Agents: What They’re Good For
by Natalie Bright
Agent, editor, publisher, market researcher, promoter, bookstore seller, book author relations manager, graphic artist, publicist, website designer, book reviewer, marketing exec, critique partner, event scheduler: do you have an understanding of the work done by each of these people?
If you’re a writer, these folks are important. They are your team of professionals in the publishing industry. If you’re a published author, you’re probably doing one or most of these jobs yourself.
At a BookFair event, I was asked “Where do I find my agent? I probably should get one.” No, this author didn’t have the book finished, and no, they couldn’t identify the genre. But, they wanted their book on the New York Times list and that’s what an agent does. These types of conversations always leave me surprised at how confusing the world of publishing can be. So, let’s talk about agents.
Agents bring people together: the publishing house and the author; the story idea and the screenplay writers; the artists and the book designers; the dreamers and the publishing executives.
The Hard Sale
When I consider all of the jobs listed above, I think the most difficult is the literary agent based on my experience as a licensed real estate agent.
A real estate salesman brings people together; the buyer and the seller. The frustrating part is we’re not privy to any insider information that might help us close the deal. The homeowner has done everything right. The property is in pristine condition. What are the potential buyers whispering about in the back yard? The wife tells me she loves the house, but hates that color of beige in the kitchen. I point out that walls can be painted. She just can’t envision it, which makes we wonder what’s the real reason? I haven’t a clue what to say or how to reach a compromise. No sale.
I gave up my real estate license years ago because I did not have the patience for the business. And then I changed my focus to a career in writing (talk about a test of patience).
Bringing People Together
Even though authors are the creative energy behind this whole process, we can’t know exactly what editors and publishing houses are really looking for. We’ll never be invited to the internal team meetings. We’re not privy to the insider buzz about long-term business plans or the new imprints, but literary agents are the people with an inside track to this information. Editors say “we’re looking for” and literary agents work to fill those slots.
I can’t imagine getting hundreds of queries every week. How do you know which ones have the potential for greatness? Which manuscript is worth an agent’s time to provide direction with revisions? How can they determine which story a particular editor will feel a connection to? How can they decide whose career has the greatest longevity? And remember, agents don’t get paid until there’s a contract.
Literary agents have the ability to bring all of the players to the table and if a publishing contract is signed, the result is something magical, or that’s how I feel about books anyway (when I finish reading a great story it’s like magic to me). What a satisfying feeling that must be for agents knowing that they are the key to who knows who.
Publishing in an Uproar
As I read the news and deals on Writers Marketplace, I’ve come to realize how much the industry is changing. Yes, there are many opportunities out there for agented and un-agented authors, but the playing field is in an uproar. I think having a literary agent on your side is a good thing. Who knows if your story will find a home? It might not. Who knows what the next hottest genre will be? That’s impossible to predict.
When you read the list of industry professionals above, you might have noticed I left one person off of the list: writer. That would be you – the only thing you can completely control is getting words on the page and it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. And in today’s world, the options are mind blowing for writers who have a good understanding of who’s sitting at the table and the roles they play in building a career. I have a self-pub book, an inspirational eBook on Smashwords that will be a softcover soon, and I have a knowledgeable, capable literary agent who is shopping a middle grade novel. We can have it all, I think, if you’re willing to work 24/7 to reach your goals.
Whatever your goals, go for it, have confidence in the story that only you can tell, and good luck in reaching your dreams! Thanks for being a part of WordsmithSix.