. I want someone who loves and believes in what I write. I’ve got friends who celebrated landing their agents only to find that their agents were no use to them whatsoever. Their agents didn’t sell their manuscripts, or give them useful advice, or buoy their spirits. My writer friends wasted precious time believing in people who didn’t believe in them.

I will rewrite, restructure, and revise until I get it right! I’m a hard worker and determined to write good stories. Finding an agent who can appreciate me, and partner with me to sell my fantasies is my own personal fairy tale ending.


Are you on the Agent Hunt like Kim? Do you worry about finding that perfect fit? There are many things a writer needs to factor in before saying yes…what are your core needs when considering whether to sign on the dotted line?


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Julie Hedlund
9 years ago

Wow! This post is so refreshing! I think all writers know the market is tough and tight at all times, but we tend to forget we’re valuable, we’re good. We need to wait for the right person to come at the right time. Having no agent is better than having the wrong agent, IMHO.

And as someone searching for an agent, like you I am willing to wait.

Julie Musil
9 years ago

I love this perspective! I just saw a tv special about Taylor Swift, and the record producers who believed in her and her work. Definitely worth waiting for 😀

Matthew MacNish
9 years ago

I often dream of an agent who is also a best friend, but I’ve come to realize that isn’t always possible, or even necessary. An agent is a bit like a realtor, it’s a business relationship, and in the end it’s the house (book) that matters.

Medeia Sharif
9 years ago

I didn’t know about Sam Phillips until I read this, but I appreciate his passion and drive.

My current agent is not my first agent, so I understand about finding the perfect fit. There’s more to just saying “I have an agent.” You have to have the right one.

Kim Van Sickler
9 years ago

Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. Angela, you’re a wealth of information and a gracious blog hostess! Makes me feel like I’m going about this the right way. I wish you all success with your writing careers!

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

I agree with many others, that the longer I write, the pickier I become. This is one of those situations where I’m glad I haven’t gotten any offers yet because in the past I probably would have jumped at the chance, whoever it was.

I think what I’m looking for most (besides the passion, which goes without saying) is patience and a respect for individuality–not expecting every author to do things a certain way.

Thank you, Kim!

9 years ago

Best of luck to Kim on finding her Sam. The agent hunt has only become harder, but it is a good hunt that’s worth the hardship if you can bag the one you really need.

Angela Brown
9 years ago

I’ve been in a battle with myself regarding agents. I know I have a story idea but I need to get it ready before I can begin seeking one. This post has been helpful in giving me some insight for when I am ready to begin my own search.

Elaine AM Smith
9 years ago

This is a great post. Martha made me smile when she said looking for an agent is like selecting a spouse 😉

I fell over my future spouse at the end of the Fresher’s Disco I don’t think finding an agent that way will work of me 😉

Traci Kenworth
9 years ago

I’m finishing up my manuscript now
to sub out to agents. Yes, I want
to find that magical agent, but
you’re right, it has to be someone
you “fit” with. I’d rather have no
agent than be distressed by a bad
one. Here’s wishing us all luck on
the search.

Gail Shepherd
9 years ago

One reason I love going to writers conferences is the chance to interact with different agents and editors, even if that interaction is only listening to them speak. I’ve come away feeling super positive about some and kind of meh about others. Which sure helps hone the list.

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

I think there are few things as emotional as the search for an agent. I’ve had two, and so I’ve run the gambit of emotions during my own writing journey–euphoria at getting one, frustration at the result, choosing to leave, getting back on the query train again a bit wiser.

Going into the process with your eyes wide open is so important. You need to know what you want from an agent up front, and not just ‘hope it will work out’. Agents are like all of us–they have different skills, working styles, strengths and weaknesses. No agent is perfect. Finding someone who loves your story, is communicative and passionate and knows the business are all things to have on your checklist. And most of all, trust your writer’s intuition. If you interact with them but don’t feel ‘the it factor’, don’t be afraid to keep looking. The right agent is out there. 🙂


Kristin Lenz
9 years ago

Thank you for sharing. I related to much of what you’re going through. Best of luck to you!

Kim Van Sickler
9 years ago

And I didn’t do a great job of finding the right husband the first time around. Even though I hung in there for 16 years. Let’s hope I learned from that experience.

Martha Ramirez
9 years ago

Awesome post! It’s true. Finding the right agent is like finding the right spouse!
Not an easy task.

Laura Pauling
9 years ago

As each year go by, LIke Stina, I get more and more picky. I think a love for my work and a communication style that works with me are the two most important things I’m looking for!

9 years ago

Kim, I’m honored you’ve shared your agent hunt with us. I truly feel like you and I have a similar story. I’ve been so close, even had other agents refer me to their friends, etc… but none seemed ‘right’ for me and my story. I think it’s as hard to search for that agent/person willing to invest in your book as it is to write the story in the first place. But, as some authors have proved it, when you find your ‘match’, it’s all worth it.

Best of luck to you!

Christina Lee
9 years ago

Hi Angela! And HI KIM!!!!

I used to belong to a local critique group with Kim. Her writing is fabulous and she is definitely a hard worker.

So Kim, I hope you find your Sam Phillips too (I’m rooting for you)!

Stina Lindenblatt
9 years ago

Once upon a time, I was looking for an agent with a pulse. I now know, from watching my friends struggle with their agents, that a pulse isn’t enough. That’s why when I had an offer for representation on my last book, I turned it down. I decided the book wasn’t ready for submissions, and that agent wasn’t the one to help me get it there.

Great post, Kim!

Natalie Aguirre
9 years ago

Thanks for sharing about your search Kim. Glad our blog Literary Rambles is helping.

I’ll be looking for an agent too soon and hope, like you, to find the right fit.

9 years ago

Great post. I’m still not at the point of searching for an agent, but I hope (think) it’s drawing closer. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not an easy process, that one size doesn’t fit all, and that I should definitely be doing my homework while I’m still writing/revising.