The Literary Agent World Unraveled - Part 1
Advice on how to take the next big step on your path to publication - finding representation.
Top Ten List: What Good Agents Do for Their Authors
By Kenneth Wright of Writers House
I asked three writers in different stages of their careers what was the first question they asked themselves when they were thinking about finding an agent. All three said essentially same thing: Do I really need an agent? Not “How do I find an agent.” Not even “How do I find a GOOD agent.” Nope, the most common question we get is “Do I really need an agent.” And the answer is an unequivocal (and an un-self-serving) YES. Why? Because most importantly it frees you up to have the creative relationship with your editor and publisher that you need in order to do your best work. Of course there are lots of other good reasons…
1) We’re your eyes and ears to the marketplace. We really do have breakfasts and lunches and drinks with editors nearly every day of the week. We listen when editors tell us what they’re looking for, what’s selling, what’s hot, what’s not. And we read all the trade magazines (PW, LJ, Kirkus, etc), all the consumer magazines, the appropriate sites, blogs, newspapers, etc. We follow the bestseller lists. We go to the trade shows (BEA, ALA, etc). We are plugged into what books sell where and how.
2) Spouses and best friends excluded, we’re likely to be your first sounding board for your ideas. And since we’re so plugged in, we can really help you as you think about your writing, your next project, or your career.
3) We’re one of your first and harshest editors and critics. Because we’re usually your first readers, after the above-mentioned spouses and best friends (and, increasingly, writing group members), and because we have a vested interest in your work being the best it can be, we will be honest with you.
4) We’re the bad cop to your good cop. For example, if a big marketing problem comes up about your book, we’ll make that difficult call to the publisher on your behalf.
5) We’re likely to be the one constant in your professional writing life. Editors come and go and switch houses all the time. We tend to stay put. And we know where those editors have gone, why, and who has replaced them, all the better to help guide you through the tumultuous world of publishing
6) We help shape your ideas into full, selling proposals for nonfiction; and we edit your fiction manuscripts into shape to send out to editors.
7) Because we know all the editors pretty well, we can identify the ones right for your project. We will strategize about the submission process and tailor a submission list that is right for you and your project. A good agent will not simply throw your work out there and hope it sticks.
8) We’re also your career advisor. We’re not in it for just one book. Because we’re in it for the long haul, we will be thinking, and encourage you to think, about what’s next and why; and we’ll help you get there. We do this with an eye towards your entire career in writing.
9) Eventually we WILL sell your book, and that means you will have to sign a contract. Have you ever seen a publisher’s contract? Twenty-some legal-size pages of fine print… We negotiate with the publisher all the fine points on your behalf -- the advance and its payout, the royalties, the subsidiary rights, reversions, delivery dates, option, revisions, etc.
10) We’re your partner in this whole writing and publishing thing, and your champion and advocate every step of the way. On call 24/7. Well, not exactly, but we do return your emails and phone calls pretty quick!
Back to the index or keep reading! Up next? The Big-Big Question: How Do I Find a Good Agent?