The manuscripts I want are very often desired by multiple agents, and those (in my experience at least) are pretty much always The Usual Suspects; a group of five or so of my agent pals that I know have very similar taste to me. I know for a fact that at least one of these folks is likely to be in the running for anything I want. (This is why I always ask who else has offered - it is hilarious how often the same names come up).
I also know that they all have different styles and different personalities, but they have in common that they are all terrific agents, and none would be a bad choice. So I have to be faster, and pitch harder woo, if I want to get the author.
INTERVIEW: When I give you a call, I have to explain who I am, who the agency is, why we'd be the awesom-est for you. You get a chance to ask questions too, of course, and hopefully my answers are suitable and happy-making. I tend to be very clear up front about how and how much I like to communicate with my authors, how much I value transparency, etc, and I am pretty informal. Because I like to start as I mean to continue. If I am passionate about something, you know it -- so you might as well get used to that right off the bat! Unscientifically, I would say that 70% of the time, authors go with the first person to express interest... so agents have to have a lot of energy in this section of the competition if they want to get in front of that statistic.
TALENT: How many sales have we made? How much hustle do we have? Are we clearly knowledgable? Have we already made notes for you? Have we already made a submission list? Do we love your book? HOW MUCH? What can we do for you that nobody else can? It's showtime baby, get out there and dazzle 'em!
SWIMSUIT: This is the tackiest part of the beauty contest and it basically comes down to Hotness. If you're the kind of author who is all about the bling, you'll give more points in this section to the "neon lizard bikini" agency, the name or huge-name clients of which would be recognizable to somebody outside the industry, probably because of very strong Hollywood connections. If you are the kind of author who fancies themselves more literary, you will go with the "classy maillot", which is possibly oldest or most venerated agency. Etc. (For what it is worth, I think of my agency as the "awesomely cute boy shorts tankini" in this metaphor.)
EVENING WEAR: Look, you already know we are pretty, talented and personable at this point, but there has to be one more hoop. So you could take the largely symbolic step of checking out how we walk in a circle wearing a dress, or you could talk to some of our other clients. Now the thing is, my clients are my clients in no small part because they LIKE ME. The chances that I am going to give you the contact info of somebody who hates me is really slim. Sort of like how I would never wear the crazy unflattering dress with bugle beads all over it. Come on.
In fact there are two books that I might actually never quite get over having lost, and I am sure there will be more in the future. I always keep my eyes peeled for those books and authors though, to see what happens. In one case, the book hasn't yet sold... but in the other case, it sold for a lot of money to somebody I NEVER would have sent to. I don't have any doubt at all that I would have sold it, but it would have ended up a very different sort of book. So in fact, the author probably chose correctly.
And that is the whole thing about this particular beauty contest, actually. It isn't really about hotness, or who wants world peace. A lot of the judgement comes down to your own gut feeling about who has the best vision for your book and whose style you'll get along best with. I can at least content myself with knowing that I am so open about who I am and what I like, that if somebody DOESN'T pick me, it almost certainly wouldn't have worked out anyway.
Authors, if you had multiple offers of rep, how did YOU choose? What ended up being the "clincher" for you? Were there any surprises along the way?