When I attended the Banff Publishing Workshop, most attendees were bent on writing and managing magazines and publishing houses.* I knew one nice woman who wanted to be agent. I wonder what she’s doing now? There’s an excellent chance she’s selling real estate. Too bad. She really was nice. Same is true of all my classmates in journalism school who were let go from their newspaper jobs about the time they turned 40. Changing media delivery paradigms sure do stir up chaos.
Given my last post, you might think I’m against agents. Not at all. I think agents could be very useful for negotiating foreign rights for my imprint in the future, for instance.
However, their role is much reduced and smart agents are changing their games. At a recent writing conference, writers were not chasing agents so much. The Meet-An-Agent appointment schedule could not be filled. Now more agents are chasing writers and they’re very interested in how your self-published books are doing. They weren’t at all interested a short time ago. In fact, some were quite pissy about the prospect. But now? Establish a happy track record and they might come a courtin’.
The short answer to this post’s title is:
I’d be interested in hearing what an agent feels he or she could do for me. There are good agents out there. I think hybrid publishing maximizes exposure and opportunities for you and your readers. Look at Wool author Hugh Howey’s experience. An agent found him and she was willing to travel outside the ruts of old publishing’s logging road to get Hugh a deal that worked for everyone.
The long answer? Let’s go with bullet points so I can make this shorter:
- The submissions process can be a long ordeal. Long as in, are you young enough to begin now?)
- You may be asked to make major changes to your manuscript. If you succeed in getting a book deal, you’ll make even more major changes.
- You may choose to make the requested changes and they still won’t take you on. (They may even forget the changes they suggested. Yes, that’s happened.)
- You can get an agent but still fail to place the book with a publisher. An agent is a person, not a guarantee of slinging back cosmos in Manhattan with your new editor.
- The myth is that you choose an agent. The fact is if someone sends you a contract, most authors pee their pants and quickly sign. Regret is for later.
- You can find an agent, dance joyously and then find out it’s a scam (as happened to a friend of mine.)
- You could bypass the agent and submit directly to publishing houses and they’ll still read it. (They say they don’t, but most will.)
- As Dean Wesley Smith has said, agents should be your employees. I’m sure he’s right. Guess how many agents see their professional status that way?
- Submit to the wrong agent who blogs and they’ll mock your submission. Unprofessional, I’d say. As Will McEvoy said recently, “Snark is the idiot’s version of wit.”
- Good agents have precious few slots open for new clients. Bad agents and scammers demand reading fees.
- Rather than submit query letters to agents, many agents find new clients via recommendations from the authors in their stable. Who you know? Yeah, that’s still a thing. It’s called networking. Ignore the denials.
- Getting an agent is tougher than getting published. Why not publish it yourself first and start selling now? As I’ve said many times, Amazon is the new slush pile.
- Some agents live in fear of submitting manuscripts that might not be accepted. They have to be so sure, they’re too risk averse. One agent complained that one false move with a particular editor would lose her access forever. This sad story tells me that’s a crazed editor. It also tells me that’s an agent who is too fearful, forever doomed to be chasing trends instead of helping to make them.
- The agent/author relationship is like a marriage: They have a piece of you forever even after the divorce.
- Lazy agents say, “This would be hard to sell.” As a former sales rep for many publishing companies, I can assure you that there are few easy sales. We don’t need you for easy sales. Selling is part of the job. The better question is, “How can I sell this and to whom?”
- Often when they say, “This would be a hard sell”, they aren’t lazy. It’s a euphemism for, “I think this is crap but why not be diplomatic?” They’re being kind. Don’t resent them for it. Move on.
- You’ll get a better deal with a good agent than without her. A good agent will more than pay for herself. However, some agents are getting paid for doing very little. They treat the publisher’s contract as set in stone. That’s supposed to be the publisher’s attitude. It’s a bad attitude for the person negotiating for you.
- Good agents can act as a buffer and help resolve conflicts with editors. Bad agents are the source of personality conflicts.
- You have to trust your agent. You don’t have to love your agent. It’s a business relationship. That’s less clear in the beginning when you’re riding high. It’s very clear when they dump your mid-lister ass.
- A good agent can do things you can’t and navigate the tiny details of contracts. A good agent can pay great dividends for their fifteen percent.
- But an entertainment lawyer can practice law and navigate the tiny details of contracts and you pay them once. Hm.
- A good agent can justify their participation in your enterprise without sounding old-school entitled about it. They work in listening mode.
- Trad publishing has changed. Good agents know it and are adapting to serve their clients better.
A better question is about the human variable: You.
Would you feel better with an experienced, connected agent helping you on an ongoing basis?
Or does the prospect fill you with anxiety?
Are you happier as a publisher/author/entrepreneur who pays for an entertainment lawyer’s expertise on an ad hoc basis?
Enter the relationship self-aware, eyes open.
How do you find a good agent if you want one?
Ask an author in your genre who is already delighted with their agent.
*FYI: A magazine is something people used to subscribe to and read, like a blog but made out of glossy paper. Publishing houses were places that had an undeserved reputation for great cocktail parties that were vaguely upper crust, literate and British, no matter where they were located or how little the worker drones were paid.)
~ Robert Chazz Chute was one of those worker drones. He is the author of This Plague of Days. World flu pandemic! Autism! Zombies! Oh, my!
- I Blame The Agent (heydeadguy.typepad.com)
- FAQs: How to write books agents will hate (but readers might love) (chazzwrites.com)
- Make it Different (paperpenandnoplan.wordpress.com)
- How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts (randyellefson.wordpress.com)
- Internet Gurus (beverley1.com)
- How Do Literary Agents Fit Into The New Book Publishing Ecosystem? (forbes.com)
- A Novel Way of Catching the Eye of a Publisher (sashafenton.wordpress.com)
- 23 Literary Agent Query Letters That Worked (jenspenden.wordpress.com)
- Money Flows Towards The Author! (thetorturednovelist.wordpress.com)
- 5 Things to Do Before Finding a Literary Agent (projecteve.com)