Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ask The Author #1: Agents

Hey Pat,

What's the deal with having an agent? I know an editor edits you, but I'm fuzzy on agents.

More specificially, I suppose, I'm wondering if you have one, or if you just deal directly with your publisher?


I do have an agent, Emmie, but I also deal directly with the publishers.

The agent's main job is finding the right publisher for your book and working out the financial details.

But there's more to it than just bargaining. The agent is also your navigator. Your trusty native guide in a strange land. Their job is to know the publishing landscape. They know who is looking for what, how much they're willing to pay, how good the editors are, how good the marketing is, etc etc etc.

Once the agent finds you a publisher, then you start a new relationship with the editor there. The editor's main job is to work with you on your book. But they also act as your liaison with the publisher, that includes sales, marketing.

But sometimes an agent will help with the marketing too, helping you get author blurbs, etc. It's not like your agent doesn't care about you anymore, they still want you to sell as many copies as possible. The more money you make, the more they make. The better your current book sells, the more they can sell your next book for.

My agent gives me advice on editing my novel. I trust him because he knows the genre and because he's given me good advice in the past. But that's MY agent. Your agent might be a shark when it comes to bargaining, but know precisely dick about how to tell a story.

Honestly, each editor and agent is different. Some work well together, some don't. Some will go to bat for you, some won't. It's a strange, chaotic thing, and it entirely depends on the individual people you're talking about.

This I will say. I'm glad I got an agent first. Not only did he help me get my first offer, he also gave me advice so felt comfortable turning that first offer down. (And that was a little hard, I tell you.) I'm much happier where I am now (with Daw) than I would have been with that other publisher.

Also, it's good to remember is that:

1) Your agent bargains for a living, so no matter how much of a dealmaker you are, they're probably better. They'll more than make up for the 15 percent they take out of your advance. Don't begrudge them their cut.

2) By handling the money end of your business, the agent also helps keep your relationship with your editor friendly. Your agent is a pushy dick on your behalf, so you can come in later and just talk about the book.

Think how awful it would have to be to go in to negotiations hoping for a $10,000 advance, only to have the editor argue you down to half that. So you sign a contract for $5,000 and spend the next six months working with them, editing, promoting, all the while you're seething about the fact that they screwed you out of the money you thought you were worth.

Just as bad, what if you pushed your editor up to $12,000 and then they carried a grudge against you? What if they decided to skimp on your promotion budget because of that? That's not a good foundation for an editor/writer relationship.

All in all I really recommend getting an agent. But make sure you get a good one. Tim Powers once said to me, "Who you pick for an agent is just as important as who you decide to marry."

It's really true. That person will be representing you to the entire publishing world. If they're like my wonderful agent, they'll make you look good. But if you get a bad agent, you'll look like an idiot by association.

The worst part is that it's really hard for a new author to tell if their agent is bad. If your publisher screws up, your agent will tell you. If your publicist screws up, your agent will tell you. But if your agent screws up.... well.... they probably aren't going to be very forthcoming about that...

So do some research before settling on an agent. It's exciting to get your first offer, but remember, this is going to be a long term relationship. A first kiss is exciting, but you don't necessarily want to get married because of it.

There are a couple good websites out there with advice about picking agents and editors. So I won't repeat what they say, I'll just point you in their direction.

Writers beware.

Editors and predators.


P.S. While I was writing this, my agent sent me the following e-mail:

"This is your last week as an unpublished author!!!!!! Congrats!!!!"

This reminds me of another important role that agents play. They help dispose of unwanted exclamation points.

I kid. What I really mean to say is that in the best of situations, your agent ends up being more than just a colleague or a co-worker. They make pretty good friends too.

Alright. I'm off to celebrate my final Saturday night of nobody status by eating a microwave burrito and watching some Anime.


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Anonymous Sengei Tawn said...

Helpful info! I've read similar comments on other sites, but it is always neat to read about a unique experience. This is relationship stuff. I wonder...if one is not good with one's own life relationships...I'll bet it is reflected in the relationship one has with one's editor. Communication is vital, I bet. Honesty. Openness. Give and take. Kindness. Respect. Willingness to ask "dumb" questions of the editor. 'Course, most writers might have the communication thing down for the most part.(?) A bit scary, trying to find the right editor. Question: what editors did you shy away from Pat (if any) and for what reason?

March 25, 2007 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Miriam said...

Thanks for this, it was interesting and very helpful!

Question: How did you find your agent?

Can't wait to read your book!

March 25, 2007 10:41 AM  
Blogger Shawn C. Speakman said...

Pat, great first Question/Answer post. I too believe very strongly -- especially now after having sent my book to a publisher only to have it sit there unloved, unread, and unhonored -- that a writer should get an agent. It speeds things up where otherwise they would go nowhere; an agent has built relationships and friendship within the industry and those ties truly do bind -- they can get a book read within two weeks rather than two years sometimes.

I wish I had sent my book to the agent I chose a lot earlier than the publisher. Hindsight is the 20/20 eyeglass that never falters.

March 26, 2007 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Shawn said...

I was just wondering why the cover of my book is different than the one you have in your pictures and the one on Amazon. I rather like the one you show and it looks like that is on the back of my book.

My book has the picture of some young buck witha bedragled shirt in a harlequin romance look. Just wondering.

March 28, 2007 11:36 PM  

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