As is the case with most authors, the road to finding an agent can be long and paved with stumbling blocks that get you off track. Then when an agent does offer representation you'll most likely be so ecstatic that someone is interested in your book that you want to say Yes straightaway, but hold it right there!
This is the start of what will hopefully be a long and happy relationship. And just like any other relationship, it takes time, effort and getting to know one another before you can fully commit.
The trouble with this is that agents can be quite elusive creatures, and hard to spot in the wild. We really do need some sort of speed dating type system for authors and agents! Seriously, if someone wants to set this up I'll be more than happy to help :) But there are some ways of getting to meet agents. Some do talks and workshops, then there are festivals and conferences where you can book one to ones and book launches.
I find that Twitter is a very useful tool, especially when workshops and festivals can be quite costly. Twitter provides a great platform to engage with agents and see what they are interested in, and who they represent. You can get a feel from their tweets if you think you might get along. Hashtags such as #AskAgent can be very handy. Social media is invaluable these days for connecting with people, it might even help you discover an agent with a shared love of abseiling or chocolate cake! That might not influence a business deal, but it helps in getting a good 'fit'.
Nothing quite beats meeting an agent in person, but if you are offered representation do try and get to know the agent better first, maybe by phone or in person. Have lots of questions ready to ask them. It's such an important decision, you want to make the best choice possible.
Another thing to bear in mind is if an agent asks for an exclusive. This all might sound good, that agent must be keen if they're asking for an exclusive, surely? Not necessarily. Who actually benefits from an exclusive, you or the agent? The agent. They have your book, no other agent looking at it, and you waiting on their response, which could take months and months, possibly even a year. In some cases they might not even get back to you, though I'm told this is rare.
You're much better off approaching things like a business, which essentially it is. Being able to approach more agents is better for both you and your book. You want the best possible agent to champion you and your book don't you? As long as you're open with agents and let them know you're approaching others, agents generally don't mind, it is a business after all.
Again with relationships, sometimes they don't work out. Authors parting ways with an agent actually happens a lot more often than anyone talks about. So don't feel bad if you feel you aren't the right 'fit' for your agent, discuss it with them and if they agree then you know that gut feeling was right all along. You really do want to be with an agent who feels just as passionately about your work as you do.
So hold fire, it's thrilling when you get that offer of representation, but agents don't expect you to give an answer straight away. You don't want to keep them hanging on either, but most seem happy to have a couple of weeks for you to contact other agents and make your final decision.
Just remember an agent is for life not just for Christmas!